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May 3, 2013
At parent forum, mayoral hopefuls vow to stop grading schools
Four of the city's mayoral candidates appeared Thursday evening at a parent-focused forum at P.S. 29 in Brooklyn, which was moderated by Diane Ravitch, a critic of the Bloomberg administration's education policies. City schools' annual letter grades would become a thing of the past if any of the mayoral candidates who attended a parent-oriented forum in Brooklyn Thursday evening takes over City Hall next year. Sal Albanese, Bill de Blasio, John Liu, and Bill Thompson each vowed to stop issuing the grades, which the Bloomberg administration has issued since 2007. The city has used the grades — which are almost entirely based on student test scores for elementary and middle schools — to pick which schools to close and which principals to reward. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and all of the non-Democratic candidates in the race skipped the forum, which was organized by a parent group that formed to oppose high-stakes testing and co-sponsored by the teachers union-aligned Alliance for Quality Education. The school grading issue was one on which the candidates had not clearly staked out positions before moderator — and outspoken critic of the Bloomberg administration — Diane Ravitch asked them about it. But their unanimity reflected the tenor of the evening, in which the four men clamored to demonstrate their alignment with the parents who organized the event and against Mayor Bloomberg's school policies.
April 26, 2013
On the last day of state testing, a sigh of relief and a protest rally
Rally Department of Education Students and teachers have more than perfect spring weather to celebrate this weekend. They are also celebrating the end of this year's state tests, which finished today with a set of open-ended math questions. Last week, students in grades three through eight sat for three days of English exams that got harsh reviews for being overly long and confusing at times. The tests seemed to fulfill the warnings from city and state officials that the transition to new standards called the Common Core would cause scores to plummet. But on Wednesday, the first day of the math test, teachers said the test had been surprisingly easy — so easy, in fact, that some doubted that it actually reflected the challenges of the new standards. After two more days of math testing, teachers said the exam had required more of the critical thinking skills that the Common Core emphasizes. "The second two days were also easier than I expected, but I felt like they required the kids to stop and think," said Bushra Makiya, a teacher at I.S. 303 in the Bronx.
April 25, 2013
Liu audit questions department's ability to tell networks' value
An audit by Comptroller John Liu into one of the Department of Education's school support networks found that it was doing its job — but concluded that the department can't know just how much networks help schools in them. Since 2007, the department has required principals to select support networks based on their philosophies and services, rather than grouping schools by geography. The shift means that support organizations, some run by the department and some by external nonprofits, essentially compete with each other for contracts to offer schools help with teacher training and administrative tasks, in a controversial arrangement that could potentially end when the Bloomberg administration does. Scrutinizing just one of the city's 55 networks, Children's First Network 406, Liu's office found that evidence that it was providing solid support for its schools. Principals in the network said they were satisfied with it, according to the report, released today. But Liu concluded that the department cannot show how much networks cause schools to thrive or struggle. The report recommends that the department solicit more feedback on network performance and also develop "quantifiable criteria and standards" to isolate the impact of the network on a school's performance.
April 5, 2013
Liu's latest education report urges home computers for students
Comptroller John Liu wants the city to help every low-income high school graduate head off to college with his or her own computer. In a new report, Liu — who is also running for mayor — urges the city to partner with technology companies to provide refurbished computers to students who otherwise might not have a computer in college. He also recommends that the city encourage businesses to donate their outdated computer equipment to schools; and expand nonprofit programs that place computers in students' homes and train students to repair their schools' computers. The report on closing the "digital literacy divide" is the latest in a series about how the city can boost the number of its students who graduate from college and contribute to its economy. Altogether, Liu, who is responsible for the city's fiscal stewardship, calls for nearly $40 million a year in new spending on computers and technology programs. (Expanding the student-led computer support program could save the city $15 million a year, according to the report.) The report does not mention mobile technology, which a study released last month by the Pew Internet and American Life Project suggested might be closing the digital divide in some ways.
January 31, 2013
Liu proposes fixed terms, public nominations for PEP members
Comptroller John Liu's report on the Panel for Educational Policy includes a proposal for a nominating committee. The city's school board, used as a rubber stamp for mayoral proposals since 2002, would gain independence under a plan put forward today by Comptroller John Liu. The plan makes Liu the first of the likely candidates for mayor to propose specific changes to the board, known since 2002 as the Panel for Educational Policy. Any changes would require the approval of the state legislature, which is next set to consider New York City's school governance in 2015, to become permanent, but a new mayor could take some of the steps immediately upon taking office. Whether and how to reform the panel is one of the stickiest questions that mayoral candidates face on education.
January 31, 2013
Call for ban on co-locations has charter school backers nervous
The city's charter school sector is pushing back against a groundswell of support for a moratorium on the space-sharing arrangement that has allowed the schools to proliferate. Their resistance is not unified in tone. Some charter school advocates are requesting that proponents of a moratorium reconsider and others are taking their fight to the street.
January 31, 2013
Fault lines emerge in mayoral hopefuls' consensus on schools
Mayoral candidates mingle after discussing education at an event Wednesday hosted by the principals union. If education policy discussions among mayoral candidates were a song, the second verse would be the same as the first. With two recent entrants to the Republican race absent, the lineup for Wednesday evening's discussion, hosted by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, was identical to the first education debate held in November, and the conversation was similar, too. The four Democratic candidates — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former comptroller Bill Thompson — and the single Republican, Manhattan Media publisher Tom Allon, rehashed now-familiar positions on school closures (most want a moratorium), educator as chancellor (almost all are committed to that), and community schools (after a visit to Cincinnati, they are all on board with the model). But CSA President Ernest Logan told GothamSchools that he thought sharper distinctions would emerge in the coming months, particularly about which elements of the Bloomberg administration's school policies each candidate would maintain. "I think [the candidates] are trying to come into their own," he said. "If you dig down deep, I think you can find some disagreement."
January 2, 2013
UFT tours get mayoral hopefuls weighing "community schools"
All four of the likely Democratic candidates for mayor, seen here with Republican Tom Allon during an education policy discussion in November, have traveled to Cincinnati with the United Federation of Teachers to view "community schools." Among the thousand visitors from across the country who streamed through Cincinnati's Oyler School in the last year were all four of New York City's likely Democratic candidates for mayor. They made the trip at the invitation of UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who has been touting Oyler as the epitome of a school model that he hopes New York City's next mayor will promote. The trips have been held up as evidence that the candidates are all trying to win the union's endorsement. But just as significant as why the candidates made the commute is what they saw when they got there. Cincinnati has turned all of its more than 50 district schools into “community schools” that rely on partnerships with businesses and non-profits to provide an array of services. The school buildings stay open until late into the night and on the weekends, providing early childhood centers, adult education, access to gyms, translation services, tutoring, and food banks to the general public. Local hospitals embed nurses in the schools full-time to provide free health, dental, and vision services. As one of the first schools in Cincinnati to make the evolution, a decade ago, Oyler is seen as an anchor for the model.
December 20, 2012
Liu says city should pay CUNY tuition for top high school grads
Comptroller John Liu visited UFT headquarters after being elected in 2009. Today, Liu proposed new education and economic policies, including the "community schools" model the UFT favors. The city should ease the path to college for top high school students by promising them free tuition at city colleges, Comptroller John Liu said today in a "State of the City" speech, his second in 2012. In the speech, Liu put forth a slate of policy proposals, including several focused on education, that he said would enhance the city's economic future. Liu is a likely mayoral candidate, but as comptroller his job is to safeguard the city's financial prospects. "The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our city’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize," Liu said, according to his prepared remarks. "It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college." Liu did not explain how the city could fund the initiative, but it would not cost much. With tuition set at $5,400 a year, even if every student in the top 10 percent of each graduating class enrolled and would not ordinarily receive financial aid — an unlikely scenario — paying their way would cost less than $12 million a year. Other proposals Liu made today would cost the city a lot more.
December 13, 2012
In new arrangement, teachers' pensions to fund infrastructure
President Bill Clinton was joined by AFT President Randi Weingarten (behind him) and other union and city officials today to announce a $1 billion investment of the city's teacher pension fund into Hurricane Sandy recovery projects. One billion dollars of the city's teacher pension fund will be used to finance construction and repair projects for city roads, bridges, and homes, President Bill Clinton and other officials announced Thursday. Clinton joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew, AFT President Randi Weingarten, City Comptroller John Liu, and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan to announce the pledge, which Clinton called “a remarkable commitment” to “properly rebuild in the aftermath of Sandy.” “This storm exposed weaknesses in our infrastructure that must not only be repaired, but we must rebuild in a different way,” said Donovan, who is now in charge of federal Sandy recovery efforts. This will be the first time the city’s teacher pension funds are used for infrastructure projects, Liu said, even though the idea has been around for years. “There’s always been apprehension about, is it going to work, is it potentially a vicious circle? So what I’ve seen is everybody is waiting for somebody else to do it, and therefore nobody does it. I’m very proud that, in this case, New York City is taking the lead,” Liu said after the announcement.
November 20, 2012
Almost all mayoral hopefuls say educator should lead schools
Mayoral hopefuls, from left to right, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, John Liu, Tom Allon and Bill De Blasio, discuss city education policies. When the five leading mayoral candidates were asked on Monday how they would select the next schools chancellor at a forum on city education policy, the presumed longshot had the most specific answer. Newspaper publisher Tom Allon, who recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, was the only candidate to name names — and his shortlist contained an eclectic mix of people. He started with Eric Nadelstern, a former Department of Education deputy who is bullish on school closures and other Bloomberg administration policies, then moved to Hunter College President Jennifer Raab before naming Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor who has been critical of policies favored by the Bloomberg administration. To round out his list, he named John White, who became Louisiana's school superintendent not long after leaving the city Department of Education in 2011. Allon's list elicited laugher and whoops of surprise from the audience, as well as a disapproving remark from Comptroller John Liu, who was sitting beside Allon on the stage. The forum was hosted by Manhattan Media, the company that Allon owns, with help from GothamSchools. (View the entire event.) The one thing all of people on Allon's list have in common is that they have experience working with schools and educators, which Mayor Bloomberg's three chancellors have not had. Bloomberg's first and longest-serving chancellor, Joel Klein, drew criticism because he had come from the corporate world, and most of the candidates were eager to say they would not make the same decision. Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and former comptroller Bill Thompson all promised to choose an educator to lead the schools. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was the only outlier. She said she did not think the next schools chancellor should necessarily have an education background.
October 26, 2012
Advocates turn up pressure as city mulls overcrowding tallies
A citywide effort to make government more efficient has prompted the Department of Education to propose eliminating a handful of the data reports it compiles each year. But as a vote on the proposal approaches, opponents are ratcheting up the pressure in hopes it will not pass. In 2010, voters approved a referendum to create the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which would identify "outdated or redundant" functions in city agencies. Each city agency was asked to suggest ways to trim its oprerations without disrupting government services. The education department recommended that it report class sizes once a year instead of twice and eliminate one place where it compiles the number of classrooms held in trailers. That proposal joined 12 other reports that the seven-member commission recommended eliminating at its first meeting in February. The commission, to which the majority of members were appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, also recommended eliminating seven regulatory boards that currently operate in the city. The commission was supposed to take a final look at the recommendations on Oct. 30, in a meeting that has been rescheduled for Nov. 19 because of a scheduling conflict. Comptroller John Liu and other education advocates say they hope the commission will use the extra time to reconsider the Department of Education's proposal, which they characterized as an effort to cover up overcrowding issues.
October 4, 2012
City comptroller proposes hiring 1,600 new guidance counselors
Comptroller John Liu proposed hiring more guidance counselors today at a press conference where he was flanked by union officials and education advocates. The education policy proposal that Comptroller John Liu put forth today sounded strange coming from the man charged with ensuring the city's financial health: Add $176 million a year to the Department of Education's payroll. But Liu said city students so badly need more help applying to college that it would be worth spending the money to bring on more than 1,500 new guidance counselors, even if he didn't think the funds could be freed up elsewhere within the department's $23 billion budget. "Investment in education today is the best economic development policy for tomorrow," said Liu, a likely mayoral candidate, at a press conference that also featured union officials and education advocates. "The economic challenges facing our city can best be addressed by educating many more New Yorkers beyond high school," he added. The proposal is the first in the comptroller's "Beyond High School NYC" initiative, which Liu said today would use research to propose "strategic investments in public education" to raise the college-graduation rate for New York City public school students. Liu's office calculated that just 21 percent of students who enter city high schools later graduate from college, echoing the city's own determination that just 21 percent of students are college-ready.
September 24, 2012
City to expand pre-K offerings with new seats and a new school
City officials and philanthropists announced two new early childhood initiatives today. From left: Administration for Children's Services Commissioner Ronald Richter, Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Susie Buffett, of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund. Instead of waiting until children are turning five years old to start educating them, the Department of Education is going to start targeting some children at five weeks. Citing research that shows a correlation between long-term achievement and enrollment in high-quality early childhood programs, Mayor Bloomberg announced this morning that the city will open a school next year that enrolls children from infancy through pre-kindergarten — and their parents. Bloomberg also announced a $20 million initiative to turn 4,000 oft-unused half-day pre-kindergarten seats into full-day slots that many parents find more attractive. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott made the announcements today in conjunction with "Education Nation," NBC's annual extravaganza of education policy programming hosted in Midtown Manhattan. This year's summit is focusing on innovations that have been proven to work. One of those is early childhood education, which primes children for academic success in elementary school and beyond. Children's minds are already 85 percent developed by the time they are old enough for kindergarten, a 2005 study found, and early education advocates say interventions in infancy can have a far greater impact on the achievement gap than at any other period in children's lives. In the proposed new school, which would open next September inside Brownsville's P.S. 41, low-income parents would be pushed to develop stronger social and emotional skills with their children while the children are infants and toddlers. Ultimately serving between 115 and 125 families a year, the school will be part of the Educare Schools network, which already operates 17 early childhood schools in 13 states.
September 5, 2012
Candidates to skip first day of school for Democratic convention
Last year, Robert Jackson (l.) and Speaker Christine Quinn, candidates for higher office im 2013, joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew on the first day of school. Visiting schools to shake hands with students and pose with parents on the first day of school is a time-honored stop on elected officials' public schedules. But few of them will be pounding the pavement on Thursday. That’s because their presence is required at a different kind of political event: the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. All of the leading contenders in next year’s mayoral race have made first-day-of-school stops in the recent past. Last year, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn appeared in Inwood with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew to celebrate their budget victory that prevented thousands of teacher layoffs. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer handed out "Back 2 Basics Guides" at several schools, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was in Fort Greene calling on parents to get more involved in their children’s education. As comptroller in 2009, Bill Thompson used the first day of school to criticize the city for increasing class sizes. This year, all four are part of the roughly 450-member New York State delegation that will help nominate President Barack Obama for a second term Thursday evening. On Tuesday, the delegates approved the party platform, presented by Newark mayor Cory Booker, which included a hefty slate of education policy positions.
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