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June 9, 2009
Al Sharpton says mayoral control in NYC needs parent "respect"
The rift between the Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the two founders of the Education Equality Project, widened this weekend when Sharpton used his weekly radio address to criticize New York City's brand of parent involvement, as we reported he would. Sharpton told the audience at his rally in Harlem on Saturday that problems with education in the city could not be solved "without parental involvement and respect." Dividing the mayoral control debate into two sides, he defined one faction as "our so-called liberal friends," who he said prioritize safeguarding teachers' jobs over the needs of children, and the other as people who say, "Let us run everything and we'll make all the decisions," a reference to Klein's vision of mayoral control.
June 8, 2009
Joel Klein says he's not planning to be the next official to leave
Chancellor Joel Klein. (GothamSchools via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/28995913@N07/3412026378/##our Creative Commons Flickr##) A string of departures by top school officials is fueling speculation that Chancellor Joel Klein could be the next to go. But in an interview today, Klein laughed off the possibility. He said the departures — four since January — are actually evidence that his prescription for changing urban schools is catching on. The latest official to leave is Garth Harries, the management guru who is in the middle of restructuring the city's special education offerings. Harries announced today that he has accepted a job at the New Haven school system starting in July. A teachers union vice president, Carmen Alvarez, said the exodus signals that even bigger changes could be brewing at the top. "Read the tea leaves," she said in an interview today. "People don't leave like that unless there's another change in the air." Some have speculated that Klein's departure could be part of a deal that preserves the mayor's control of the city schools: The head of the unpopular-amongst-elected-officials schools chancellor in exchange for continued power for the mayor.
June 5, 2009
Weingarten's critics speculate about her mayoral control motives
We've reported that people are upset with Randi Weingarten for her school governance position. But we haven't reported the various reasons they're suggesting for why the teachers union president is not joining mayoral control's fiercest critics in their push for major changes to the law. Arthur Goldstein, a teacher who was recently elected to be the union chapter leader for his Queens school, speculated that President Obama's preference for mayoral control could have influenced Weingarten. "It could indeed be that Randi sees this is the way this is going and Randi is deciding to go with the flow," he said. He added, "But it is actually her job to move the flow in our direction," referring to the teachers Weingarten represents. Other people I spoke to said the evolution of Weingarten's position on whether the mayor should control the majority of seats on the city school board could reflect a political calculation intended to improve the union's position for this fall, when it must negotiate a new contract. The contract variable is unique to the United Federation of Teachers among all groups who have made recommendations about how to improve school governance. "Nobody else has changed since their initial proposals," said Lisa Donlan, a parent activist from Manhattan. "But nobody else is in a contract negotiation position."
June 5, 2009
What Randi Weingarten actually said about mayoral control
Did teachers union president Randi Weingarten really switch her position on mayoral control? I reviewed exactly what she said when she first introduced the union's position in February, courtesy of my notes from her briefing to reporters. She laid out two main checks on the mayor's power. Here's the first (the emphasis is mine): Probably the biggest difference between this report and what you’ve seen thus far and what the mayor would argue is to have an independent – to have some more representatives on the policy board so that for the mayor to have a policy that he or she wants adopted, he or she would have to convince a couple more people. Not simply his or her representatives. And the couple more people that he or she would have to convince are people who are already elected as representatives of the people, whether it be the City Council speaker whether it be the public advocate whether it be a city comptroller. That’s really the change: Trying to figure out an institutional check and balance so that things don’t go awry. Later, a reporter asked Weingarten if the proposal was a bargaining position. She suggested that it wasn't.
June 5, 2009
Robert Jackson takes a last, passionate stand on mayoral control
City Council Member Robert Jackson at an Assembly hearing on mayoral control earlier this year. (Via GothamSchools Flickr) A City Council hearing today on mayoral control became a chance for a chief critic of the power structure to lay out his concerns — a kind of last stand as top lawmakers and advocates move to a more moderate compromise. The state's top two lawmakers have embraced keeping a majority of power with the mayor, and their statements led union president Randi Weingarten to back away from a push to yank that majority. But Council member Robert Jackson, who chairs the education committee and served on his district's community school board for 15 years, did not appear to be affected by the changing tide at today's hearing. For more than six hours, he fielded testimony from people explaining how they have been hurt under mayoral control: schools phased out without consultation from the Department of Education, charter schools operating with better supplies than traditional public schools, and the powerless feeling of serving on the new generation of school boards, Community Education Councils. Few expressed support for the current system. During cross examinations, Jackson offered his own criticism of mayoral control. At times, he could barely restrain his frustration. “Talk is cheap,” he told Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, saying he had requested information from the DOE several months ago and had yet to obtain it. “I wish you’d pick up the phone and call me,” Klein responded. “I should not have to pick up the phone! It’s a continuous problem,” Jackson shot back.
June 4, 2009
Randi Weingarten under fire for mayoral control position
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) A group of parent activists and union members is expressing anger with teachers union leader Randi Weingarten, telling her that she has dropped the ball in fighting for checks to the mayor's power over schools. The frustration began with a May 21 New York Post column, in which Weingarten indicated that she is open to allowing the mayor to continue appointing a majority of members to the citywide school board. A union task force recommended in February that the state legislature reverse that majority as a way to strengthen the board, known as the Panel for Education Policy or PEP. Weingarten's Post op/ed dismayed some members of her own union. "I was quite disappointed and angry, actually," said Lisa North, a teacher who sat on the union's task force to consider revisions to mayoral control. North said the task force never seriously considered recommending that the mayor keep his majority of appointments, and so when union delegates ratified the committee's final recommendations, she expected Weingarten to promote them. "The delegate assembly is supposed to be the highest authority of the union, and it voted for it," she said. In an interview today, Weingarten acknowledged that people have reached out to her with concerns about her position, including her own union members. "I did get a couple of e-mails from members saying, 'Why are you doing what you're doing?'" she said. She said that she empathizes with those concerns. "I totally and completely understand and concur with the frustrations that many have that this mayor and this chancellor have not listened to and respected enough the voices of those who go to our schools, their parents, and those who teach them," she said. But she also said that she has to weigh concerns about checking the mayor's power against the reasons she supported giving the mayor control in 2002. "It's always been a balance of stability, cohesion, and responsibility, which is what mayoral control brought us, and modifying it to create sufficient checks and balances and transparency," Weingarten said.
May 29, 2009
Parents turn to prayer, fast to stop mayoral control's renewal
A group of New York City mothers are appealing to divine intervention to stop the renewal of mayoral control, with a daylong fast that starts a minute before midnight tonight. "I am hoping that the legislators in Albany, if they don't have direct knowledge of how bad things are for our children, that they will be influenced by the hand of the Lord on their heads," said Benita Lovett-Rivera, one of the event's organizers. From tonight until 8:19 p.m. tomorrow — the official sunset — opponents of mayoral control citywide will abstain from eating and drinking. At 7 p.m. they will gather in small groups for "fervent" prayer and to sing the protest song "We Shall Overcome," Lovett-Rivera said. She told me she has heard from nearly a thousand people who said they would participate. The fast was the brainchild of a small group of mothers who attended a recent town hall meeting about mayoral control in Brooklyn (that Elizabeth moderated), where Major Owens, the former longtime congressman from Brooklyn, said he wished opponents of mayoral control would mobilize to stop the school governance law from being renewed, rather than just hold forums about it.
May 26, 2009
Assembly Democrats are now conferencing on mayoral control
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his fellow Democratic lawmakers are gathering right now in a private conference to discuss the future of mayoral control of…
May 22, 2009
After Senate standstill, Assembly will start mayoral control talks
The state Senate ground to a standstill on the question of who should control the city's public schools this week, but a consensus among members of the Assembly looks like it will be easier to come by — and it could come soon. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told New York City members this week that he will hold the Assembly Democrats' first conference on the issue next week, according to a member who was there, Mark Weprin of Queens. The conference will kick off formal talks within the Democratic conference about whether to reauthorize, revise, or scrap the 2002 law that granted control of the city's public schools to the mayor. Several Assembly members are already putting together legislation on the subject, much of it influenced by the constellation of advocacy groups that are bombarding Albany this week. A slew of Assembly members are standing behind recommendations put out by the Campaign for Better Schools, while bills in line with the recommendations of Betsy Gotbaum's commission on school governance and the Parent Commission on School Governance are said to be on the way. Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn today introduced a bill, backed by the city principals' union, that would beef up the power of superintendents. But the conference would be the first chance for Democrats to try to work out a consensus on the issue. The bills currently in circulation clash with each other on several points. More importantly, they also clash with the position of the powerful speaker, Silver, who supports giving the mayor a majority of appointees on the citywide school board.
May 21, 2009
A pitch to expand the city's parents' bill of rights (which exists)
While lawmakers in Albany battle over how much to limit the mayor's control of the public schools, a City Council member from Brooklyn is zeroing in on another part of the city school system he wants revised: the parents' "bill of rights" — which apparently exists! Bill De Blasio, who is running for public advocate this year, is using the bill of rights to illustrate his argument for a "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" approach to improving public schools. The current version of the list, created by the Department of Education and published on the department's Web site, includes five rights that parents have (the right to file a complaint, the right to "be actively involved") plus seven responsibilities (they must send their children to school "ready to learn," they must keep track of their children's performance, they must treat educators with respect). The version drafted this week by Bill de Blasio, a City Council member from Brooklyn, outlines 10 rights that would give parents much wider latitude to participate in policy-making (plus the crowd-pleaser right to a "reasonable approach to cellular phones.") De Blasio has been telling supporters that he would improve the city schools by using the public advocate's office as a kind of organizing arm of government that would empower parents to get more involved in improving their schools — and to supply them with the information required to do that. De Blasio explained his position at a recent fundraiser in Harlem tied to education issues that I attended, where supporters brought toys to donate along with cash for the campaign and De Blasio's two children, both public school students, made an appearance. Here's the full bill of rights, below the jump:
May 19, 2009
Mayoral control critics give school board literal rubber stamps
Protesters derailed the monthly city school board meeting last night, filing out during the middle of the meeting with chants of "Hey hey, ho ho, one-man-rule has got to go!" The protesters are part of the Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups that is pushing the state legislature to add checks to the mayor's control of public schools. They argue that the school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the mayor's school policies. Panel members have almost always voted with the administration since Mayor Bloomberg fired three members who signaled they would oppose a third-grade promotion policy in 2005. The group began the meeting, at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, with a rally outside the school, then filed quietly into the meeting room, nearly filling the lower level of an auditorium as they listened to a presentation about swine flu. But as Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who chairs the PEP, tried to shift the topic of conversation to test scores, the Campaign for Better Schools protesters stood up, and one member launched into a speech encouraging panel members to "think for yourselves." "In the meantime, for those of you who cannot, we have brought you something that we hope you can use moving forward," the speaker said, referring to actual rubber stamps the campaign had made that read "PEP approved." As the protesters left the auditorium, one of them, William Hargraves, launched into an impassioned speech of his own, which starts at the beginning of the second minute of the video above. "Yo, chancellor," he said. "What did you prove? Ninety percent of your audience left. ... You'd rather be in front of nobody so that you can say what you've got to say, than to hear what the majority got to say?"
May 14, 2009
NYCLU: Lawmakers should stop DOE from being so secretive
Mayor Bloomberg's school leadership has been characterized by secrecy, defiance of the law, and a heavy hand in school discipline, the New York Civil Liberties Union declared today in a report titled "The Price of Power." The report details NYCLU's experiences with the Bloomberg-controlled Department of Education stalling on responding to Freedom of Information Law requests, refusing to comply with student safety-related laws passed by the City Council, and refusing to provide basic data about military recruitment that the organization said the U.S. Armed Forces provided freely. The report deliberately avoids some of the major questions of the debate about mayoral control of the city's schools, including whether the mayor should appoint the chancellor and whether the mayor should control the number of seats on the citywide school board. But it does offer recommendations on the law, which is set to sunset June 30 if it's not renewed or revised. The recommendations include making the public school system a city, rather than state, agency, which would bring it under a slate of good governance regulations about public notification of policy changes; opening the school system to audits by the city comptroller and public advocate; and requiring that schools contracts get publicly vetted. Transforming the Department of Education into a city agency would also allow the City Council to make laws about the public schools that the DOE would be accountable for implementing. Like others recommending changes to mayoral control, NYCLU is saying that the city's Independent Budget Office should get the right to receive and review DOE data, but the group adds the idea that the department needs an "inspector general" who would investigate systemic wrongdoing.
May 14, 2009
Two pols move to close a loophole in 2002's mayoral control law
Last week one state politician said he would revamp mayoral control by changing who makes decisions about school policy. Two others said they are proposing legislation that would take a different approach to reforming school governance, by clarifying the constraints under which current decision-makers must operate. Two state politicians, Assemblyman Rory Lancman and Sen. Daniel Squadron of Brooklyn, announced last week that they have introduced legislation that would require the city Department of Education to be treated just like any other city agency when it comes to budgeting, oversight by the comptroller and public advocate, and public notification about policy changes. Currently, the department occupies a no-man's-land between city and state authority, a position that has allowed the DOE to escape some of the scrutiny regularly applied to other city agencies and to avoid following laws passed by the City Council. Lancman and Squadron say their bill is not meant as a comprehensive way to address the school governance question, which lawmakers must tackle by the end of next month. Instead, they say, it's meant to close a big loophole in the law that has been open since 2002, when the state gave control of the city schools to Mayor Bloomberg. The loophole allowed the nonprofit organization that raises money for the DOE, the Fund for Public Schools, to avoid disclosing its donors, saying that disclosure rules apply only to groups working with city agencies. The DOE has also used the loophole to justify its decision not to follow state law that says elected parent councils must be consulted before the department can close schools. Lancman told me he doesn't expect the bill to become law, in part because it addresses only one component of the school governance question. The final school governance bill will deal with other issues including the makeup of the school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and how much input parents should have in DOE decisions. Lancman told me he sponsored a partial bill to raise awareness about the particular issue of whether the DOE should be a city agency. "This legislation is a vehicle for driving this issue into the final bill," he said. Lancman and Squadron's bill would firmly establish the DOE as a city agency.
May 13, 2009
Poll: Most voters want Mayor Bloomberg to lose school control
A bare majority of New Yorkers say the mayor's school leadership is strong, but that doesn't mean they want him to keep control of the city schools, according to poll results released today. New Yorkers approve of Bloomberg's handling of the public schools more than they approve of how he is handling the economic crisis, public transportation, and taxes, according to a new Marist Poll. Only his handling of crime (78 percent) and swine flu (74 percent) got higher marks in the poll. Still, the proportion of people surveyed who think the mayor's school handling is a success was low, at 51 percent, up from just 40 percent in Marist's February poll. Fewer people want Bloomberg to retain control of the schools than approve of how he is leading them: 60 percent of those polled said they thought state lawmakers should take Bloomberg's school control away when they pass a new law about the system's governance structure, which must happen by the end of next month. Those respondents instead said that responsibility for running the schools should be given instead to "an appointed citywide Panel on Education Policy." The city's school board is currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and how much power it should have has been a central question in the school governance debate. (The Department of Education is already questioning the poll's findings because of its wording.) Among parents, the proportion who would strip the mayor of his schools control was even higher, at 67 percent.
May 13, 2009
Mayoral control supporter says effects hard to quantify
A vocal supporter of mayoral control says that though he’s an economist, it’s tough for him to base his belief in the school governance structure on numbers. Marcus Winters, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research who has touted Mayor Bloomberg's school reforms in newspaper op/eds and academic papers, says mayoral control is the best way to govern schools because it provides more accountability for education reforms — but he can't prove that using test scores. “It makes me a little queasy to talk about researching positive effects of mayoral control,” Winters said today in a meeting with reporters about the governance structure. He said it’s “inappropriate” to draw a correlation between student performance and mayoral control because mayoral control is a broad governance structure, not a specific reform. “It’s really difficult to study because there’s a period before mayoral control and a period after, but other things have changed in the world besides mayoral control in that time,” he said.
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