party like it's 2009

UFT making governance a priority in Albany as new mayor nears

Two members of the Campaign for Better Schools at today's press conference. Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Better Schools
Members of the Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, protested against mayoral control when it was up for renewal in 2009.

With the city nine months from getting a new mayor, the United Federation of Teachers is gearing up to ask legislators to ensure that Mayor Bloomberg’s brand of school governance cannot be repeated.

The union wants legislation introduced that would significantly constrain the mayor’s education authority. The proposal closely resembles the union’s school governance platform from 2009, when the law giving control of the city’s schools to the mayor was last revised. But it comes at a time when all of the leading mayoral candidates have pledged to move away from Bloomberg’s imperious approach to school governance.

Some pieces of the proposal, such as to give elected parent councils authority over decisions about where to locate schools, would be accomplished by legislation already pending in Albany. The rest — including stripping the majority vote on the Panel for Educational Policy from the mayor, would require a new bill.

“Our lobbyists in Albany understand that this is now going to become a piece of legislation” in the current legislative session, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in an interview.

The proposal, which will become official when the union’s Delegate Assembly signs off on it, comes two years before the the law giving control of the city’s schools to the mayor is set to expire. But Mulgrew said now is the time to constrain the mayor’s power.

“We have a system of governance that no one ever thought would be as abused as it has been,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for us to not fight for something different so this cannot happen again.”

Since the legislature gave Bloomberg control of the city’s school in 2002, he has drawn criticism for ruling with a heavy hand and not including communities in decisions about them. Especially after a 2009 revision, the state’s school governance law requires that communities be given a chance to provide feedback about proposed policies, but the ultimate decision lies with the mayor and Panel for Educational Policy, whose members mostly serve at his will.

The leading mayoral candidates have all criticized the way Bloomberg has run the school system and pledged to change the tone at the Department of Education. But only Comptroller John Liu, who released a proposal for restructuring the Panel for Educational Policy last month, has committed to ceding any of the authority he is seeking.

A more common position is one former comptroller Bill Thompson has offered: “I still support mayoral control but it’s more about who the mayor is,” he said at a forum in November.

Responding to the UFT’s proposal today, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign released a statement that said only, “”We are opposed.”

Critics of the teachers union said the proposal would mark a regression for the school system.

“With its latest missive calling for the end of mayoral control of the schools, the union has made it clear that its vision of progress is to return New York City to the days of patronage, graft and corruption with a system that has no accountability whatsoever,” said Chandra Hayslett, communications director of StudentsFirstNY, in a statement.

But Mulgrew said the union was committed to preserving mayoral control, as it was in 2009. “People forget that the school boards were not working very well either,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to that.”

Instead, he said, the union just wants checks and balances on the mayor’s power. In other cities with mayoral control, he said, “Everybody else figured out you needed checks and balances.”

The recommendations were drafted by the union’s committee on school governance, which was reconstituted last fall after becoming dormant when mayoral control was renewed in 2009.

What the UFT is recommending:

Instead of appointing eight of the 13 Panel for Educational Policy members, the mayor would appoint only five. (The union endorsed that configuration in 2009, but then-President Randi Weingarten did not promote it.) Borough presidents would still appoint five. The remaining three slots would be filled by appointees of the comptroller, public advocate, and City Council speaker. Members would serve for three-year terms, not at the will of those who appointed them.

The mayor would choose a chancellor from three candidates selected by the PEP. The chancellor would have already have the credentials to become a superintendent in New York State, and he or she would have to be re-approved every two years.

Community Education Councils would have to approve school co-locations or relocations, as a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright would require.

District superintendents would regain some of the authority they lost over the course of the Bloomberg administration. The chancellor would pick superintendents from nominees put forth by Community Education Councils, and superintendents would serve three-year terms.

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.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.