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September 24, 2009
Arne Duncan on NCLB: “We are lying to parents and children”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is laying the groundwork for a reauthorized don’t-call-it-No Child Left Behind law right. This. Moment. He wants to keep a…
August 12, 2009
Merryl Tisch challenges Obama, Duncan to a public debate
Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents (file photo) Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is challenging President Obama and his secretary of education to a verbal duel over New York's access to a special pot of federal stimulus dollars for schools. "I am willing to debate the president and Arne Duncan in public space at any time of their choosing on the impact of this law in New York State," Tisch said in a telephone interview this evening. Obama administration officials have said that states that ban the use of test scores to evaluate teachers will not be eligible for the dollars, called the Race to the Top fund. A New York law prohibits something very similar, using student test scores to decide whether teachers deserve tenure. A nonprofit group, The New Teacher Project, today said the law should exclude New York from receiving Race to the Top funds. (Founded by Michelle Rhee, the D.C. schools chancellor, The New Teacher Project brings non-traditionally trained teachers into school districts and advocates for teaching policies that often clash with teachers unions' positions.) Duncan himself has suggested that New York's law does not make the cut. "Believe it or not, several states including New York, Wisconsin, and California, have laws, they have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data," Duncan said at a June conference where he previewed the guidelines around the fund. The administration's aim is to spur states to change laws and policies it disapproves of. Duncan has vowed to dole out the dollars in two batches, one this fall and the next in 2010, in order to give state legislatures time to change their laws. But New York officials, including Governor Paterson and Tisch, have refused to accept that the state might be disqualified. Teachers union officials, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who lobbied state lawmakers to pass the law last year, are also lobbying hard for New York not to be disqualified.
August 7, 2009
The fruitful alliance of Arne Duncan and Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch and Arne Duncan. (Images via Creative Commons) The New York Post patted its own back today, hard, for helping the state renew the mayor's control of the public schools. The surprising thing is that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined in, thanking the newspaper, owned by the ambitious Rupert Murdoch, for its "leadership" and "thoughtfulness." New York City newspapers have a proud tradition of waging campaigns both on and off the editorial page, and then congratulating themselves when they hit their marks. But having a cabinet member for a sitting president join the cheering is more unusual. "I think that must be out of context, that Arne Duncan is giving the Post credit for mayoral control," the president of the principals' union, Ernest Logan, said when I called to ask his impression. The news series the Post ran extolling mayoral control Richard Colvin, who directs the Hechinger Institute for education journalism at Columbia University, said he found the whole news story baffling. "It reads like nothing I've ever seen. It reads like the worst kind of back-patting, self-congratulatory press release that has no perspective whatsoever," he said. Duncan's quote does illustrate a strange alliance that fought hard for mayoral control's renewal, Murdoch and the secretary of education among them.
July 27, 2009
New York State could have hope for elite $5 billion stimulus fund
The fact that New York prohibits the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions would seem to axe the state from the race for Race to the Top dollars. But there are growing suggestions that the state could take home a share after all. Race to the Top is a special $5 billion federal stimulus fund meant to spur innovation in public schools. It is available only to states and districts that meet certain requirements. One of those requirements is that they allow teacher evaluations to be tied to student performance. New York State's tenure law, passed last year under pressure from teachers unions, says student test score data can't be the sole determinant of whether a teacher gets tenure. But three top officials — teachers union president Randi Weingarten, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, and incoming State Education Commissioner David Steiner — are arguing that the law will not disqualify New York from the fund. "It is our firm belief that the language of Race to the Top funding does not preclude New York," Steiner said today. "New York has a law on the books that relates strictly to tenure." Weingarten noted that a second section of the same law explicitly requires teachers' annual evaluations, which take place even after they receive tenure, to be based in part on how they use test score data to improve their instruction.
July 17, 2009
Arne Duncan's push to change teacher laws posts Hoosier victory
Will Obama officials succeed in their mission to use the Race to the Top fund to re-write state education laws? The state of Indiana, where a recent down-to-the-wire budget session featured a teacher-evaluation mini drama, offers some clues. The drama began with pressure from the Obama administration to repeal a law banning the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Alarmed, state education officials lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers acted, inserting a repeal of the law into the state's budget. But mere hours before the new budget passed, lawmakers at the state House removed the repeal at the request of the teachers' union. The final budget includes a roundabout compromise allowing districts to use student data to assess teachers — but only in cases where federal grant money requires it. "We had a clear message from the secretary [Arne Duncan] that we were putting our ability to compete for the Race to the Top Funds at risk," a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, Cam Savage, said. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has communicated frequently with the federal education department about Indiana's strengths in the competition for grant funds, Savage said. Bans on using student test scores to assess teachers seem to be the next group of laws on the Department of Education's watch list. States and districts already took note after Obama administration officials used the threat of denying Race to the Top funds to push against state laws limiting the spread of charter schools. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed or introduced legislation since the end of May to lift their charter caps.
July 13, 2009
On D.C. stage, Weingarten urges officials to work with unions
From Randi Weingarten's speech to a national union conference in D.C., where she is now being joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a town hall-style meeting: I hope you're as outraged as I am when our critics say that unions are part of the problem, not the solution; that we are only in it for ourselves; that we represent adults against kids; and that we are a selfish special interest set against the public interest. We won't let them take away our jobs. We won't let them cut our pay. We won't let them plunder our pensions. And I will be damned if I let them define who we are. Because nobody-nobody-goes into teaching to feather his or her own nest. And this union, which proudly works on its members' behalf, has always been about something bigger. That is why we fight-24/7/365-for the social and economic conditions that will help our students do better in school. Apparently pins being handed out to members say "with us, not to us." The conference, called QuEST, focuses on best practices for teaching and learning. Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and her term as president of the New York City union expires at the end of the month. Her full prepared remarks are below:
July 9, 2009
Obama official to New York: Change your tenure law or else
PHOTO: Kayleigh SkinnerJoanne Weiss The Obama administration official in charge of an educational innovation fund yesterday issued a warning to a New York audience: Unless the state legislature revises a law now on the books about teacher tenure, the state could lose out on the $4.35 billion fund she controls. Joanne Weiss said the Obama administration aims to reward states that use student achievement as a "predominant" part of teacher evaluations with the extra stimulus funds — and pass over those that don't. New York state law currently bans using student data as a factor in tenure decisions. Test scores aren't everything, Weiss said. "But it seems illogical and indefensible to assume that those aren't part of the solution at all," she said, echoing nearly word-for-word Education Secretary Arne Duncan's remarks last week to the National Education Association. The pessimism about New York's policies is a departure from Duncan's tone during a visit to New York City in February, when he was cheery about the state's chances in the competition. Duncan also briefly mentioned New York as one of several states whose firewalls around student and teacher data need to come down in a recent speech, and he indicated that New York's cap on charter schools may also hurt the state's chances at a slice of the stimulus pie. Weiss, who worked at the New Schools Venture Fund before heading to Washington, said the "disadvantage" of the tenure law to New York could be counterbalanced by efforts here that the Obama administration admires. She praised a New York City program that is evaluating individual teachers based on their students' test scores. One strength of the program, Weiss said, is that city teachers generally accept the evaluations as an accurate and fair assessment of their performance.
July 2, 2009
The lobbying group challenging teachers unions takes on America
A screenshot from ##http://www.dfer.org/##DFER's web site## advertises four new branches. (The Florida branch is yet to be official, according to executive director Joe Williams.) The lobbying group whose H.R. recommendations virtually staffed President Obama's Education Department is spreading its "reform" tentacles. Democrats for Education Reform now has branches in Missouri, Colorado, and Wisconsin, in addition to its hometown, New York, and the organization plans to be in 10 states by 2011, executive director Joe Williams told me earlier this week. "We have very good conditions at the federal level right now for at least talking about reform, but we're really talking about what at the end of the day is a local issue," Williams said. "So the strength of any national organization like ours is really going to come down to how strong its local units are." The new branches are mostly self-sustaining, relying on leadership from volunteer boards and local residents already active in education. "It's a lot of people who were doing a lot of work on reform, but there was no political arm to engage at the political level," Williams said. What Williams calls DFER's "outpost" in Colorado is a case study for its plans elsewhere. Rather than generate policy ideas, the organization focuses on raising money for candidates who support its favored brand of changes to education — policies like charter schools, merit pay, and higher teaching standards. Among the Colorado officials DFER supports is Mike Johnston, who advised candidate Obama's presidential campaign and replaced the president of Colorado's state senate, Peter Groff, after he joined President Obama's education department.
June 12, 2009
Warning against a "halt" to "progress," Duncan sent letter Monday
In a two-page letter sent to the Citizens Union Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered a stern warning that placing restrictions on mayoral control could "turn back the clock and halt progress" and have "profoundly negative consequences for New York City's students." We reported yesterday that Duncan had sent such a letter, but at the time U.S. Department of Education officials wouldn't confirm that the letter existed. That changed a few minutes ago when an official e-mailed it over. The full text of the letter is after the jump.
June 12, 2009
Arne Duncan asked Citizens Union to reconsider its position
The executive director of the Citizens Union confirmed today that the group changed its mayoral control position after Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally asked members to reconsider. At issue was whether to insulate school board members from being fired at will by the mayor by giving them fixed terms. The Citizens Union had supported fixed terms, but Duncan "made it known very clear that he did not support fixed terms and would like the organization to take a look at this position and we did," CU's executive director Dick Dadey. At a press conference today in front of Tweed, the group announced its support for extending mayoral control without fixed terms. The announcement came after the group received a letter from Duncan and a phone call from Mayor Bloomberg asking them not to endorse fixed terms. According to Dadey, after a year of discussing mayoral control, the group's board members had reached a consensus to support fixed terms, but that was before the phone call and letters, at which point the board decided to reexamine the issue.
June 12, 2009
Arne Duncan: School board members should not have fixed terms
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan confirmed today that he opposes fixed terms for school board members. "I think you have to serve at the mayor’s pleasure," Duncan told me on the phone just now. "If you're going to have mayoral control, you need to have mayoral control." The statement inserts President Obama's top education official even deeper into New York City's debate on school governance. Duncan first voiced his support for mayoral control in New York City to the New York Post editorial board in March. He argued that giving the mayor full control over urban public schools is the best way to turn them around. Many education advocates here, including the teachers union, have pushed for fixed terms as a way to eliminate the mayor's right to remove any school board member at his pleasure. But the issue is facing opposition from Bloomberg and, most recently, from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose latest proposal has school board members serving at the pleasure of the mayor.
May 28, 2009
New York could be boxed out of Duncan's Race to the Top funds
There's another round of federal stimulus dollars that local school districts can hope for, but it may be out of reach for New York schools. That's because the state has a law Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says could jeopardize applications for the funds: a cap on the number of charter schools educators are allowed to create. Duncan told Congress last week that, in awarding a new pot of stimulus funds meant to encourage innovation, he will give preference to states without charter school caps. He said he would also give preference to states with caps that agree to lift them. The pot includes $5 billion to be given through a competitive grant process known as the "Race to The Top." Chancellor Joel Klein has indicated that he wants to apply for Race to the Top funds to expand innovations such as the citywide data system and the bonus program for schools whose students show improvement on test scores.
May 18, 2009
Weingarten: Stimulus money should fund community schools
The special pot of federal stimulus dollars for schools known as the “Race to the Top” money should go toward extra services outside of education,…
May 8, 2009
Betsy Gotbaum warns Arne Duncan not to believe all about NYC
This piece of news slipped through the cracks last month, but it seems newly relevant in light of Mayor Bloomberg's visit to the Oval Office yesterday: In the wake of gushing visits by Arne Duncan, Obama's new education secretary, to New York City schools, Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate, sent Duncan a cautionary note last month. "While we both agree generally that the Mayor should retain control of the school system, I would caution against focusing too much on the data provided by the Department of Education," Gotbaum wrote to Duncan in a letter dated April 27. "I have always said that it is a fundamental flaw that the current system gives the Mayor and the Chancellor an incentive to present information in a positive light." Gotbaum, who first reported the letter on her blog, enclosed a copy of the report on school governance that she commissioned and the accompanying book, which was published by the Brookings Institution. For what it's worth, a slightly curious thing about the visit to D.C. yesterday is that only three men entered the Oval Office with President Obama: the Rev. Al Sharpton; Newt Gingrich, the former House majority leader, and Michael Bloomberg. Joel Klein, who is a co-creator of the Education Equality Project with Sharpton, appeared later with the men outside the White House to speak to reporters, but he did not enter the Oval Office. Gotbaum's full letter is after the jump:
May 1, 2009
Jon Schnur, "ideolocrat" poster boy, will not work for Obama
[This post has been updated to include a comment from Jon Schnur.] WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jon Schnur, the education policy expert who has been working as an advisor to President Barack Obama and played a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools, will not serve in the Obama administration. He will instead return to running the nonprofit principal-training program New Leaders for New Schools group that he co-founded, according to an e-mail he sent recently to members of New Leaders. Schnur is one of the most high-profile members of the next-generation "reform" camp of Democrats, who push for dramatic changes in public schools, including strong accountability measures. He had been named as a likely chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and was serving as a senior adviser to Duncan, helping him craft the education part of the stimulus bill. Schnur's close role in the administration had been seen as a signal of its direction on education, suggesting that the president was siding with the camp of education advocates that includes Schnur (and for which we singled Schnur out as a spokesman), rather than with the camp that is more skeptical of recent accountability efforts. As word of Schnur's plans spread around Washington, D.C., the major question I'm hearing people ask is why he is not entering the administration — and what that says about the administration's direction. (I am in D.C. for the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, where I am becoming a board member.)
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