a new plan

These 50 New York City schools could boost teacher pay and get other perks under new Bronx Plan

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat
Staff members collaborate during an attendance meeting in the Bronx.

City officials on Friday announced 50 schools that will be allowed to boost certain staffers’ salaries and give teachers formal decision-making power in their schools — but the plan raised the ire of the principals union.

The Bronx Plan, unveiled as a part of the latest teachers union contract in October, will allow schools in three boroughs to give certain staffers bonuses of up to $8,000 — an effort to persuade teachers to work in the hardest-to-staff schools. Among the participating schools, about 15 percent of their teachers leave each year on average, officials said.

Also included in the plan: a new “collaborative schools model” where teachers and principals will work together on committees to identify their challenges and devise solutions. Teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew has argued the collaboration is even more important than the potential salary bump, empowering teachers to shape school cultures that make them want to stay.

But the union representing principals pushed back hard on Friday. Just as city leaders announced the first crop of Bronx Plan schools, the Council for Schools Supervisors and Administrators announced in a letter to its members that the union had filed a complaint with the state employees relations board over the plan. The union declined to share the complaint with Chalkbeat. 

CSA argues they were cut out of negotiations while the city dealt directly with principals. Union chief Mark Cannizzaro wrote that the education department “attempted to pressure and coerce targeted principals to participate,” and accuses city officials of “misleading and misrepresenting” the status of their bargaining efforts with CSA. He added that the plan will change the duties and responsibility of principals — changes that should have been bargained with the union.

“Unfortunately, our consistent calls to honor the place of school leaders and CSA in a genuine and collaborative way in the rollout of the Bronx Plan have fallen on deaf ears,” Cannizzaro wrote.

Education department officials said schools were “invited to apply” and both the principal and teachers union chapter leader were required to sign off. Schools were eligible based on their location in the city, staff turnover rate, students’ academic performance, and whether there were high levels of trust among staff members, as measured by surveys. Despite the plan’s name, more than a third of the accepted schools are not located in the borough: 11 are in Brooklyn and seven are in Queens.

Although 50 schools were announced Friday, the city plans to eventually spread the program to 180 schools (120 of which will try the collaborative model) across the city in the next three years.

The teams of teachers and administrators will also be eligible for mini-grants that they could choose to spend on new curriculum, provide translation services, or participate in trainings to learn how to better serve specific populations of students, such as those who are homeless, officials said.

At I.S. 318 in the Bronx, principal Njoku Uchechukwu said he hoped that his school’s newly formed committee would zero in on student recruitment and attendance; nearly a third of his students are considered chronically absent. With help from up to $25,000 in mini-grants that Bronx Plan schools will be eligible for, he said the school could bring in an outside expert to examine their attendance outreach programs.

But an even bigger benefit, Uchechukwu said, are the salary bonuses. At city recruitment fairs, “I’ve had to practically beg people to come” visit the school. “It’s not the burnt-out parking lots you see in the movies — there’s a vibrant community here,” he added.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, Cannizzaro said the CSA will “100 percent” support those principals who opted-in to the Bronx Plan, and said that scrapping the agreement now would be “counterproductive” because it would pull back needed resources that come with the program.

Rather, he said he hopes the union’s complaint will bring city leaders to the table to hash out a solution to school leaders’ concerns. The issue could come up at the bargaining table: CSA is currently in negotiations with the city for a new contract, which is set to expire this spring.

“We’re not looking to stop progress in any way. What really we find troubling is the fact that they’ve been touting all over the city this collaborative approach but they didn’t collaborate with us,” Cannizzaro said.

Without directly referencing the principal union, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza brushed off potential criticism of the plan during a press conference at the Highbridge Green School, during which neither he nor the mayor took questions. He said some teachers or administrators might be resistant to the new collaborations. “There may be voices that say to you, why do you want to do this?” Carranza said. “Let me just say, haters are gonna hate.”

The Bronx Plan is similar to previous efforts to improve city schools, including salary incentives and a program known as PROSE, which allowed administrators and teachers to work together to sidestep certain union rules. Those changes were typically minor, however, and some evidence suggested they didn’t lead to improvements in student test scores.

Still, city officials pointed out that the salary boosts in the new Bronx Plan are more targeted at hard-to-staff positions in contrast to previous efforts, which applied to entire schools.

“We’re helping our educators come to the Bronx, stay in the Bronx, serve the children in the Bronx, and be leaders within their schools,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “Circle it on your calendar because you’re going to remember for a long time when something very big began right here.”

Other large efforts to improve schools haven’t had the results city officials had hoped for. De Blasio’s Renewal turnaround program, a $770 million effort to turn around 94 struggling schools, has posted uneven results. Unlike Renewal, which effectively labeled schools as failing, the Bronx Plan is not necessarily targeted at the city’s lowest-performing schools, and does not require they all use the same strategies to spur improvements. (Eleven Renewal schools and one Rise school are also in the Bronx Plan.)

Here is a full list of schools in the Bronx Plan:

Bronx

P.S. 277

Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School

Bronx Leadership Academy II High School

The Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters

Renaissance High School for Musical Theater & Tech

M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar

Bronx River High School

The Hunts Point School

Soundview Academy for Culture and Scholarship

Gotham Collaborative High School

Bronx Arena High School

School for Tourism and Hospitality

J.H.S. 022 Jordan L. Mott

P.S. 063 Author’s Academy

New Millennium Business Academy Middle School

The Highbridge Green School

M.S. 593

M.S. 594

Kingsbridge International High School

High School for Teaching and the Professions

Fordham Leadership Academy

Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship: A College Board School

North Bronx School of Empowerment

Leaders of Tomorrow

Bronxdale High School

Pelham Gardens Middle School

P.S. 214

Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School

Fairmont Neighborhood School

I.S. X318 Math, Science & Technology Through Arts

Bronx Envision Academy

P.S. 536

Brooklyn

High School for Civil Rights

World Academy for Total Community Health High School

The School for Classics: An Academy of Thinkers

P.S. 150 Christopher

P.S. 165 Ida Posner

The Gregory Jocko Jackson School of Sports, Art, and Technology

P.S. 327 Dr. Rose B. English

Brownsville Collaborative Middle School

Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School

Mott Hall Bridges Academy

Teachers Preparatory High School

Queens

P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam

P.S. 43

M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo

P.S. 197 The Ocean School

Village Academy

Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability

Rockaway Collegiate High School

College Access

How an effort to prepare Michigan high schoolers for college slipped through the cracks

The proposal to make it easier for students to earn college credit while still in high school seemed like the rare education policy idea with no natural enemies in the Michigan legislature.

When a bill was proposed in the Republican-controlled Senate, it passed in a unanimous vote.

Then it vanished — apparently pushed aside by more pressing concerns.

“Boy, we must have just missed it,” said Tim Kelly, a former representative who, as chairman of the house committee on education, had the power to bring the bill to a vote last year. “I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t have been in favor.”

Advocates of so-called dual enrollment are hoping their next attempt won’t meet the same fate. They want to lift a cap on state-funded college courses that students can take while still in high school. Dual enrollment is widely considered to be one of the most powerful ways to increase the number of people who earn college degrees.

In an inaugural address to the legislature, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised to sharply increase the number of Michiganders with degrees to 60 percent by 2030. That number currently hovers around 43 percent, putting Michigan in the bottom third of states.

Michigan is one of five states that limit dual enrollment; its limit is the strictest of any state. Advocates say that limiting students to 10 college courses in four years is unusual and unnecessary.

The cap is not the only obstacle preventing students from earning valuable experiences — not to mention college credits — before they turn 18.

It may not even be the most significant. When advocates worry that the growth of dual enrollment in Michigan is slowing, they lay much of the blame on financial incentives that give schools little reason to help students dual enroll.

“I think we should look at [lifting the cap], but we should also look at the funding mechanism,” said Brenda Carter, a state representative who serves on the house education committee. “How many schools in Michigan are limited in what they can offer their students because of funding?”

Schools are required to pay roughly $7,800 in annual tuition for students who choose to take college courses, and some have suggested that the state should help offset those costs.

But any new funding for dual enrollment would require a political battle. Lifting the cap, less so.

That’s why supporters of lifting the cap were so bemused when, last year, a bill that had garnered strong bipartisan support in the Senate never went to a vote in the House.

“That was really surprising,” said Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, a nonprofit that aims to increase the number of students who earn college degrees. In a 2015 report, the organization called for the legislature to “eliminate restrictive rules” surrounding dual enrollment.

Johnson guessed that the 2018 dual enrollment bill slipped through the cracks in part because of its relatively low profile. It was eclipsed in the news cycle by an ongoing debate about school funding and by a political furor over social studies learning standards.

Several legislators told Chalkbeat they didn’t know that dual enrollment is capped.

Among them are Carter and Dayna Polehanki, a Democrat who was elected to the senate in November and is now a vice-chair of the Senate’s education committee, said she became familiar with dual enrollment while working as a high school teacher in Macomb County.

She thought it was good for her students, but said she wanted to learn more about the cap before making up her mind. She pointed out that if students decided to take courses at a community college that were already offered at their local school, schools could find themselves paying for teachers and for students’ community college tuition.

“I can see both sides of that issue,” she said.

The Republican chairs and vice-chairs of both the Senate and House education committees did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Advocates of dual enrollment say it’s worth sorting out the challenges that could come with allowing high schoolers to take unlimited college credits.

With the cap lifted, high school students could earn a diploma from a traditional high school and simultaneously complete a technical certification or an associates degree from a community college. Those students would save money on college credits, and they would finish high school better-prepared for college than peers who’d never set foot in a college classroom.

Lifting the cap “expands access for students, especially low-income students,” Johnson said.

She warned that not all high schoolers are ready to take a heavy college course load. If the cap is lifted, she said, the state should also make sure that students meet a “readiness threshold” — perhaps a minimum standardized test score — before being allowed to dive into college coursework.

But she added that after the bill passed the Senate last year, she believed it had a chance in 2019.

“I am very hopeful,” she said.

Kelly, who reached his term limit in the house last year, said he hopes his former colleagues take a second look at the issue.

“I would hope somebody does,” he said.

Preschool math

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker plows $100 million more into early ed — but no universal preschool this year

In the past decade, as other states have ramped up their spending on early education, budget-strapped Illinois has fallen further behind.

In his first budget proposal as governor on Wednesday, J.B. Pritzker, a philanthropist who has contributed millions to early childhood causes at home and nationally, laid out a plan to reverse that Illinois trend with a historic $100 million bump for preschool and other early learning programs.

“I have been advocating for large investments in early childhood education for decades, long before I became governor,” he said, laying out a $594 million early education spending plan that is part of an overall $77 billion package. “Investing in early childhood is the single most important education policy decision government can make.”

Later in the address, Pritzker detailed a smaller increase, but one that some advocates said was a welcome shift in policy: He described first steps toward repairing a child care assistance program that was drained of families and providers during the administration of his predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new governor plans to spend $30 million more to rebuild the program. He also will increase income eligibility so an estimated 10,000 more families can participate.

“These priorities turn us in a different direction,” said Maria Whelan, CEO of Illinois Action for Children, which administers the child care assistance program in Cook County. Compared with the state’s previous approach, “I feel like I just woke up from a bad dream.”

Pritzker’s otherwise “austere” budget address, as he described it in his speech, came 12 days after his office revealed that the state’s budget deficit was 14 percent higher than expected — some $3.2 billion.

The state’s early childhood budget funds a preschool-for-all program that serves more than 72,000 3- and 4-year-olds statewide in a mix of partial- and full-day programs. Chicago has been using its share of state dollars to help underwrite its four-year universal pre-K rollout, which has gotten off to a bumpy start in its first year.  

The state early childhood grant also supports prenatal programs and infant and toddler care for low-income families.

Pritzker pledged on the campaign trail to pave a pathway toward universal pre-K for the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds, and this budget falls short of the estimated $2.4 billion it would cost, at least according to a moonshot proposal made in January by the lame duck state board of education. The state’s school Superintendent Tony Smith stepped down at the end of January, and Pritzker has yet to name a successor.

But policymakers and advocates on Wednesday said the considerable $100 million increase is a step in the right direction for a state that has been spending less per student than many of its neighbors. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Illinois spent $4,226 per young learner in 2016-2017 compared with a national average that topped $5,000. Seven states spent $7,000 or more.   

“This is a big amount in one year, but also it is what we think is needed to move programs forward, and we’re excited to see it,” said Ireta Gasner, vice president of policy at the Ounce of Prevention, an early-education advocacy group

One item Gasner said she hoped to hear, but didn’t, was increased spending on home visiting programs for families with new babies. Spending on such programs next year will remain flat under Pritzker’s proposal. Home visiting has been suggested as one antidote to the state’s troublingly high maternal mortality rates. An October report from the state’s public health department found that 72 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in Illinois were preventable.

“Overall, we still have a long way to go to serve our youngest families and youngest children,” she said.  

In addition to the $100 million, Pritzker’s office reportedly also will add $7 million to early intervention services for young learners with disabilities and set aside $107 million to help buffer the impact of his new minimum wage increase on daycare center owners and other child care providers who operate on thin margins.

On Tuesday, Pritzker signed into a law a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

Illinois faces a critical staffing shortage of preschool providers, and several operators have warned that they face mounting pressures from staff turnover, increased regulations, and stagnant reimbursement rates.