taking a stand

Weiner supports co-locations, Catholic schools on first day out

220px-AnthonyweinerAnthony Weiner’s views on education policy became a little clearer on his first full day on the campaign trail, when he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he supports letting charter schools use space in public school buildings.

The issue puts him at odds with several of his Democratic competitors for mayor, who have said they would impose a moratorium on the space-sharing arrangements. Co-location has induced tension in many school buildings, but it has also allowed the city’s charter school sector to thrive, and whether to continue the practice is a major decision facing the next mayor.

In fact, on the issue of school choice, Weiner suggested that his support extends well beyond the public school system. He proposed helping non-public schools — he cited cash-strapped Catholic schools in particular — with publicly funded support that they are already entitled to, including technology, health care and security. He first floated the idea in his 2009 policy book “Keys to the City,” which he re-released last month.

“We’ve made it much too difficult for parish schools in this city and they are an asset and we should all mourn when they disappear,” Weiner told Lehrer, in the former congressman’s first broadcast interview since he declared his candidacy for mayor. Weiner’s political career seemingly ended two years ago when he was lied about sending sexually explicit texts to women on Twitter.

Weiner said the city had been misguided in buying and renting space from Catholic schools that have closed, as dozens have done due to dwindling enrollment, instead of helping the schools stay open.

“Rather than try to help these Catholic schools, rather than see if we can help them in purely secular ways of trying to ease some of their burdens, and rather than saying to the folks at Tweed, ‘You know, let’s see what we can do with public dollars that they’re entitled to anyway — things like book money — and see if we can figure out ways to help,’ we’ve kind of swooped in and tried to make use of the property instead,” Weiner said.

After Lehrer asked whether the plan could violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, Weiner said his interest in seeing Catholic schools survive in New York City comes from support for choice.

“I just think we have to … see it as more of our mission to have education as more of a cornucopia of options rather than simply one,” Weiner said. But he said he would not support vouchers that would let families use public funds to pay private school tuition.

Not much is known about what kind of an education mayor Weiner would be. But that was one of the first topics that Lehrer pressed Weiner on after he once again apologized for the sexting scandal, which he characterized as “private behavior and things that I was doing in my private life.”

Weiner repeated a plea that, at the very least, New Yorkers listen to his ideas on how he would run the city if elected mayor. He began first with some praise for the Bloomberg administration, whose policies on education have become a daily punching bag for Weiner’s Democratic rivals.

“The way I look at the Bloomberg administration is that they did a laudable thing to begin with, and they said let’s get control of the system and lets put a lot more money into it. And it’s undeniable that, frankly, it’s the only part of the budget that is really growing a great deal,” Weiner said.

Under Bloomberg, city education spending has increased from $5.9 billion in 2002 to $13.7 billion for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But Weiner then unleashed some anti-testing rhetoric that would fit right in with the other Democratic candidates.

“I think there are too many standardized tests,” Weiner said, a complaint that he might not have all that much control over as mayor, because federal law requires that states administer annual standardized testing.

But he said that the city relied too heavily on the state tests and suggested that a better way to gauge the city’s school system would be through national assessments.

“I think we have to take a look, not how we’re comparing the Bronx to Staten Island. We got to think about how we’re comparing to Pittsburgh,” Weiner said, citing as an example the midwestern city whose skyline for some reason appears on his own campaign’s website. “And I think that taking a snapshot of those national tests is as important as anything we’re doing locally.”

On the divisive issue of charter school co-locations, Weiner said he supported them as long as there is free space inside city school buildings.

“I don’t have an objection to co-locating charter schools and public schools where there is space,” said Weiner, who did not discuss whether he supported Bloomberg’s school closure policies, which have often freed up space for charter schools. Other Democratic candidates for mayor have said they thought the Bloomberg administration too often turned to closures instead of supporting low-performing schools.

Weiner’s early campaign strategy appears to try to, as the Times put it this morning, seize a “common-sense centrism” that the other Democrats have so far ignored. In dealing with growing mandated costs tied to the city’s municipal labor force, Weiner said he would want to see workers begin paying health insurance premiums, with higher rates for smokers.

The Bloomberg administration cited both proposals last month as crucial concessions needed to keep reduce healthcare costs, projected to increase by 30 percent in three years.

“So does this position indicate that you will not be competing for public sector union endorsements?” Lehrer asked Weiner.

Weiner said that the message he wants to send to public employees, with whom the next mayor will have to negotiate new contracts, is that money saved through higher health insurance premiums could end up back in their pockets another way.

“That is money we can’t use for raises,” said Weiner, referring to the $2.6 billion that the city’s annual bill for healthcare is projected to increase by over the next four years.

Lehrer asked specifically about the UFT endorsement, which is scheduled for June 19 and has been seen as one of the most crucial for the Democratic candidates.

“If I don’t get the UFT endorsement, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try every single day to persuade every teacher and every supervisor and every staff member that I want their vote,” Weiner said.

big plans

Four things you should know about the new Memphis plan to expand district support to all schools

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

Shelby County Schools board members heard an ambitious plan Tuesday to expand district support for students across all its nearly 150 schools.

The proposal would expand the district’s flagship turnaround program, the Innovation Zone; test all first-graders for gifted education; give hand-held electronic devices to more high school students; and offer more advanced courses. The recommendations are the first from the district’s new chief academic officer, Antonio Burt, who was appointed in September.

“We’re really focused on system-wide equity,” he said. “We can really switch the conversation from equity to really focusing on equity in action.”

In recent years, Memphis has become a model in Tennessee’s school turnaround efforts. But district officials believe Shelby County Schools has not effectively scaled those lessons up to impact more students more quickly. Burt said his plan will fill in those gaps.

Burt did not break down how much these initiatives would cost, but incoming interim superintendent Joris Ray said the proposals would anchor the district’s budget priorities for the 2019-20 school year.

Here is what you need to know:

All first-grade students would be tested to see if they are eligible for CLUE, the district’s gifted education program.

Currently, teachers pick students to be tested for admittance into a program that promotes higher-level grade work for students from preschool to high school.

Burt said the way students are chosen has led to wide disparities in the racial makeup of the program. Though white students make up 7 percent of the district’s population, they make up 38 percent of the students in CLUE. Black students make up 77 percent of the district’s enrollment, but 45 percent of students in the program.

Nationally, black students are far less likely to be placed in gifted programs, even if they have the same test scores as their white peers, and especially if their teacher is white, according to a 2016 study at Vanderbilt University.

For the first time, all Memphis schools identified by the state as low performing will get additional money.

Eleven schools will be added to the district’s Innovation Zone, known for improving test scores.

The iZone pumps about $600,000 per school for teacher bonuses, for more resources to combat the effects of poverty, and for principals to have more say over which teachers they hire.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Antonio Burt became assistant superintendent in 2017 over the Innovation Zone and other struggling schools within Shelby County Schools. He is now the district’s academic chief.

Some of the schools Burt wants to add have been languishing on the state’s list since it was first created in 2012, but have not received substantial support.

As some schools are being added to the iZone, others have improved their performance, and are no longer eligible for additional state funding. Shelby County Schools, which has covered the reduction in funding, for the first time plans to gradually wean 13 schools off that extra support. Burt vowed to monitor those schools to make sure they don’t slip again.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to see which schools will be affected.

Burt’s plan also would combine Hamilton Elementary and Hamilton Middle into a K-8 school next year, and separate Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High into two schools again after a charter operator moved out the neighborhood. The Hamilton school proposal is also part of outgoing Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s recommendation to consolidate some schools.

Every student in nine high schools would get a hand-held device or laptop this fall, with a goal to expand to every school by the 2024-25 school year.

The district hasn’t decided whether it would be laptops, tablets, or some other device, but officials say students should have more access to technology.

“I think about children in the municipalities and across the nation… they have a device in their hand,” said Ray. “All their textbooks, they’re loaded to one device. So we need to in Shelby County Schools increase technology and give our students the opportunity to compete worldwide.”

But board members cautioned the district should have a robust learning plan for those devices.

“It’s more than just putting a device in hand,” said board member Miska Clay Bibbs.

Every high school will have two Advanced Placement courses for college credit by school year 2020-21.

Students from poor families are more likely to attend a high school with fewer advanced courses, according to a 2018 district report. Burt wants to change that.

The plan calls for more teachers in every high school to be trained to lead an honors, Advanced Placement, or pre-Advanced Placement class.

Below are the schools that would be added to and removed from the iZone. Read the district’s full presentation below.

The schools that would be added to the iZone are:

  • LaRose Elementary
  • Dunbar Elementary
  • Getwell Elementary
  • Hawkins Mill Elementary
  • Woodstock Middle
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Craigmont Middle
  • Wooddale High
  • Sheffield High
  • Oakhaven High
  • Manassas High

These schools would be cycled out of the iZone:

  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Treadwell Elementary
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Ford Road Elementary
  • Westhaven Elementary
  • Douglass K-8
  • Chickasaw Middle
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Hamilton Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Mitchell High
  • Melrose High

text skills

‘My reminders are not spam!’: Teachers and parents protest Verizon over new texting fees

Hell hath no fury like teachers who are told that their direct line to students and parents might soon be cut off.

That’s what Verizon is learning after a text-messaging service used by teachers and parents to share updates about homework assignments and snow days announced that the company would soon make messaging prohibitively expensive.

The service, Remind, emailed users late Monday to tell them that Verizon had decided to treat their messages as spam — a move that would make it impossible to continue distributing messages for free. The change would affect 7 million of the service’s 31 million users, a spokesperson said.

“The Verizon fee will increase our costs of providing text messaging by 11X—pushing our annual costs into the millions of dollars,” the company said in the letter. “This isn’t financially feasible for us to support, and it’s forcing us to end Remind text messaging for everyone who has a wireless plan with Verizon.”

The letter urged teachers and families to download Remind’s app instead — and to lobby Verizon to change its policy.

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s the power of communication,” Remind’s website read. “If Remind’s made a positive impact on how you teach or learn, please call Verizon and ask them to #ReverseTheFee.”

Overnight and into Tuesday, countless educators and parents followed Remind’s lead, posting on Twitter and calling Verizon to explain why free text messaging is essential to their work. Two million educators use the service monthly, and the company says it is used in about 80 percent of U.S. schools.

“My reminders to students and their parents are #NotSpam!!,” wrote Phillip Cantor, a high school teacher in Chicago.  “My district allows ONLY @remind101 to communicate with students via text because it’s safe and free.”

“I bet you didn’t know that 29% of the students that attend the school I teach at rely on the translation tool built into @RemindHQ,” tweeted Beth Small. “Please don’t silence parent/teacher communication!”

“The Remind service is invaluable with my students,” wrote David Bell. “As a high school counselor it helps me build a rapport with my students that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”

Remind officials said the company had been trying to negotiate with Verizon since last summer, when the company first announced the rate increase. (They also said they are locked in a similar conflict with a telecommunications company in Canada.)

Those negotiations are complicated. According to a Verizon spokesperson, Remind contracts with another messaging company, Twilio, that contracts with a firm that has a contract with Verizon, and Remind is not the only service to be caught in a dragnet meant to reduce the number of spam messages that cell phone users receive.

Several of those companies met throughout the day Tuesday with the goal of preserving free text-messaging for teachers and schools. But the night ended without a resolution, and with the social media protest continuing to take aim at the phone company.

“As a student, I use Remind daily and by charging teachers for using its features, that experience will be cut off for me,” tweeted Keegan Ator. “What’s more important, future generations of hard-working students or a few extra pennies in the bank?”