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July 9, 2012
Phase one of Stuy HS cheating inquiry ends in canceled scores
It's summer break, so Stuyvesant High School students probably weren't listening to the radio at 7 a.m. today. But if they were, 69 of them would have found out from Chancellor Dennis Walcott that they will have to retake the end-of-year Spanish exams they took last month. That's the number of students that Department of Education investigators concluded had received exam questions in advance via a text message from a classmate. Walcott announced during an appearance on the John Gambling Show that also touched on the schools thrown into limbo by an arbitrator's ruling last month and the Department of Education's new focus on college readiness. The first phase of the investigation, conducted by the department's internal Office of Special Investigations, looked only at student behavior and meted out punishments, including some suspensions, according to the city's discipline code, Walcott said. The next phase, he said, is to look at whether Stuyvesant's principal, Stanley Teitel, and his staff followed the appropriate protocol after learning about the cheating on the city exams. "We have to look at the process," Walcott said. "Once the allegation was made, what happened after that?" Teitel sent a letter to parents June 20 alerting them to the cheating and informing them that students suspected of cheating would lose some privileges, such as the right to leave campus for lunch. But the city did not find out about the cheating allegations for nearly a week after that letter went home.
June 28, 2012
Schools chiefs give publishers ultimatum about new standards
Greg Worrell (right), an executive at Scholastic, introduces himself to Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard after the event. Calling for a "buyers' cartel" against the publishing industry, more than 30 large urban school districts have formed an agreement to purchase only instructional material that meets new learning standards' high bar of rigor. "I think through our collective efforts we want to make sure that the publishing industry understands the power of all of us working together," New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today. Walcott was among more than two dozen superintendents and chief academic officers who convened at the New York City Public Library to announce the pact. The leaders said they were affirming their commitment to ensuring the ambitious Common Core standards aren't watered down by publishers seeking easy profits. The event was organized by the city Department of Education; the Council of Great City Schools; and Student Achievement Partners, the nonprofit that developed the Common Core. New York City alone spends $100 million a year on materials produced by publishers, Walcott said today. And together, the council's 67 member districts spend more $2 billion annually on instructional materials, including textbooks, supplemental reading text, and online resources. The education publishing industry is dominated by multinational conglomerates including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Scholastic, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In a 40-minute presentation today, Jason Zimba and Susan Pimentel, founders of Student Achievement Partners, indicted the industry for creating low-quality materials that they said contributed to lagging student achievement. "Part of the purpose of this event is to say loudly and clearly that the major cities in this country are really quite serious about this and we're going to pull together and signal to you what it is that we need and let the marketplace respond,"said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools.
June 27, 2012
Union's 'community schools' initiative gets a boost from the city
Teachers' union president, Michael Mulgrew, greets chancellor Dennis Walcott, at announcement for community school initiative. When teachers' union president Michael Mulgrew announced a grant program last month to bolster social services in schools, he said the union was moving ahead because the Department of Education was not. But today, when Mulgrew announced the schools that will receive grants, Chancellor Dennis Walcott was standing next to him. The two came together in a last-day-of-school show of camaraderie after a year in which relations between the union and the city grew more strained than ever. The joint appearance meant that amount of grant money awarded doubled, to $600,000, since Mulgrew's May announcement. That will make it possible for six schools to bring health and dental clinics, tutoring, counseling programs, and social services to students and their families, as part of a pilot program to create “community schools.” The UFT and Department of Education are each contributing $150,000, and the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business groups, is adding another $300,000. The initiative is based on a program in Cincinnati that coordinates and targets social services there. The goal is to harness existing services so they are used more effectively. “We put enormous resources into our education system, into our healthcare system, and some of our other service systems, but we don't do a very good job of maximizing the output,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City. “We've had services for very long time in New York City. What we want to do now is start coordinating the services at the school site,” said Mulgrew, who was part of the team that began developing the initiative two years ago.
June 22, 2012
State attaches several strings to city's bid for "turnaround" aid
Three months after the city asked the state for federal funds to fuel school 'turnaround' efforts, the state has responded — with a resounding "maybe." In a letter released late Friday, State Education Commissioner John King said the way the city plans to overhaul 24 struggling schools meets the state's requirements. But he said he would only hand over the federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants, if the city meets steep conditions. To meet some of those conditions, the city would need to come out ahead in arbitration with the teachers union over collective bargaining rules at the 24 schools. It must also prove that community members were looped in on the city's planning process. The arbitration, which covers a dispute over whether the city may use a process outlined in the teachers union contract for schools that close and reopen (called 18-D), is set to end next week. If the union comes out ahead, hiring and firing decisions at the schools would be reversed and, according to King's letter, the city would not be able to collect the SIG grants, which total nearly $60 million. Earlier this year, King said he saw the city's proposal as "approvable." But he stayed quiet as the city signaled it would not force schools to adhere to a central requirement of turnaround set by the U.S. Department of Education: that they replace at least 50 percent of their teachers. King's letter today says the city must meet the federal government's staffing requirements. State turnaround advisors say "the percentage matters," SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said over email. "18-D is the mechanism to achieve the required percentage."
June 22, 2012
Walcott, football star urge rising HS students to plan for college
Chancellor Walcott and football player Denard Robinson (center) speak with Javier Sarmiento, an eighth grader at I.S. 195 Roberto Clemente. Sarmiento will be attending Central Park East High School in the fall. In its latest effort to get young, male students thinking about the path to college, the city enlisted glow-sticks and a Big Ten football player.
June 21, 2012
Schools picked to pioneer college prep program for young men
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks at And thean Expanded Success Initiative announcement. And then there were 40. Earlier this year the Department of Education named 81 schools that could be eligible to lead one of the most significant educational programs in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative. Last month, 57 schools submitted proposals for the pot of funds attached to the program, called the Expanded Success Initiative. The funds would go toward programs to improve the college readiness rates of male students. The 40 schools that made the cut were named today. They will receive $250,000 each to pioneer new college-readiness strategies. Monitors will evaluate the progress the schools make over the course of the coming year and provide feedback for what may eventually become citywide policies. The schools were selected because they have already made strides serving youth of color, but they are still struggling to meet the city's new college readiness metrics, officials said. To be eligible, schools were required to have a four-year graduation rate above 65 percent, to have received an A or B on their most recent progress reports, and to have student bodies comprised of at least 35 percent are black or Latino males and 60 percent are qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. "You have done well in your high school graduation rate, but now we've redefined the message, along with the state," Chancellor Dennis Walcott told an audience of school leaders and students at an event today welcoming schools to the initiative. "It's no longer just about high school graduation, it's about college and career readiness, making sure all of our students can attain that high goal."
June 18, 2012
In rare Sunday dispatch, Walcott pans UFT's plan to curb abuse
The United Federation of Teachers' latest idea for stopping sex abuse in schools is "disingenuous shell game" aimed at protecting teachers who misbehave, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott charged in an unusual weekend letter to the union's president, Michael Mulgrew. The letter, released to the press Sunday afternoon, came in response to Mulgrew's proposal that the city reexamine how it screens school workers as a strategy to curb a recent spate of sex abuse case. Mulgrew made the suggestion to members of the City Council on Friday. But all school workers already go through a rigorous examination before they are hired, Walcott said, and what the city needs is more freedom to fire those who are found to have behaved inappropriately once they are working in city classrooms. Walcott has been arguing that point strenuously in recent weeks to push a bill that would give the chancellor, rather than independent arbitrators, the power to fire teachers in sex abuse cases. The bill, which would affect at most a handful of teachers, has gained little attention in Albany and is unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends Tuesday.
June 15, 2012
Walcott reassures Harlem parents over latest sex crime case
Chancellor Walcott takes questions outside P.S. 208 on 1West 11th Street. Dennis Walcott's first stop on a busy Friday was to reassure anxious families at Harlem's P.S. 208, where a teacher was arrested yesterday on charges of molesting a third-grader. Walcott has made a series of similar visits this spring at schools around the city amid a spate of sex abuse accusations. The surge in accusations has spurred Walcott to campaign for a state law that would make it easier for him to fire teachers who commit sexual misconduct, a campaign that he took to the op/ed page of the New York Times today. But Walcott said the bill would not likely apply to a case like P.S. 208's, which is being handled by the District Attorney, not Department of Education or city investigators. School workers who are convicted of sex crimes in criminal courts are fired under existing rules. But if they are charged but acquitted, non-criminal investigators can still find culpability, which would trigger a discipline hearing that could result in the teacher being fined and reinstated. "We'll have to see what happens with the case itself," he told reporters. "One of the things I've been talking about is cases that may not be a conviction, but have been substantiated by the Special Commissioner of Investigations. I want to move those decisions out of the hands of arbitrators." Walcott spoke to lawmakers in Albany last week, and has sent city officials to hold more meetings this week. But sources told the Daily News that the bill is not likely to pass during this legislative session, which concludes on Tuesday.
June 11, 2012
Bloomberg praises 2011 grad data growth, but hedges on future
Bloomberg with Walcott and Nilda Gomez-Katz, one of four high school principals at the old Bushwick High School building. Mayor Bloomberg did his best to put a rosy spin on the newly-released graduation rates that showed New York City's progress last year has flattened for the first time in seven years. Stunted graduation numbers weren't a setback as much as they were an impressive achievement in the face of higher standards, he said at a press conference this afternoon. And better rates of improvement in other cities weren't an indication of New York City's failures, but a credit to what those school districts were doing right. "They're doing a great job and they should be congratulated," Bloomberg said, even though in past years he's used such comparisons to tout his own city's growth. "That doesn't mean we aren't doing a great job." But even Bloomberg grew sober when asked about future graduation rates. Beginning this year, all students who began high school in 2007 or after will not have the option to earn a less-demanding local diploma, which for years helped prop up the city's overall graduation numbers. "That'll make it tougher," the mayor said. The man to his left, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, quickly agreed.
June 5, 2012
Only division during ed officials' pitch is teacher ratings' release
New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott (left) joined State Education Commissioner John King (center) and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on a Philanthropy New York panel. Speaking to philanthropists and foundation leaders on Monday, the city, state, and national schools chiefs presented a united front — except when it came to the sticky issue of whether to release teachers' ratings to the public. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, State Education Commissioner John King, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered up tips on financing school reform at Philanthropy New York's 33rd annual meeting. The meeting drew representatives from major education organizations used to making and receiving philanthropic gifts, including the Harlem Children's Zone and The After-School Corporation. It also attracted education policy neophytes from large private foundations: Many in the audience didn't know how many of New York State's 250,000 ninth graders typically make it to 12th grade without dropping out (Duncan furnished the answer: 188,000). The trio of education policy heavyweights together urged attendees to think about how their contributions could support their priorities, such as implementing new learning standards, known as the Common Core, and overhauling the country's lowest-performing schools. Walcott told the audience that private donations have fueled some of the city's most innovative reform efforts, including the Common Core Library and the technology-infused iZone. “I’m actually not coming here to ask you to give a lot more, although that would be great too, but to be really smarter in what you’re giving,” Duncan said. But they were divided when moderator Beth Fertig, WNYC's education report, asked whether they thought districts and states should make teacher evaluations available to the public, as New York City did in February in response to requests from several news organizations. It's a question that state lawmakers could tackle this month.
May 29, 2012
Bill would give city the right to fire teachers in sex abuse cases
State senator Stephen Saland (right) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg look on as Chancellor Dennis Walcott describes the reasoning behind a bill that would give the city decision-making power when teachers are accused of sexual misconduct. A legal change that Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced he wanted in March now has a legislator standing behind it. State Sen. Stephen Saland is sponsoring a bill that would give school district chiefs the right to fire teachers who have been found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with a student. Under the current disciplinary process, once the city files charges against a teacher accused of misconduct, an independent arbitrators determines whether teachers have behaved inappropriately, and determine the punishment, no matter the offense. This bill would create a new disciplinary process for the small number of teachers accused of sexual misconduct. The special process would send the arbitrator's ruling back to school district officials, who could overrule it. The district would have the power to fire any teacher found to have engaged in sexual misconduct. Termination would be the default consequence, although the district could opt for a lesser punishment. Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg announced the proposed legislation today at Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence on the Upper East Side. Flanked by Saland, the superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools and several other representatives of state district superintendents, Walcott and Bloomberg said those who might oppose the legislation would be choosing to protect teachers over students. "If city government can't take care of them, I don't know who is going to," Bloomberg said about city students. "We are calling on the United Federation of Teachers to join us."
May 25, 2012
Parents of English language learners flock to annual conference
Parents at the city's 10th annual English language learners conference literally lept out of their chairs at the chance to meet and take a photo with Chancellor Dennis Walcott this morning. During his brief speech about how the parents could help their children in school, dozens of parents crowded around the stage, cameras and smart-phones in hand. More later greeted him off-stage, where he shook hands and posed for photos.
May 18, 2012
"Turnaround" hiring to resume, but decisions could be reversed
State Education Commissioner John King observes an English and Language Arts class at the Dual Language Middle School. Hiring is set to resume at the 24 "turnaround" schools under an agreement city and union officials reached late Friday afternoon. But the hiring decisions could be reversed if an arbitrator ultimately decides that the unions' complaint — that the city is attempting to circumvent contractual hiring and firing policies at the schools — is valid. The city teachers and principals unions sued to stop the hiring process, but on Wednesday, a State Supreme Court judge urged both sides to accept arbitration rather than pursue litigation. Today, the city and unions agreed "in principle" to seek arbitration, selected an arbitrator, and selected a first meeting date — June 5. In the meantime, the city will continue the process of rehiring or replacing teachers at the schools — but will have to run the risk of having those decisions undone if the arbitrator rules in the unions' favor. The outcome of the contractual dispute could affect the state's ability to approve those 24 schools for a pot of federal funds, Commissioner John King told reporters today.
May 17, 2012
In lieu of new evaluations, city looks to options in union contract
Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks to business leaders at the Association for a Better New York breakfast. After years of trying to win new powers to fire under-performing teachers, the city is turning to rights it has had all along. Speaking to a coalition representing the city's business elite this morning, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that the city would move to fire any teacher who receives "unsatisfactory" ratings for two years in a row. He also announced that the city would ask the UFT to allow buyouts for teachers who have been without permanent positions for more than a year. Both policies are already permitted under the law and the city's contract with the teachers union — a fact that drew ridicule from UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "It's theater of the absurd. It's getting old," he said. "I think they believe that everyone's a fool. They've made an announcement about something they already have the ability to do." Mulgrew noted that the union contract already allows Department of Education officials to do exactly what Walcott's two plans announced today would do—incentivize teachers without permanent jobs to take buyouts, and require schools to remove teachers who receive consecutive unsatisfactory ratings. He also said the buyout plan was proposed by the union several times over the past three years, but the city rebuffed it.
May 17, 2012
Walcott: City won't wait for evaluations to tackle teacher quality
Even without a new teacher evaluation system, New York City will ramp up efforts to weed out teachers who "don't deserve to teach," Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. In an early-morning speech to the Association for a Better New York, a business and political group, Walcott said the city would adopt new policies to insulate students from teachers deemed "unsatisfactory" under the current evaluation system. Under the new policies, no student will be allowed to have a teacher rated unsatisfactory multiple years in a row, and the city will move to fire all teachers who receive two straight U ratings. "If we truly believe that every student deserves a great teacher, then we can’t accept a system where a student suffers with a poor-performing one for two straight years," Walcott said. "One year of learning loss is bad enough — but studies indicate that two years could be devastating." The policies would go into effect if the city and union do not agree on new teacher evaluations by September, when the new school year begins. Under the existing evaluation system, two consecutive U ratings can trigger termination proceedings but do not have to. Two "ineffective" ratings on teacher evaluations now required under state law would automatically trigger termination proceedings. Walcott also announced that the city would capitalize on a clause in its contract with the teachers union to offer a resignation incentive for teachers who have spent more than a year in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions. Buyouts would have to be negotiated for each teacher, and Walcott promised that the incentives would be "generous." The move represents a shift in approach for the Bloomberg administration, which has previously sought the right to fire members of the ATR pool. Walcott's complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below. We'll have more on his proposals later today.
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