When it comes to schools, New Yorkers are kind of like Texans - we think that everything is bigger here, including our problems. And most of the time, we're right. But occasionally something comes along that indicates that other systems are just as screwed up as ours is. And that deserves some grim recognition. Today is "Pink Friday" in California. Due to the state's financial troubles, public schools, colleges and universities are facing more than $11 billion in reductions in state funds in next year's budget. Today is the deadline for school districts to notify teachers and other personnel that they may be laid off as of June 30th.
In his interview with Chancellor Joel Klein this morning, Brian Lehrer of WNYC repeatedly described the $115 billion federal stimulus package for education as being available to states only if they met a steep demand: evaluating teachers based on their students' test scores. Klein agreed, calling the evaluations "a general requirement for states to get the stimulus money." Pressed for specifics on how that would affect the city schools, the chancellor hedged, saying he's waiting for more details from the Obama administration. In fact, a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Education told me that states will receive the stimulus funds regardless of their willingness to evaluate teachers using student test scores. "We’re encouraging states to do merit pay," he said. "But to get all of the stimulus money you don’t have to do merit pay." The notion that there are strings in the main pot of the stimulus money is not entirely off base. The federal DOE is asking states to pledge to do a list of four things with the money before they get it (an occurrence that's scheduled to happen next month, a spokesman told me). Two points on that list also seem to add up to merit pay, or at least provide the ingredients to make it possible — one asking states to improve "teacher effectiveness" and another asking them to create data systems to track students' progress. And President Obama did, just this week, signal his interest in seeing federally funded merit-pay programs expand to 150 districts from a measly 34. Finally, there's another $5 billion pot of money in the stimulus, the "race to the top" fund, that states will have to apply for the use of — and which is dedicated to "innovative" programs that could include performance-based pay. Here are the four criteria states will have to promise their stimulus funds will meet, cribbed from these federal DOE stimulus guidelines:
Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein this morning celebrated how much they believe they have in common with President Obama on school issues, calling his speech this week a reflection of many of the changes they've made to the New York City public schools. They made the remarks in a school library alongside Deborah Kenney, the founder of the Harlem Village Academy charter school network. Among the city projects they said they feel Obama endorsed: the city's effort to pay teachers based on their school's performance; projects that give students feedback on their academic performance through regular tests; work improving poor-performing schools by starting new small schools and improving transfer schools; and their efforts to expand parents' options with charter schools. Neither Philissa nor I could be there this morning, so we don't have the full account. But Klein praised Obama's education speech as "bold" and "visionary" in an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer this morning. His comment: I think his speech was bold, and I think it’s visionary, and if you look at the various components, Brian, I think it echoes a lot of what the mayor has done in the city. But more importantly [it] charts a way for the nation to deal with both the global achievement gaps that we’ve talked about many times and the racial and ethnic achievement gaps. So it’s a serious and important speech. Here's the full press release from City Hall:
It's one thing for Randi Weingarten, the teachers union president, to say she's behind President Obama's reform mission to track teacher performance — as long as he gets the details right. It's another for her to lay out what those details are. That's what her national union, the American Federation of Teachers, did today, by way of a press release from Anderson, Indiana. Yeah, I've never heard of Anderson either, but apparently teachers there passed a program that will mentor struggling teachers — and give evaluations that point out their strengths and weaknesses. “PAR is an example of an innovative, successful union-led education reform,” said Dal Lawrence. “It shows just how inaccurate the stereotype is that teacher unions are anti-reform or anti-accountability.” Here's the full release, which is from the Anderson union but was sent to me by the national press shop:
The large auditorium at P.S. 194 in Harlem was filled to the brim for last night's meeting. <em>Photo by Kyla Calvert. </em> Despite repeated cries for a calmer debate, including one from a City Council representative who said he was dismayed by the "divided house," it was wagging fists, name-calling, and raucous shouting matches that ruled the day at a hearing last night in Harlem. The crowd had gathered to discuss the city's proposal to replace P.S. 194, an elementary school the city announced in December it plans to phase out, with a charter school founded by Eva Moskowitz. But they left late last night with no consensus on what to do next, aside from the resounding certainty that the move to add more charter schools to Harlem — which now has 24 charter schools, making it second only to New Orleans in market saturation — will not happen without a bitter fight. Among those who spoke out against the charter school coming into P.S. 194 were Annie B. Martin, president of the New York chapter of the NAACP; City Council member Robert Jackson; City Council member Inez Dickens; a staff member of state Sen. Bill Perkins; and a representative of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Jackson not only condemned the decision but said he is considering holding a hearing at City Hall to pursue the matter. The dissenting voices often collided with equally passionate parents and teachers at the charter school, Harlem Success Academy 2, and the two camps found themselves in several shouting matches. At one point, a P.S. 194 mother screamed so loudly into the microphone about her despair that 194 is shutting down that a Harlem Success mother stood up with her finger to her mouth. "Shh!" she said. When the woman did not calm down, the charter school mother took her twin son and daughter by the hand and pulled them out of the auditorium. "I don't need my kids to see this," another Harlem Success mother had said moments earlier, tugging her children out of the assembly hall. At other moments, emotional testimony led pockets of the audience to rise to their feet in anger. The shouting drowned out any words.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the philanthropist Eli Broad at an inauguration party thrown by Broad. (Via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/34577258@N02/3215801647##Flickr##) The education philanthropist Eli Broad is based in Los Angeles, but at an event this week in Manhattan he painted a vivid picture of the unique influence he's exerted in the New York City schools. Broad said that his foundation has given money to the two charter schools the union president here, Randi Weingarten, opened; has trained seven or eight of the top officials in Chancellor Joel Klein's Department of Education; and was a player in Klein and Weingarten's merit-based pay deal. The remarks came at an event at the 92nd Street Y Monday, where the writer Matthew Bishop of the Economist interviewed Broad on a small stage. Broad said the close relationship began as soon as Klein took the job. "From the first day Joel took office, literally, we met with him," he said. He is close with other education leaders, too. In Washington, D.C., the Broad Foundation has met repeatedly with superintendent Michelle Rhee and is believed to be one of the groups that would fund Rhee's plan to give teachers more money in exchange for giving up tenure rights. Broad said on Monday that several of his staff members are taking jobs in Arne Duncan's U.S. Department of Education. The relationships are part of the Broad Foundation's aggressive education agenda, which includes opening many charter schools, adopting corporate models for school leadership, and changing the way teachers are compensated. Because they are not beholden to public opinion, philanthropies can be "far more aggressive" in their goals than most politicians, Broad said. "We don't mind taking risks. We don't mind being criticized, at times even being hung in effigy," he said.
In this week's memo to principals, Chancellor Joel Klein offers some tips about the best ways to use the reams of student data the Department of Education is providing. One suggestion that seems slightly out of character (or at least out of caricature): Don't gather too much data! The motivating idea seems to be to save both paper and time by replacing binders stuffed with spreadsheets with online reports generated by ARIS, the computer data system that the city relaunched this year. Here's Klein's own words, part of a list that he says the teachers union helped create: 2. Evaluate the information you gather and reduce redundancy in reporting. Consider whether information on student and school performance that is now being made available to your school through ARIS, your Progress Report, Quality Review, Learning Environment Survey, Inquiry Team Tool (ITT), and your Periodic Assessment reports makes it unnecessary for your school to continue gathering information in other, more time-consuming and less effective ways. In particular, consider whether it is effective to print out and assemble binders of assessment results. In many cases, assessment information is available in ARIS or in other places on the Internet, and can be more easily accessed and analyzed in an online format. And, as you know, you need not create any binders or other documents for the sole purpose of preparing for the Quality Review. Quality Reviewers focus only on data and reports that schools actually use in the regular course of the day and the school year. For example, you can show reviewers how you use the “student groups” function in ARIS to track the progress of groups of your students throughout the year. The full memo: