lone rangers

On education, mayoral hopefuls don't talk about their limitations

One mayoral candidate wants to ban testing. Another has pledged to close charter schools. And one wants to raise city income taxes to fund early childhood education.

Despite coming from different candidates, the pledges have one thing in common: They can’t be fulfilled from inside City Hall, despite mayoral control of the city’s schools.

The legislature and the governor’s office change tax laws and controls how school aid is spent. The Board of Regents and the State Education Department set policy and regulations around testing. And state’s charter authorizing bodies control which charter schools stay open and which close.

While the chief executive of New York City will always have clout in Albany and legislators might be inclined to go along with a newly elected mayor’s proposals, some of the candidates’ proposals would be hard sells. A review of candidates’ education proposals shows that they have been less than eager to talk about these limitations on the campaign trail, leaving questions about their ability to follow through on key elements of their education platforms.

“I think it would be more informative if various candidates would make it clearer when they say they’re going to do something to explain how they’re going to do it,” said Joseph Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College.

Bill de Blasio’s prekindergarten tax

De Blasio’s tax plan would first have to get past his old boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a politically sensitive time for Cuomo.

It’s one of several hurdles that stand in the way of de Blasio’s proposal to raise the city’s income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent for families making over $500,000. The funding would go toward expanding prekindergarten and after-school services in an initiative that has been at the center of de Blasio’s progressive platform.

State law prohibits New York City from raising its local income tax rate without legislative action. De Blasio, who worked for Cuomo in the Clinton administration, says that as long as he can get the City Council to go along with the plan, Albany should follow.

“Albany, almost without exception, has agreed when a local executive and a local legislature calls for the right to self tax,” de Blasio said last month while discussing his plan. He cited as an example a two-year tax hike that Bloomberg sought and won in 2003, which raised rates for some residents who earned six-digit incomes.

But de Blasio could have a trickier time in Albany, whose elected officials, including Cuomo, face reelection in 2014.

Christine Quinn’s war on field testing

Quinn said she’d eliminate field testing during a major education speech back in January and has repeated the pledge throughout her campaign.

“Students do not have time to learn all the skills they need to succeed in college and beyond,” reads a January press release explaining Quinn’s rationale for banning the tests, which are administered to a sample of students as a way for test-makers to try out questions they might use in the future.

But the tests are administered by the State Education Department, and Commissioner John King has said field tests are an important strategy for ensuring that students take high-quality tests each year.

Update: Quinn ushered a resolution calling for their ban in May, specifically calling on the state to act.

In her campaign, she’s also acknowledged that she would need to work with King and the Regents if she is to follow through on her pledge. A press release from Quinn’s campaign last week said, “As mayor, Chris will continue her fight to push the State Department of Education and Pearson to eliminate these stand-alone field tests.”

Charter school oversight 

Bill Thompson didn’t say much about charter schools when he gave a big speech about education, except to discuss the policy that he would have the least control over as mayor.

“Hold charters to the same standards as public schools,” read his campaign’s talking points. “Schools should be centers for learning and innovation. And if any school – public or charter – isn’t meeting that standard, Thompson will take action.”

But the Department of Education doesn’t control whether city charter schools open or close. It did give about a third of the city’s charter sector permission to open, but changes to the state’s charter school law in 2010 stripped the city of that right. It can still make recommendations to the state’s charter authorizers about closing schools, but lately it hasn’t been getting its way.

As mayor, Thompson would have some recourse against some low-performing charter schools. He could kick out charter schools occupying city-owned buildings for free, a significant punishment in a pricey real estate market.

Hidary’s expansion of portfolio schools

Quinn has also called for expanding schools that allow students to complete portfolio reviews to graduate, rather than pass most Regents exams. But Jack Hidary, an independent, says he’d want to triple the current number of 26 city “portfolio schools” to at least more than 100.

The Board of Regents is responsible for granting waivers to the small number of high schools that do not require Regents exams — there are 28 statewide — and it has been reluctant to add to that number. Instead the state is investing more in its Regents exams, seeking to make them harder to pass as a way to measure if students are ready for college.

Mayoral control

All of the candidates say they still want to have control over the school system — with changes. Bill Thompson said he’d give up a seat on the Panel for Educational Policy, in the spirit of collaboration, while Comptroller John Liu has said he’d overhaul the way panel members are selected.

Both proposals require Albany legislation. The currently governance structure, first passed in 2002 and renewed in 2009, expires in 2015. That deadlines give the candidates an easier way to lobby for the changes they want if lawmakers choose to extend mayoral control. The teachers union doesn’t want to wait that long. It’s pushing for legislation to give communities control of where to locate schools and strip a majority of votes on the PEP from the mayor.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”