madam secretary

New Yorkers celebrate, mourn and buckle down as Betsy DeVos is confirmed as U.S. education secretary

PHOTO: YouTube / American Federation for Children
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The rancorous debate over Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for education secretary, reached a final crescendo Tuesday afternoon when her confirmation came down to an unprecedented tie, broken in her favor by Vice President Mike Pence.

Here’s how the New York education world responded:

Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter school network

“Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is a positive step forward for the millions of public school children across America who have been failed by a broken education system. Her leadership and drive will deliver meaningful reforms and start a new chapter for all children — no matter race, socioeconomic status, or zip code — to have access to high-quality schools.”

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers 

“This process made clear to parents and teachers across the country what billionaire Betsy DeVos is all about. She has contempt for public education and wants to dismantle neighborhood public schools. We know the DeVos playbook. Now we have to stand together and work to protect what we value — our public schools.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education and New York state education commissioner; incoming head of the Education Trust

“During the confirmation process, I was encouraged by the large numbers of students, parents, educators, community leaders, and civil rights advocates insisting that the federal role in education must be to strengthen public education — not abandon it — and to protect students’ civil rights. Indeed, Americans clearly care deeply about education and have real concerns about who will lead the nation’s education department.

“As the former Secretary of Education, I sincerely hope that Ms. DeVos will work hard to prove these concerns wrong and will lead the Department in a manner that protects fundamental civil rights and promotes opportunity and achievement for all students. And the Ed Trust will do what advocates for the nation’s most vulnerable children always do: work with and support her wherever we can find common cause, and vigorously oppose any action that would undermine continued progress for the children on whose behalf we work every day.”

Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence, a teacher advocacy group

“We hope [DeVos] will make every effort to listen to the voices of classroom teachers, not only because of her own lack of experience in the classroom, but also because it is these educators who will ultimately be tasked with implementing the policies she will now be overseeing. Their support will be instrumental to improving the quality and equity of our education system.”

Kesi Foster of the Urban Youth Collaborative and Natasha Capers of New York City Coalition for Educational Justice

“Our public education system was just sold to the highest bidder, and low-income communities of color are at risk of losing the most. DeVos’s agenda to redirect public funding for school vouchers, virtual charter schools, for-profit charter schools, unaccredited private schools, and schools that regularly discriminate against children is a direct attack on one of our country’s last universally-acknowledged public goods, education. We will continue to reject DeVos’s attempts to weaken the rights of our children and parents, and we will fiercely defend our public education.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and former head of the UFT

“DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows. This same public — from rural towns to urban centers, from liberals to conservatives — will now serve as a check and balance, and they will be fierce fighters on behalf of children. I am honored to be a soldier in that movement for children.”

New York State United Teachers union

“The irony is inescapable: While educators are required to prove they are qualified in order to work in the classroom, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a dangerous ideologue with absolutely no experience or qualifications to lead the U.S. Department of Education.”


Memphis candidate says no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s turnaround district is no longer under consideration, the state Department of Education confirmed Thursday.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat on Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him and said that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second interview with McQueen. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked at the news, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists for the position.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration were: Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools — the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Play nice

How can Michigan schools stop skinned knees and conflict? Use playtime to teach students kindness

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn
Macomb Montessori kindergartner London Comer plays with a ball during a Playworks session at her school.

Kindergartners play four square, jump rope and line up in two rows with outstretched arms to bump a ball during recess. What’s unusual is that the four- and five-year-olds don’t fight over balls or toys, and when one child gets upset and crosses her arms, a fifth-grade helper comes over to talk to her.

This is a different picture from last spring, when the students at the Macomb Montessori school in Warren played during recess on a parking lot outside. The skinned knees and broken equipment were piling up, and school administrators knew something needed to change.

“Recess was pretty chaotic, and it wasn’t very safe,” Principal Ashley Ogonowski said.

The school brought in Playworks, a national nonprofit that uses playtime to teach students how to peacefully and respectfully work together to settle disagreements — also known as social emotional learning, said Angela Rogensues the executive director of the Michigan Playworks branch.

Ogonowski said the change she has seen in her students has been huge. Kids are getting hurt less, and teachers have said they have fewer classroom behavior problems.

The program teaches better behavior through physical activity. Games focus on cooperation, not winners and losers. When tensions rise on the playground, kids are encouraged to “rock, paper, scissors” over conflicts.

Playworks is adamant that their coaches are not physical education teachers, nor are their 30-45 minute structured play periods considered gym class. But the reality is that in schools without them, Playworks is the closest many kids come to receiving physical education.

Macomb Montessori does not have a regular gym teacher, a problem shared by schools across the state and nearly half of the schools in the main Detroit district, and a symptom of a disinvestment in physical education statewide. In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified.

But with Playworks, the 210 elementary-aged children at the school have a daily recess and a weekly class game time lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Another benefit of the program is the chance to build leadership skills with upper elementary students chosen to be junior coaches. Shy kids are picked, as are natural leaders who might be using their talents to stir up trouble.

“I made it because I’m really good with kids. I’m nice and kind and I really like the kids,” Samerah Gentry, a fifth-grader and junior coach said. “I’m gaining energy and I’m having fun.”

Research shows that students are benefitting from both the conflict resolution tools and the junior coach program.

“The program model is really solid and there’s so much structure in place, I can’t really think of any drawbacks,” Principal Ogonowski said.

The program, however, is not free.  

Part of the cost is handled on the Playworks side through grants, but schools are expected to “have some skin in the game,” Rogenesus said. The program at Macomb Montessori costs between $60,000 and $65,000, but poor schools can receive a 50 percent subsidy.

The cost hasn’t prevented eight Detroit district schools from paying for the program. Rogenesus said she is talking with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about putting the program in even more schools next year. He also identified Playworks as one organization that could be brought in to run after-school programs at a time when he’s rethinking district partnerships.

Part of Playworks’ mission is to work together with schools, even if they already have gym and recess in place or plan to hire a physical education teacher.

“PE is a necessary part of their education in the same way social-emotional learning is a necessary part of that education,” she said.