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November 2, 2009
Would a UFT endorsement for Thompson make a difference?
On the night of his primary election victory, city comptroller candidate John Liu stood in the city's teacher union headquarters and thanked the United Federation of Teachers for delivering his win. In the mayoral race, by contrast, the UFT chose to sit on the sidelines and not endorse the Democratic candidate, as it has historically done. How much of a difference has the UFT's decision to sit out the race made for comptroller Bill Thompson's campaign? The answer likely rests on the continuum between not much and not at all, election observers said today. Those who argue that a UFT endorsement would have helped Thompson, if only modestly, point to the UFT's powerful voter turnout machine. In an election predicted to see few voters, the ability to mobilize teachers and parents could be a deciding factor in who wins tomorrow. A spokesman for the union, Dick Riley, estimated that union volunteers had made about 200,000 calls and distributed 50,000 pieces of campaign literature this year on behalf of endorsed candidates in citywide, borough and city council elections. The union also sends out robocalls urging its members to vote for candidates and its president, Michael Mulgrew, made appearances with candidates at press conferences.
October 26, 2009
Thompson and Cerf debate the next four years for city schools
With little more than a week before the mayoral election, candidate Bill Thompson and Christopher Cerf, an adviser to Mayor Bloomberg's reelection campaign, touted their future plans for the city's schools on WNYC today. Given half an hour each on the Brian Lehrer Show, Thompson and Cerf took questions on school safety, the accountability structure, and what major changes they (or their candidate — Cerf hasn't said whether he'll return to the Department of Education after the election) would put in place over the next four years. Throughout the interview, Thompson emphasized his interest in lowering class sizes and shifting school administrators' focus away from standardized tests. Cerf spoke at length about the importance of using technology to cater to students' different learning styles. Neither offered clues to how the city would pay for these changes. Asked by host Brian Lehrer to name the greatest innovation he'd bring to the city's schools, Thompson had one word: curriculum.
October 13, 2009
Thompson and Bloomberg spar over their education records in first mayoral debate
Nothing the candidates said during tonight's mayoral debate was more surprising than the Rev. Billy Talen's spirited heckling, but a few choice comments were made about the city's schools and mayoral control. Right out of the gate, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched into a list of comparisons between the Department of Education during the last eight years and the Board of Education during the time that Comptroller Bill Thompson was president. He recited graduation statistics, said that schools are safer today than they were in the 1990s, and boasted about test scores increases. Thompson said it was ironic that Bloomberg was holding him accountable for the city's schools when the mayor has repeatedly said that no one had control over the Board of Education.
September 28, 2009
Public advocate candidates differ on Klein, class size, charters
In anticipation of tomorrow's runoff election, which is likely to get a trickle of turnout, here's a quick look at how the Democratic candidates for public advocate responded to GothamSchools' education questionnaire. Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn city councilman, and Mark Green, who was the public advocate during the Giuliani administration, have surprisingly little that they agree on, except that the city's school system needs improvement. De Blasio did not say where he stands on the growth of charter schools. Instead, he notes that the siting process needs to be improved and that teachers in charter schools should be able to unionize. Asked if the current statewide cap for charter schools needs to be changed, he writes only that the number should be evaluated. Green, who is typically more blunt, states that he does not support curbing charter schools' growth and that he believes the cap, which is currently set at 200, is "hindering" New York's access to federal education dollars.
September 25, 2009
On Thompson's Board of Ed days, both campaigns distort truth
In an election focused on the city's schools, Comptroller Bill Thompson years as president of the Board of Education have become a misunderstood talking point. As the mayoral race heats up, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller Bill Thompson are butting heads over Thompson's education record. Thompson describes himself as a prescient reformer who, as president of the Board of Education, a position he held from 1996 to 2001, oversaw a higher test score increase than Bloomberg has as mayor. In its first televised attack ad, which aired today, Bloomberg's campaign calls Thompson a do-nothing bureaucrat who allowed a broken system to remain as it was. "When Thompson was president of the Board of Education, he ran the old system," the ad says. "Dropout rates increased. Kids promoted even if they didn't learn." The truth is far away from both of these poles. Interviews with people who worked with Thompson at the time and a review of newspaper articles from the period suggest that Thompson's tenure at the Board of Education was neither innovative nor obstructive. It is better summarized by a story about a creamsicle. In the 1990s, when Thompson was president of the board, a colleague with young children offered him a seat in his office and Thompson, accepting, unwittingly rested his arm in melted popsicle goo. "I managed to get kids' melted creamsicle popsicle crap all over his suit and he walked around like that all day," said the colleague, who asked to remain anonymous because he still works in education. "He never got upset or went bonkers." Instead, Thompson laughed off the sticky predicament, teased his co-worker, and in his typical unflappable manner, went back to work.
September 16, 2009
Chris Cerf and the charter school parent vote
You can say a lot of things about Chris Cerf, the top Klein deputy who's now joining the Bloomberg campaign. He's passionate and fearlessly blunt about his view for how to improve schools. He can also be jolly and pragmatic, managing despite his tough talk on teachers unions to craft a solid working relationship with Randi Weingarten. But for someone who falls squarely on one side of a bitterly divided education world, this line just doesn't make sense: Mr. Cerf, a widely admired figure in the education world, Which education world, New York Times? The first thing we can learn from this piece of news is that Bloomberg definitely means to continue trying to shape the education world into the one Cerf supports. But whether Cerf will really be capable of doing what the Bloomberg campaign seems to expect him to do — deliver the charter school parent vote — is a wide open question.
September 3, 2009
Teachers union endorses Bill de Blasio for public advocate
Making its second endorsement in a citywide race this week, the teachers union will endorse Bill de Blasio for public advocate at noon…
September 1, 2009
Teachers union will endorse Liu for city comptroller today
Comptroller candidate John Liu (image via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/7726351@N07/2553290413/##Flickr##) Choosing its first favorite for a citywide race, the United Federation of Teachers will endorse John Liu for comptroller today at noon. A recent poll shows comptroller candidate Melinda Katz has a modest lead over Liu, her main rival, though the four-way race remains tight, making union endorsements particularly important. In a phone interview this morning, UFT president Michael Mulgrew said that Liu had impressed the teachers union with his work on the City Council's Education Committee. "He went out of the way to make sure he did his homework. He really knew all of the subjects," Mulgrew said. "His homework that he would do on the city contracts was quite impressive — that he would know all the internal pieces and got into them, and the questioning of the no bid contracts." Mulgrew added that Liu's business background and his work as chair of the Council's Transportation Committee — he has frequently criticized the Department of Education's re-writing of the school bus routes in 2007 — had been an additional draw.
August 12, 2009
The 2009 candidates aren't talking much about schools — yet
Democratic primary day is sneaking up on the city, but candidates in district and city-wide races have offered little in the way of public pronouncements on the city's schools. To remedy this, GothamSchools is blanketing candidates' inboxes with an education survey, asking candidates for their opinions on matters from how schools in their districts should be improved, to whether Chancellor Joel Klein should keep his job. But there are dozens of races and even more candidates, so we're asking our readers for assistance. If you know that a candidate in your district or borough is dodging important questions about the schools or has an interesting background in education, send us an email.
August 11, 2009
Klein: "Everybody's behind" the city's retention policies
Joel Klein. (File photo) Joel Klein stayed positive about his reputation in an interview last night on NY1, even as host Dominic Carter played two different clips showing elected officials (both candidates for citywide office) criticizing the schools chancellor. Klein chalked up any complaints he's received to politics — and said President Obama is receiving the same kind of flak on the national stage, for implementing a similar education program. "He's putting those out there, and you know what's happening? You get push back," Klein said. (I put in a call to David Cantor, Klein's spokesman, and I'll write to Klein too, because I'm curious what push back he's referencing. Both teachers unions have largely supported the Race to the Top stimulus fund, if tentatively. Maybe Klein has in mind Diane Ravitch? Or could he have read Leonie Haimson's Huffington Post piece yesterday, "Arne Duncan Has Become An Embarrassment"?) Klein was particularly sanguine about the proposed extension of the city's so-called "social promotion" ban announced yesterday. "When I came on here in 2004, when the mayor ended social promotion, you had the pictures — everybody was demonstrating, and all the noise," Klein said. "Now it is 2009 and we have ended social promotion in every one of these grades, and you know what? You don't hear noise any more, Dominic. You know why? People know what's right for kids."
August 10, 2009
Thompson: I stopped social promotion before Mike banned it
The Bloomberg and Thompson campaigns spent the afternoon jealously guarding their claims to having ended social promotion, though whether either candidate has ended the practice is debatable. Bloomberg campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson led the attack this afternoon, saying that as president of the Board of Education Bill Thompson, currently the city's comptroller, failed to end social promotion. Broadly defined, social promotions means that students are bumped from one grade to the next irrespective of academic problems. Thompson's campaign shot back, defending the mayoral hopeful. "Bill Thompson was at the forefront of ending social promotion long before Mike Bloomberg decided to claim this initiative as his own," read an email from the campaign. In 1999, when Thompson was president of the Board of Education, he did vote for a measure that forced students in grades 3-8 who had low test scores, poor grades, and abysmal attendance to take summer school or repeat a grade.
August 4, 2009
Bloomberg's "conflict of schedules" excuses him from debate
One mayoral hopeful — the city’s current mayor — will be conspicuously absent from a candidates’ debate tonight due to a scheduling conflict. That leaves…
July 31, 2009
Public advocate candidates sound off on mayoral control
Earlier this week, the New York Civil Liberties Union held a debate among the candidates for public advocate, moderated by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News. Gonzalez quizzed the five candidates about mayoral control — the following are their responses (video courtesy of the NYCLU). Next Tuesday the organization is co-hosting a debate for the mayoral candidates. Bill de Blasio said the issue is "very personal" for him, citing his children, who attend public schools, and his service on a school board. "I think we need profound reform of mayoral control," he said, but did not go into specifics. "I'm offended at any effort to reduce the democratic participation of parents in our school system. I believe there's a way to do mayoral control right. I think there are virtues in the system if there is transparency, if there are clear checks and balances, if there is a forum for actual debate, if there is a role for communities and for local residents and for parents."
July 30, 2009
Tony Avella on Thompson: "I don't see how he could ever run"
Tony Avella, the underdog mayoral candidate, doesn’t want to be left out of the fight that’s brewing between Mayor Bloomberg and…
July 24, 2009
Thompson: "Merit pay" is worth trying but probably won't work
A school system run by Comptroller William Thompson would continue experimenting with teacher "merit pay," he said yesterday in an exclusive interview with GothamSchools. But he said he wouldn't expect such an experiment to yield much in the way of results. His mixed message underscores the odd reality of performance pay plans. Though the plans enjoy increasing political support, no research studies have conclusively shown they improve student achievement. "Would I continue merit pay? Yes," Thompson said. "Should it make the difference? Hopefully not."
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