who's in and who's out

Mayoral debate on education grows contentious before it starts

At a forum hosted by TK earlier this month, organizers left a seat open for Christine Quinn, who did not attend. Quinn is also not attending a debate hosted by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a group that opposes the Bloomberg administration's school policies.
At a forum hosted by ParentVoicesNY earlier this month, organizers left a seat open for Christine Quinn, who did not attend. Quinn is also not attending a debate hosted today by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a group that opposes the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.

Christine Quinn won’t attend today’s education forum organized by a group that opposes the Bloomberg administration’s school policies, but Anthony Weiner and an advocacy group that backs Bloomberg’s policies will.

The lineup for the debate that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools will host at New York University today changed several times over the weekend, with tweaks announced in a frenzied series of press releases.

“In Quinn’s absence, Weiner and other candidates will be able to rebut her public positions on key education issues,” the group said in a press advisory this morning.

The advisory appeared to confirm the expectation that Quinn, who received a chilly reception at a New Yorkers for Great Public Schools event last year, would not have an easy time if she did participate in today’s debate.

On Monday evening, the group announced that Weiner, who has kept up a blistering pace after declaring his candidacy last week, had confirmed his attendance. The candidate — who is trying to reenter public life after a sexting scandal — entered the race with much of his education platform unclear but has steadily been filling in the blanks since.

The confirmation came hours after the group announced that Quinn had bowed out of the event. “Her Campaign Says it Does Not Want to do a Debate on Education,” a press release from New Yorkers for Great Public Schools said.

Billy Easton, the Alliance for Quality Education executive director who is a spokesman for NY-GPS, told Politicker that Quinn had withdrawn from the event at 6 p.m. on Friday, three days before the group sent out an updated press advisory. He said she was “running away from an opportunity to defend her record on education.”

Quinn’s campaign said the candidate had never communicated what the press release alleged.

“The organizers were informed last week we would not be able to make this one work,” spokesman Mike Morey said. “We have never said to them or anyone else we would not debate education issues. In fact we’ve participated in two education debates this month alone, on top of a total of 44 debates and forums during the course of the campaign.”

It isn’t the first education event Quinn has missed. Early this month, she sat out a Brooklyn forum organized by ParentVoicesNY, a group that formed to oppose the increasing role of standardized testing, and moderated by Diane Ravitch, a vocal critic of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies. That forum was more of an “accountability session” for candidates to swear their fealty to specific ideas than an open exchange, attendees said.

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools is billing today’s event as the “first education debate” because of its format, which will include several rounds of questions and opportunities for candidates to respond to each other. A spokeswoman, the public school parent activist Zakiyah Ansari, is moderating.

But the expectation is that candidates who side with the group’s agenda will receive a warmer reception. The group wants an end to school closures, a moratorium on co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings, and a reduction on spending on education contracts — policies on which Quinn stands apart from many Democratic candidates either in principle or by degree.

Organizers from StudentsFirstNY, which is advocating to preserve the Bloomberg administration’s school policies, are planning to host parents inside the Kimmel Center before the debate to “urge [candidates] not to turn back the clock on education policy.” In a press release, the group said, “At previous forums, the candidates have expressed views that are concerning,” citing pledges that would change the Bloomberg administration’s accountability and weaken mayoral control.

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.