Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/alliance-for-quality-education 2018-07-21T07:36:45+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Nixon Candidacy Spotlights Education Advocacy Group 2018-04-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7595:nixon-candidacy-spotlights-education-advocacy-group Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nixon_ortiz_aqe_2014.jpg" alt="Cynthia Nixon AQE" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Cynthia Nixon, right, with Assemblymember Felix Ortiz in 2014 (photo: Ortiz's office)</p> <hr /> <p>When actor and activist Cynthia Nixon held her first news conference as a gubernatorial candidate, at a Pentecostal church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, she was introduced by Zakiyah Ansari, an education activist and longtime ally.</p> <p>In New York’s advocacy ecosystem, Ansari and her organization, the Alliance for Quality Education, have long held prominence in outspoken fashion. The group, a nonprofit advocacy organization formed in 2001 and historically funded by teachers unions, has long offered itself as a voice for parents and communities of color and, as such, has also been a thorn in the side of successive state and city governments, consistently pushing for more funding in the state budget to meet the needs of underserved schools and fighting against school closures and charter schools.</p> <p>At its founding, AQE provided Nixon a fitting pathway into activism on a cause close to home for the parent of two children currently attending New York City public schools (her eldest child is now out of city schools). For many years, Nixon participated in AQE advocacy, often as a spokesperson, an ideal role for someone skilled in articulation and experienced in performing in front of crowds, not to mention famous for her acting career. Nixon thus provided AQE her celebrity, emerging as a headlining surrogate for its efforts, cutting <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT_KGgtfJyo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ads</a> for the group, appearing at its annual fundraisers and regular rallies in Albany and elsewhere.</p> <p>That activism has now formed part of the basis for Nixon’s primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat running for reelection this year.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nixon_at_aqe_awards_2013ish.png" alt="Cynthia Nixon AQE education awards" width="200" height="156" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />The Nixon-AQE relationship not only served as her launching pad into education activism in New York, but also for her first run at elected office, with AQE’s main causes -- and the organization and its leaders -- front and center in Nixon’s nascent campaign. In the first week of her gubernatorial campaign, she appeared at two events with AQE.</p> <p>Nixon’s association with AQE helps her burnish her credentials with voters of color, a constituency that is crucial for a victory in a Democratic gubernatorial primary and that Nixon, as a wealthy white woman, could struggle to attract. Her first official appearance in Brownsville is a testament to that dynamic. At the event, Ansari, who is black and lives in Brownsville herself, said of Nixon, “I’m standing here to say, as someone who is passionate about educational equity, that this woman has been standing side-by-side with us around that, has lent her voice and her celebrity to make sure that she elevates the voice of black and brown parents, because unfortunately often our voices are not enough to get this press out here…Everybody says, ‘I don’t know who she is.’ Well I do. On education, she has been there, a strong champion.”</p> <p>In a recent interview, Ansari told Gotham Gazette, “I think it’s a statement...It’s a great start to center yourself in a space historically that has black and brown folks and still has black and brown folks.”</p> <p>It is no coincidence that AQE is supportive of Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo. The organization and its leaders, especially Ansari, who is the advocacy director, and Executive Director Billy Easton, have been frequent and fervent Cuomo critics for many years.</p> <p>AQE formed in 2001 with a singular purpose: to push the state to meet its obligation of funding a “sound basic education” for children in public schools, as per the New York State constitution. At the time, the state faced a lawsuit filed in 1993 by the nonprofit group Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which argued that the state’s education funding formula was unconstitutional. The case was eventually settled in 2006, resulting in the creation of “Foundation Aid,” a need-based formula for sending funding to school districts. To meet the standards of the settlement, AQE has argued, the state would have to increase school funding by billions.</p> <p>“That is still our core mission,” said Easton, in a phone interview, “but over time, parents who...really provide the grassroots leadership for AQE have insisted that we broaden our agenda.”</p> <p>The group is now a coalition pulling from several grassroots advocacy organizations, which together claim more than 150,000 members. They have offices in six cities across the state, and now regularly advocate for an agenda that includes ending the school-to-prison pipeline, increasing funding for community schools and pre-kindergarten programs, and railing against the expansion of privately-run charter school networks, what Easton calls the “privatization” of public education.</p> <p>“And it includes the understanding that in order to invest in our children, the state needs to put students first, needs to protect kids not millionaires,” he said. “Because we have a governor who is in the pockets of millionaires and billionaires, or they’re in his campaign pocket, you know one way or the other you want to look at it. He has been carrying their water for many years.”</p> <p>Indeed, Cuomo has regularly been criticized from the left for embracing the charter school and education reform movement, with its big-money donors often connected to Wall Street. It is a campaign Cuomo waged from the start of his tenure as governor in 2011, but eased off of in recent years due to significant backlash from teachers unions, suburban parents upset by high-stakes testing, and others, like AQE.</p> <p>While Cuomo has somewhat made peace with the teachers unions he so often battled with, he has continued to back charter schools and has not met the school funding demands put forth by AQE, either in amount or district distribution. AQE therefore continues to take on the governor, and is unsurprisingly providing support to Nixon in her bid to unseat him.</p> <p>While it's rhetoric is often particularly acerbic, AQE utilizes a typical array of tactics familiar in the advocacy world, including marches and rallies, op-eds, reports and press conferences, as well as political campaign efforts, both in mobilization of members and allies, and financial. The organization rousts its members to lobby state legislators, often at rallies held in the state Capitol and in New York City, at times on the steps of City Hall or Tweed Courthouse, home to the Department of Education, or in front of another government office or a school in the Success Academy charter network, a frequent target and foe. AQE educates parents about the state’s education system, launches social media campaigns, and hold news conferences to consistently push its message. It has found many allies in Democratic elected officials. But AQE doesn’t have especially deep pockets and expends relatively small resources on direct lobbying or in electoral campaigns, at least compared to the teachers unions themselves or the forces of the education reform movement.</p> <p>Between 2011-2017, AQE spent $417,987 on lobbying efforts. It also directed funds to an independent expenditure committee called the People for Quality Education, which spent just under $86,000 in the 2014 election cycle (most of it on a political consulting firm) and then fizzled away. That same year, a pro-charter school group, Families for Excellent Schools, <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/charter-school-backers-are-state-s-top-spenders-on-lobbying-1.10350459" target="_blank" rel="noopener">spent</a> about $9.6 million on lobbying while the state and city teachers unions together spent $4.7 million.</p> <p>AQE raises funds from members, nonprofit foundations, and prominent unions, particularly the New York City and statewide teachers unions, though that final funding stream has slowed to a trickle of late. Between 2010-2015, AQE raised about $3.7 million, of which $1.2 million was in 2010 alone, and has spent nearly all of it, according to <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/223810450" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tax records compiled by ProPublica</a>. According to Easton, neither the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) or New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has given AQE funding over the past two years.</p> <p>It’s unclear why the teachers unions have pulled back support from AQE, but there are indications that daylight has emerged between the group’s priorities and those of the unions. In a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/won-nyc-teachers-union-back-black-lives-matter-article-1.3801077" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Daily News op-ed</a> in February, Ansari and Natasha Capers, coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Justice, an AQE-allied group, criticized the UFT for rejecting a resolution in support of Black Lives Matter in education. “The union's rejection of this resolution - which called for more black teachers in schools, an end to discriminatory discipline policies and more diversity in the curriculum — only impedes the school system's progress towards racial justice,” they wrote.</p> <p>The teachers unions -- United Federation of Teachers, the New York State United Teacher and the American Federation of Teachers -- did not provide comment for this article despite requests. &nbsp;</p> <p>Past AQE fundraisers show the nexus of their ties with the teachers unions, other labor unions, and Democratic lawmakers.</p> <p>In 2013, for instance, at their annual “Champions of Education” celebration, the group honored then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, and Ocynthia Williams, a parent, advocate and founding member of NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, another AQE-allied group. Co-chairs of the event included Cynthia Nixon and her wife, Christine Marinoni -- identified in an event invitation as AQE NYC Director Emeritus -- and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and former UFT president.</p> <p>Other honorees from recent years include Capers; NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta; Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference; The Leeds Family; and others, including individuals in philanthropy and advocacy.</p> <p>Silver, who was later convicted of corruption charges that were then overturned and will be retried this year, was supported by the group for his efforts at pursuing and achieving increased education funding. Silver was also instrumental in securing state funds for universal pre-kindergarten in 2014, celebrated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others.</p> <p>Many prominent Democratic elected officials have appeared alongside AQE, including Public Advocate Letitia James. Both Nixon and Ansari were named to de Blasio's transition team after he won the mayoralty in 2013.</p> <p>Nixon joined AQE as a volunteer in its incipient years, as a public school parent concerned about the quality of her children’s education, she has said. (She has never been paid by AQE, Easton said, even as she became a prominent, headlining spokesperson for the organization.)</p> <p>“She was coming with us to Albany when there were no cameras,” said Ansari, who runs the New York City office, “and using her celebrity to help elevate the voices and stories of parents and students that, like myself, have been coming up there for a number of years challenging New York State, to say, ‘When are black and brown kids gonna get their fair share of these dollars?’”</p> <p>At the 2013 AQE awards, a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46hQPF8VtdY&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" rel="noopener">video</a> shows Nixon addressing the crowd, fired up about AQE’s mission at a time when the organization did not have a friend in the mayor’s office or the governor’s office. “The reason the AQE was founded was initially not to fight budget cutbacks right? It was founded to get CFE implemented,” Nixon said. “And so it is an exciting time to be in New York, to be in the public schools, to be with the AQE and it is a time for us to take our wish list out of the drawer and start going down that list and start going down the bullet points and saying, let’s focus on this one, let’s make this one happen, and then lets make this one happen, and then lets make this one, and this one and this one.”</p> <p>In the lead up to the passage of the state budget last week, AQE organized a rally in Albany and Nixon, the newly-minted gubernatorial candidate, made an appearance, as she has for years. Showing up at the governor’s doorstep just days after her campaign launch meant the conference was packed with reporters perking up their ears for her next volley of criticism at Cuomo. Though many subsequent reports may have failed to mention AQE by name, and the headlines focused heavily on Nixon’s choice words for the governor, the message of education funding inequity was at part of the conversation and is a pillar of Nixon’s campaign.</p> <p>“For those of you who don’t know, as Zakiyah said, I have been coming up to Albany for a long time,” Nixon <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhvXEVzBjx0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a> after being introduced. “I’ve come here with organizers and public school parents and students from across the state to demand public schools in every district get the resources they need regardless of the students’ zip code, regardless of the students’ skin color.”</p> <p>In what seemed more of a campaign stump speech, Nixon went on to say she had come to Albany “mad as hell” at both Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature. She criticized everything and everyone from President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to Governor Cuomo’s ethical record, the state’s lax campaign finance laws, and the budget negotiation process. “[W]e have gross inequities across the system...Will Governor Cuomo continue to punt on fully funding all of New York’s public schools while children still don’t have adequate resources?,” she wondered.</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo, when he’s speaking about education funding, he always talks about the average spending per pupil in New York State being the highest of anywhere in the country. But he ignores the reality that...the wealthy white schools spend $30,000 per pupil, or $40,000 or $50,000 or even more. Our hundred wealthiest school districts spend almost $10,000 per pupil and they drive up the average, but our hundred poorest school districts are running a deficit of $10,000 per pupil.”</p> <p>Three days later, AQE sent out a fundraising email blast titled, “Join Cynthia Nixon and AQE: Fight for Our Schools Right Now!”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nixon_ansari_aqe.jpg" alt="nixon ansari aqe" width="300" height="211" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“It’s hard for us to get the true message out about the children most impacted by the lack of urgency from the governor and others,” Ansari said, noting that Nixon has lent AQE her voice for well over a decade and that her newfound prominence was also bleeding through. “I would hope that people are paying attention and noticing the people that are telling their stories, that make up AQE, that are the parents and young people that we bring up to Albany all the time, that it’s been 12 years, almost a generation of children have not had access, and I won’t say a generation of children, it’s our most marginalized communities,” Ansari said.</p> <p>She added, “The goal for us is, and I think has been for her too from the very beginning is, how do I use my celebrity to help elevate the fact that...children have not got access to these dollars in funding and I’m gonna use that to help AQE however I can, and that’s what she’s been doing for 15 years.”</p> <p>Despite the added attention, the state budget did not meet AQE’s goal of a $4.2 billion increase in school aid, 74 percent of which they say is owed to schools with predominantly black and brown students. In the end, the $168.3 billion state budget included about $1 billion in increased school funding from last year, for a total education budget of $26.7 billion, which Cuomo called “a record” level of funding. AQE called it “entrenching educational racism.”</p> <p>No changes were made in the budget to how education aid is divvied up to school districts, something even fiscal watchdogs like Citizens Budget Commission have called for, so that state money is going where it is needed most, not to wealthy districts as much as poorer districts. The governor did push through a requirement whereby the state’s biggest school systems will have to report how much funding it is providing to each individual school.</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo’s policies have caused the spending gap between rich and poor school districts to grow 24 percent to a record setting $9,923 per pupil,” said Jasmine Gripper, AQE’s legislative director, in a statement after the budget passed. “His budget will leave Black, Brown and low-income students in high need school districts further behind.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat and chair of the Assembly education committee, praised AQE for moving the needle on education funding. “I’m a big supporter, I think the world of them,” said Nolan, who was an AQE honoree in 2014, in a phone interview. “I think they bring people to Albany and involve people that would never have been involved. They do great grassroots organizing and really if it wasn’t for them I do not believe that even the minimal successes that we’ve had about Campaign for Fiscal Equity compliance and money would have happened.”</p> <p>AQE’s critics have argued, however, that no matter the increase in funding, it will never be enough for the group. The funding levels they deem appropriate would put a strain on the state’s finances, they say, and they have not enumerated how that funding should be spent.</p> <p>“Their premise is that there was a quote-unquote settlement in that [CFE] case that the state has not lived up to,” said E.J. McMahon, founder and research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy. “The problem for them is that that’s not true.”</p> <p>Making a similar point that Cuomo has made, McMahon said AQE’s argument is largely flawed because it insists on the “Foundation Aid” formula -- which provides need-based supplemental funding for local school districts -- put in place in 2006 by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer to meet the state’s CFE funding obligations. McMahon said Spitzer used the CFE decision as a “pretext for proposing an enormous multi-year state school aid increase, which was unsustainable on its face and proved to be even more unsustainable than that once the economy collapsed in the financial crisis.”</p> <p>School aid, in fact, increased through the recession, McMahon pointed out, because of federal stimulus aid, which ran out by the time Cuomo took office. “And so Cuomo, in his first year and his first year only, cut school aid and ever since then has been increasing it at two-plus times the rate of inflation,” he said.</p> <p>“They [AQE] kind of exist in a bubble of their own making,” he added. “AQE’s solution is to constantly demand more money and completely ignore the issue that New York spends well beyond the national norm and doesn’t get commensurate results.”</p> <p>Another top rival of AQE is the charter school sector, backed by wealthy private donors who have been regular contributors to the governor and to legislators friendly to charter schools in the state Senate. Charter school supporters have often targeted AQE as being beholden to its benefactors in the teachers unions, a line of attack that AQE has repeatedly pushed back against, while AQE has decried any shift towards charter funding as a betrayal of the public education system. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>James Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, called AQE a “front group” for the teachers unions, despite conceding that his organization has one same general goal as AQE: more funding for schools. “I’m never sure why the union doesn’t just advocate on behalf of itself,” he said. “Why are they embarrassed for asking for more money? Why do they need a front group for asking for more money?”</p> <p>Echoing McMahon’s argument, Merriman said the group needs to articulate how any increases in funding would be distributed and utilized, as he said charters are required to do when they seek state funding. “With charter schools, that’s the entire premise,” he said.</p> <p>“People are not paying attention if they think it’s just about the money,” said Ansari, who is, as she regularly mentions, a public school parent, mother of eight, and grandmother of three. “Money matters. We know it matters. It matters in rich districts, that’s why they’re willing to pay such high taxes. But they also understand that what needs to happen in their schools for their kids, it’s not about testing…they make sure they have tons of sports programs, art and music, they’re experimenting, they go on trips, they have high-quality this, that, and the other, they have libraries with librarians in them. Is that so much to ask for? Why is it that too much to ask for when it comes to black and brown kids, and it’s always time for them to wait? It’s just never the right time.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Pictured above: 1) Cynthia Nixon at an AQE event in 2013 and 2) Nixon at an AQE press conference in Albany after announcing her gubernatorial campaign, with Ansari directly behind her</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nixon_ortiz_aqe_2014.jpg" alt="Cynthia Nixon AQE" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Cynthia Nixon, right, with Assemblymember Felix Ortiz in 2014 (photo: Ortiz's office)</p> <hr /> <p>When actor and activist Cynthia Nixon held her first news conference as a gubernatorial candidate, at a Pentecostal church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, she was introduced by Zakiyah Ansari, an education activist and longtime ally.</p> <p>In New York’s advocacy ecosystem, Ansari and her organization, the Alliance for Quality Education, have long held prominence in outspoken fashion. The group, a nonprofit advocacy organization formed in 2001 and historically funded by teachers unions, has long offered itself as a voice for parents and communities of color and, as such, has also been a thorn in the side of successive state and city governments, consistently pushing for more funding in the state budget to meet the needs of underserved schools and fighting against school closures and charter schools.</p> <p>At its founding, AQE provided Nixon a fitting pathway into activism on a cause close to home for the parent of two children currently attending New York City public schools (her eldest child is now out of city schools). For many years, Nixon participated in AQE advocacy, often as a spokesperson, an ideal role for someone skilled in articulation and experienced in performing in front of crowds, not to mention famous for her acting career. Nixon thus provided AQE her celebrity, emerging as a headlining surrogate for its efforts, cutting <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT_KGgtfJyo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ads</a> for the group, appearing at its annual fundraisers and regular rallies in Albany and elsewhere.</p> <p>That activism has now formed part of the basis for Nixon’s primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat running for reelection this year.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nixon_at_aqe_awards_2013ish.png" alt="Cynthia Nixon AQE education awards" width="200" height="156" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />The Nixon-AQE relationship not only served as her launching pad into education activism in New York, but also for her first run at elected office, with AQE’s main causes -- and the organization and its leaders -- front and center in Nixon’s nascent campaign. In the first week of her gubernatorial campaign, she appeared at two events with AQE.</p> <p>Nixon’s association with AQE helps her burnish her credentials with voters of color, a constituency that is crucial for a victory in a Democratic gubernatorial primary and that Nixon, as a wealthy white woman, could struggle to attract. Her first official appearance in Brownsville is a testament to that dynamic. At the event, Ansari, who is black and lives in Brownsville herself, said of Nixon, “I’m standing here to say, as someone who is passionate about educational equity, that this woman has been standing side-by-side with us around that, has lent her voice and her celebrity to make sure that she elevates the voice of black and brown parents, because unfortunately often our voices are not enough to get this press out here…Everybody says, ‘I don’t know who she is.’ Well I do. On education, she has been there, a strong champion.”</p> <p>In a recent interview, Ansari told Gotham Gazette, “I think it’s a statement...It’s a great start to center yourself in a space historically that has black and brown folks and still has black and brown folks.”</p> <p>It is no coincidence that AQE is supportive of Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo. The organization and its leaders, especially Ansari, who is the advocacy director, and Executive Director Billy Easton, have been frequent and fervent Cuomo critics for many years.</p> <p>AQE formed in 2001 with a singular purpose: to push the state to meet its obligation of funding a “sound basic education” for children in public schools, as per the New York State constitution. At the time, the state faced a lawsuit filed in 1993 by the nonprofit group Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which argued that the state’s education funding formula was unconstitutional. The case was eventually settled in 2006, resulting in the creation of “Foundation Aid,” a need-based formula for sending funding to school districts. To meet the standards of the settlement, AQE has argued, the state would have to increase school funding by billions.</p> <p>“That is still our core mission,” said Easton, in a phone interview, “but over time, parents who...really provide the grassroots leadership for AQE have insisted that we broaden our agenda.”</p> <p>The group is now a coalition pulling from several grassroots advocacy organizations, which together claim more than 150,000 members. They have offices in six cities across the state, and now regularly advocate for an agenda that includes ending the school-to-prison pipeline, increasing funding for community schools and pre-kindergarten programs, and railing against the expansion of privately-run charter school networks, what Easton calls the “privatization” of public education.</p> <p>“And it includes the understanding that in order to invest in our children, the state needs to put students first, needs to protect kids not millionaires,” he said. “Because we have a governor who is in the pockets of millionaires and billionaires, or they’re in his campaign pocket, you know one way or the other you want to look at it. He has been carrying their water for many years.”</p> <p>Indeed, Cuomo has regularly been criticized from the left for embracing the charter school and education reform movement, with its big-money donors often connected to Wall Street. It is a campaign Cuomo waged from the start of his tenure as governor in 2011, but eased off of in recent years due to significant backlash from teachers unions, suburban parents upset by high-stakes testing, and others, like AQE.</p> <p>While Cuomo has somewhat made peace with the teachers unions he so often battled with, he has continued to back charter schools and has not met the school funding demands put forth by AQE, either in amount or district distribution. AQE therefore continues to take on the governor, and is unsurprisingly providing support to Nixon in her bid to unseat him.</p> <p>While it's rhetoric is often particularly acerbic, AQE utilizes a typical array of tactics familiar in the advocacy world, including marches and rallies, op-eds, reports and press conferences, as well as political campaign efforts, both in mobilization of members and allies, and financial. The organization rousts its members to lobby state legislators, often at rallies held in the state Capitol and in New York City, at times on the steps of City Hall or Tweed Courthouse, home to the Department of Education, or in front of another government office or a school in the Success Academy charter network, a frequent target and foe. AQE educates parents about the state’s education system, launches social media campaigns, and hold news conferences to consistently push its message. It has found many allies in Democratic elected officials. But AQE doesn’t have especially deep pockets and expends relatively small resources on direct lobbying or in electoral campaigns, at least compared to the teachers unions themselves or the forces of the education reform movement.</p> <p>Between 2011-2017, AQE spent $417,987 on lobbying efforts. It also directed funds to an independent expenditure committee called the People for Quality Education, which spent just under $86,000 in the 2014 election cycle (most of it on a political consulting firm) and then fizzled away. That same year, a pro-charter school group, Families for Excellent Schools, <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/charter-school-backers-are-state-s-top-spenders-on-lobbying-1.10350459" target="_blank" rel="noopener">spent</a> about $9.6 million on lobbying while the state and city teachers unions together spent $4.7 million.</p> <p>AQE raises funds from members, nonprofit foundations, and prominent unions, particularly the New York City and statewide teachers unions, though that final funding stream has slowed to a trickle of late. Between 2010-2015, AQE raised about $3.7 million, of which $1.2 million was in 2010 alone, and has spent nearly all of it, according to <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/223810450" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tax records compiled by ProPublica</a>. According to Easton, neither the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) or New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has given AQE funding over the past two years.</p> <p>It’s unclear why the teachers unions have pulled back support from AQE, but there are indications that daylight has emerged between the group’s priorities and those of the unions. In a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/won-nyc-teachers-union-back-black-lives-matter-article-1.3801077" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Daily News op-ed</a> in February, Ansari and Natasha Capers, coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Justice, an AQE-allied group, criticized the UFT for rejecting a resolution in support of Black Lives Matter in education. “The union's rejection of this resolution - which called for more black teachers in schools, an end to discriminatory discipline policies and more diversity in the curriculum — only impedes the school system's progress towards racial justice,” they wrote.</p> <p>The teachers unions -- United Federation of Teachers, the New York State United Teacher and the American Federation of Teachers -- did not provide comment for this article despite requests. &nbsp;</p> <p>Past AQE fundraisers show the nexus of their ties with the teachers unions, other labor unions, and Democratic lawmakers.</p> <p>In 2013, for instance, at their annual “Champions of Education” celebration, the group honored then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, and Ocynthia Williams, a parent, advocate and founding member of NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, another AQE-allied group. Co-chairs of the event included Cynthia Nixon and her wife, Christine Marinoni -- identified in an event invitation as AQE NYC Director Emeritus -- and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and former UFT president.</p> <p>Other honorees from recent years include Capers; NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta; Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference; The Leeds Family; and others, including individuals in philanthropy and advocacy.</p> <p>Silver, who was later convicted of corruption charges that were then overturned and will be retried this year, was supported by the group for his efforts at pursuing and achieving increased education funding. Silver was also instrumental in securing state funds for universal pre-kindergarten in 2014, celebrated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others.</p> <p>Many prominent Democratic elected officials have appeared alongside AQE, including Public Advocate Letitia James. Both Nixon and Ansari were named to de Blasio's transition team after he won the mayoralty in 2013.</p> <p>Nixon joined AQE as a volunteer in its incipient years, as a public school parent concerned about the quality of her children’s education, she has said. (She has never been paid by AQE, Easton said, even as she became a prominent, headlining spokesperson for the organization.)</p> <p>“She was coming with us to Albany when there were no cameras,” said Ansari, who runs the New York City office, “and using her celebrity to help elevate the voices and stories of parents and students that, like myself, have been coming up there for a number of years challenging New York State, to say, ‘When are black and brown kids gonna get their fair share of these dollars?’”</p> <p>At the 2013 AQE awards, a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46hQPF8VtdY&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" rel="noopener">video</a> shows Nixon addressing the crowd, fired up about AQE’s mission at a time when the organization did not have a friend in the mayor’s office or the governor’s office. “The reason the AQE was founded was initially not to fight budget cutbacks right? It was founded to get CFE implemented,” Nixon said. “And so it is an exciting time to be in New York, to be in the public schools, to be with the AQE and it is a time for us to take our wish list out of the drawer and start going down that list and start going down the bullet points and saying, let’s focus on this one, let’s make this one happen, and then lets make this one happen, and then lets make this one, and this one and this one.”</p> <p>In the lead up to the passage of the state budget last week, AQE organized a rally in Albany and Nixon, the newly-minted gubernatorial candidate, made an appearance, as she has for years. Showing up at the governor’s doorstep just days after her campaign launch meant the conference was packed with reporters perking up their ears for her next volley of criticism at Cuomo. Though many subsequent reports may have failed to mention AQE by name, and the headlines focused heavily on Nixon’s choice words for the governor, the message of education funding inequity was at part of the conversation and is a pillar of Nixon’s campaign.</p> <p>“For those of you who don’t know, as Zakiyah said, I have been coming up to Albany for a long time,” Nixon <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhvXEVzBjx0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a> after being introduced. “I’ve come here with organizers and public school parents and students from across the state to demand public schools in every district get the resources they need regardless of the students’ zip code, regardless of the students’ skin color.”</p> <p>In what seemed more of a campaign stump speech, Nixon went on to say she had come to Albany “mad as hell” at both Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature. She criticized everything and everyone from President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to Governor Cuomo’s ethical record, the state’s lax campaign finance laws, and the budget negotiation process. “[W]e have gross inequities across the system...Will Governor Cuomo continue to punt on fully funding all of New York’s public schools while children still don’t have adequate resources?,” she wondered.</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo, when he’s speaking about education funding, he always talks about the average spending per pupil in New York State being the highest of anywhere in the country. But he ignores the reality that...the wealthy white schools spend $30,000 per pupil, or $40,000 or $50,000 or even more. Our hundred wealthiest school districts spend almost $10,000 per pupil and they drive up the average, but our hundred poorest school districts are running a deficit of $10,000 per pupil.”</p> <p>Three days later, AQE sent out a fundraising email blast titled, “Join Cynthia Nixon and AQE: Fight for Our Schools Right Now!”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nixon_ansari_aqe.jpg" alt="nixon ansari aqe" width="300" height="211" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“It’s hard for us to get the true message out about the children most impacted by the lack of urgency from the governor and others,” Ansari said, noting that Nixon has lent AQE her voice for well over a decade and that her newfound prominence was also bleeding through. “I would hope that people are paying attention and noticing the people that are telling their stories, that make up AQE, that are the parents and young people that we bring up to Albany all the time, that it’s been 12 years, almost a generation of children have not had access, and I won’t say a generation of children, it’s our most marginalized communities,” Ansari said.</p> <p>She added, “The goal for us is, and I think has been for her too from the very beginning is, how do I use my celebrity to help elevate the fact that...children have not got access to these dollars in funding and I’m gonna use that to help AQE however I can, and that’s what she’s been doing for 15 years.”</p> <p>Despite the added attention, the state budget did not meet AQE’s goal of a $4.2 billion increase in school aid, 74 percent of which they say is owed to schools with predominantly black and brown students. In the end, the $168.3 billion state budget included about $1 billion in increased school funding from last year, for a total education budget of $26.7 billion, which Cuomo called “a record” level of funding. AQE called it “entrenching educational racism.”</p> <p>No changes were made in the budget to how education aid is divvied up to school districts, something even fiscal watchdogs like Citizens Budget Commission have called for, so that state money is going where it is needed most, not to wealthy districts as much as poorer districts. The governor did push through a requirement whereby the state’s biggest school systems will have to report how much funding it is providing to each individual school.</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo’s policies have caused the spending gap between rich and poor school districts to grow 24 percent to a record setting $9,923 per pupil,” said Jasmine Gripper, AQE’s legislative director, in a statement after the budget passed. “His budget will leave Black, Brown and low-income students in high need school districts further behind.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat and chair of the Assembly education committee, praised AQE for moving the needle on education funding. “I’m a big supporter, I think the world of them,” said Nolan, who was an AQE honoree in 2014, in a phone interview. “I think they bring people to Albany and involve people that would never have been involved. They do great grassroots organizing and really if it wasn’t for them I do not believe that even the minimal successes that we’ve had about Campaign for Fiscal Equity compliance and money would have happened.”</p> <p>AQE’s critics have argued, however, that no matter the increase in funding, it will never be enough for the group. The funding levels they deem appropriate would put a strain on the state’s finances, they say, and they have not enumerated how that funding should be spent.</p> <p>“Their premise is that there was a quote-unquote settlement in that [CFE] case that the state has not lived up to,” said E.J. McMahon, founder and research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy. “The problem for them is that that’s not true.”</p> <p>Making a similar point that Cuomo has made, McMahon said AQE’s argument is largely flawed because it insists on the “Foundation Aid” formula -- which provides need-based supplemental funding for local school districts -- put in place in 2006 by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer to meet the state’s CFE funding obligations. McMahon said Spitzer used the CFE decision as a “pretext for proposing an enormous multi-year state school aid increase, which was unsustainable on its face and proved to be even more unsustainable than that once the economy collapsed in the financial crisis.”</p> <p>School aid, in fact, increased through the recession, McMahon pointed out, because of federal stimulus aid, which ran out by the time Cuomo took office. “And so Cuomo, in his first year and his first year only, cut school aid and ever since then has been increasing it at two-plus times the rate of inflation,” he said.</p> <p>“They [AQE] kind of exist in a bubble of their own making,” he added. “AQE’s solution is to constantly demand more money and completely ignore the issue that New York spends well beyond the national norm and doesn’t get commensurate results.”</p> <p>Another top rival of AQE is the charter school sector, backed by wealthy private donors who have been regular contributors to the governor and to legislators friendly to charter schools in the state Senate. Charter school supporters have often targeted AQE as being beholden to its benefactors in the teachers unions, a line of attack that AQE has repeatedly pushed back against, while AQE has decried any shift towards charter funding as a betrayal of the public education system. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>James Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, called AQE a “front group” for the teachers unions, despite conceding that his organization has one same general goal as AQE: more funding for schools. “I’m never sure why the union doesn’t just advocate on behalf of itself,” he said. “Why are they embarrassed for asking for more money? Why do they need a front group for asking for more money?”</p> <p>Echoing McMahon’s argument, Merriman said the group needs to articulate how any increases in funding would be distributed and utilized, as he said charters are required to do when they seek state funding. “With charter schools, that’s the entire premise,” he said.</p> <p>“People are not paying attention if they think it’s just about the money,” said Ansari, who is, as she regularly mentions, a public school parent, mother of eight, and grandmother of three. “Money matters. We know it matters. It matters in rich districts, that’s why they’re willing to pay such high taxes. But they also understand that what needs to happen in their schools for their kids, it’s not about testing…they make sure they have tons of sports programs, art and music, they’re experimenting, they go on trips, they have high-quality this, that, and the other, they have libraries with librarians in them. Is that so much to ask for? Why is it that too much to ask for when it comes to black and brown kids, and it’s always time for them to wait? It’s just never the right time.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Pictured above: 1) Cynthia Nixon at an AQE event in 2013 and 2) Nixon at an AQE press conference in Albany after announcing her gubernatorial campaign, with Ansari directly behind her</p>
Why is Governor Cuomo Returning Weinstein’s Money But Keeping Loeb’s? 2017-10-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7276:why-is-governor-cuomo-returning-weinstein-s-money-but-keeping-loeb-s Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37051484454_03b2dabbb2_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s political world was rocked recently by revelations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a major donor to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top New York Democrats, had a long and sordid history of predatory sexual harassment -- and possibly sexual assault -- of women.</p> <p>Initially Gov. Cuomo balked at giving back the $111,400 in contributions he had received from Weinstein. But a few days later, after Mayor Bill de Blasio called on all elected officials to return Weinstein’s money and the New York State Republican Party called out Cuomo, the governor saw the wiser route and decided to donate Weinstein’s tainted cash to a to-be-named women’s organization.</p> <p>Sexism is deplorable and should not be tolerated, and it certainly should not play any role in our political system. Gov. Cuomo did the right thing by reversing course and shedding Weinstein’s money. It sends a strong message that he will not sanction Weinstein’s behavior, and it is a message to all political donors that sexism will not be tolerated.</p> <p>However, we are confused. While Gov. Cuomo is sending a clear message that sexism is unacceptable, he has refused to send the same message about racism. Recently Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager and investor in privately-run charter schools who has given Cuomo $170,000, continued a pattern of behavior with an outrageously racist Facebook post. Loeb asserted that State Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the highest ranking African-American female elected official in New York State history, had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” -- an unmistakable reference comparing Stewart-Cousins to the Ku Klux Klan.</p> <p>Loeb’s racism doesn’t stop there. In 2006 Loeb also called Prem Watsa, a Canadian corporate leader who is of Indian descent, a “shvartze,” a Yiddish term for African-American that equates to the n-word. Loeb has also sought to profit off of Puerto Rico’s debt and drive up prescription drug prices. And as board chair of Success Academy, he has supported excessively punitive and rigid disciplinary practices and suspensions meant to force struggling African-American and Latino students out of Success schools. Such zero tolerance behavioral policies have been shown to put students on track for the school-to-prison pipeline.</p> <p>Despite Loeb’s documented history of racism and support of racist policies, Gov. Cuomo refuses to return campaign contributions from the wealthy financier. In contrast, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer immediately shed a $4,500 contribution he had received from Loeb once the recent Facebook post became public.</p> <p>Regarding the Weinstein incident, Gov. Cuomo stated, "I have three daughters. I want to make sure that at the end of the day, this world is a safer, better world for my three daughters." We wholeheartedly agree with that, but African-Americans and other people of color have daughters and sons as well, and they merit protection from racists like Daniel Loeb, who clearly showed his belief that he is superior to Senator Stewart-Cousins and that he knows what is better for children of color than she does. In New York State we will not accept a double standard under which sexist political donors are treated as toxic in political circles, but money from racist political donors is condoned.</p> <p>Sadly, we are living in a time when the president has made racism a mantra and has emboldened violent white supremacists to openly assault opponents of racism. We applaud Gov. Cuomo for making clear that Harvey Weinstein’s sexist money is unwelcome in New York politics. Gov. Cuomo’s hesitation to return Loeb’s tainted money is deeply concerning and offensive. We need him to forcefully and definitively repudiate Daniel Loeb’s racism. No more excuses, it is time for the governor to give back Loeb’s contributions, like he’s doing with Weinstein’s.</p> <p>Gov. Cuomo recently described racism as “the greatest threat this country faces” - so there should be no problem treating racism with the same firm hand as sexism. If the governor decides to keep Loeb’s money, he is sanctioning racism, just as returning Weinstein’s money was a clear repudiation of sexism.</p> <p>***<br />by Zakiyah Ansari and Carmen Perez. Ansari is advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education and Perez is executive director of Gathering for Justice and co-chair of the Women’s March.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37051484454_03b2dabbb2_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s political world was rocked recently by revelations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a major donor to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top New York Democrats, had a long and sordid history of predatory sexual harassment -- and possibly sexual assault -- of women.</p> <p>Initially Gov. Cuomo balked at giving back the $111,400 in contributions he had received from Weinstein. But a few days later, after Mayor Bill de Blasio called on all elected officials to return Weinstein’s money and the New York State Republican Party called out Cuomo, the governor saw the wiser route and decided to donate Weinstein’s tainted cash to a to-be-named women’s organization.</p> <p>Sexism is deplorable and should not be tolerated, and it certainly should not play any role in our political system. Gov. Cuomo did the right thing by reversing course and shedding Weinstein’s money. It sends a strong message that he will not sanction Weinstein’s behavior, and it is a message to all political donors that sexism will not be tolerated.</p> <p>However, we are confused. While Gov. Cuomo is sending a clear message that sexism is unacceptable, he has refused to send the same message about racism. Recently Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager and investor in privately-run charter schools who has given Cuomo $170,000, continued a pattern of behavior with an outrageously racist Facebook post. Loeb asserted that State Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the highest ranking African-American female elected official in New York State history, had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” -- an unmistakable reference comparing Stewart-Cousins to the Ku Klux Klan.</p> <p>Loeb’s racism doesn’t stop there. In 2006 Loeb also called Prem Watsa, a Canadian corporate leader who is of Indian descent, a “shvartze,” a Yiddish term for African-American that equates to the n-word. Loeb has also sought to profit off of Puerto Rico’s debt and drive up prescription drug prices. And as board chair of Success Academy, he has supported excessively punitive and rigid disciplinary practices and suspensions meant to force struggling African-American and Latino students out of Success schools. Such zero tolerance behavioral policies have been shown to put students on track for the school-to-prison pipeline.</p> <p>Despite Loeb’s documented history of racism and support of racist policies, Gov. Cuomo refuses to return campaign contributions from the wealthy financier. In contrast, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer immediately shed a $4,500 contribution he had received from Loeb once the recent Facebook post became public.</p> <p>Regarding the Weinstein incident, Gov. Cuomo stated, "I have three daughters. I want to make sure that at the end of the day, this world is a safer, better world for my three daughters." We wholeheartedly agree with that, but African-Americans and other people of color have daughters and sons as well, and they merit protection from racists like Daniel Loeb, who clearly showed his belief that he is superior to Senator Stewart-Cousins and that he knows what is better for children of color than she does. In New York State we will not accept a double standard under which sexist political donors are treated as toxic in political circles, but money from racist political donors is condoned.</p> <p>Sadly, we are living in a time when the president has made racism a mantra and has emboldened violent white supremacists to openly assault opponents of racism. We applaud Gov. Cuomo for making clear that Harvey Weinstein’s sexist money is unwelcome in New York politics. Gov. Cuomo’s hesitation to return Loeb’s tainted money is deeply concerning and offensive. We need him to forcefully and definitively repudiate Daniel Loeb’s racism. No more excuses, it is time for the governor to give back Loeb’s contributions, like he’s doing with Weinstein’s.</p> <p>Gov. Cuomo recently described racism as “the greatest threat this country faces” - so there should be no problem treating racism with the same firm hand as sexism. If the governor decides to keep Loeb’s money, he is sanctioning racism, just as returning Weinstein’s money was a clear repudiation of sexism.</p> <p>***<br />by Zakiyah Ansari and Carmen Perez. Ansari is advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education and Perez is executive director of Gathering for Justice and co-chair of the Women’s March.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
De Blasio School Discipline Policy Shift Causes A Stir 2016-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6360:de-blasio-school-discipline-policy-shift-causes-a-stir Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/21854633165_c76053a27d_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="de blasio school student discipline" /></p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio at Brooklyn Generation School (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In April 2015, the New York City Department of Education modified its discipline code and added an extra step to the process for suspending students from school. Principals are now required to receive authorization from the DOE before suspending students in grades K through 2 for any behavior or any student of any age for incidents involving insubordination, such as cursing at a teacher or refusing to leave a classroom. The change was made in an effort to move away from overusing suspensions and toward alternative disciplinary measures that address the root causes of disruptive behavior.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its first year of implementation, the change in suspension policy and the overall culture shift related to school discipline that the de Blasio administration has sought have yielded a dramatic decrease in student suspensions. The shift has been praised widely, but has also been met with resistance as some say schools are under-resourced to work with students who need to be out of the classroom and others say the policy is leading to a deterioration of school climate.</p> <p dir="ltr">When a school seeks a ‘superintendent’s suspension,’ which can range from six days to one year, an electronic request with a description of the incident is sent to the borough directors of suspension at the DOE, who vote on authorization. An affirmative vote will send the case to the hearing office and begin the suspension process. With the policy change, ‘principal suspensions,’ which range from one to five days, for younger students and cases of minor infractions will follow the same procedure. After the vote, a conversation with the principal is initiated to discuss potential alternative disciplinary measures.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Suspension alone doesn’t change a child’s behavior,” Lois Herrera, CEO of Youth Safety and Development, told Gotham Gazette. “But, for example, restorative practices where the student has to take ownership of the behavior, explain the harm or understand the harm that is caused, and then come up with a solution for repairing the harm is so much more powerful in terms of changing behavior.”</p> <p dir="ltr">What Herrera is explaining is the move toward the “restorative justice” model of school discipline, where students are guided in repairing relationships and investigating the causes of their actions. The process has been panned by some, but the de Blasio administration and the City Council have both committed to it for New York City schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the first half of the school year, the number of suspensions decreased by almost 32 percent compared to the first half of last school year, according to a <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/6FE1AFA7-97FF-4491-9081-DB799789C800/0/March2016LL93BiannualReport33116v2final.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> from the DOE. While many saw this as a mark of success, criticisms of the new suspension policy also began to pick up steam. Representatives from both charter school advocacy groups and the teachers’ union <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/charter-schools-blast-mayor-de-blasio-suspension-overhaul-plan-article-1.2615565" target="_blank">expressed concerns</a>, claiming the new policy interferes with discipline and jeopardizes student safety.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DOE does not oversee disciplinary practices at charter schools. Some charter schools, especially the Success Academy network, have come under scrutiny for their “zero tolerance” discipline code and high suspension rates. Education reform groups like Families for Excellent Schools and StudentsFirstNY, erstwhile de Blasio critics, have become especially vocal in criticizing the de Blasio administration’s discipline policy. A group led by Families for Excellent Schools even filed a <a href="http://safeschoolsnow.nyc" target="_blank">class action lawsuit</a> against the DOE for its “refusal to take action to keep children safe.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A typical de Blasio ally, the United Federation of Teachers, has seen its president say the DOE has not provided adequate support for schools to begin using alternative discipline.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DOE has received $47 million from the city to fund restorative justice programs and mental health supports in schools throughout the city during the next academic year. According to DOE officials, the funding will be used for staff training in social-emotional learning, youth suicide prevention, and therapeutic crisis intervention. It will also allow the DOE to hire more social workers, on-site mental health consultants, and counselors.</p> <p dir="ltr">Staff trained in restorative disciplinary practices will learn to conduct restorative circles, which engage students in repairing and developing relationships, and restorative conferences, which hold a student accountable for his or her actions and the resulting harm and also provides an opportunity to repair the harm.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It isn’t just about taking away something,” said Herrera. “It’s about also providing support and a new way of thinking. It’s a little bit of a mindshift, and in a system as large as the DOE a mindshift can take a number of years.”</p> <p dir="ltr">After years of advocacy by some, the changes began last November when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to reduce the use of punitive school discipline and lower school crime rates.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Parents in all neighborhoods across New York City deserve to the peace of mind to know that their children are empowered to learn and succeed in a safe, inclusive environment,” Mayor de Blasio said in a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/779-15/mayor-de-blasio-roadmap-reduce-punitive-school-discipline-make-schools-safer" target="_blank">press release</a>. “This roadmap will ensure that schools across the city bring families, educators, safety professionals, and community leaders together to support one of New York City's most prized resources – our students."</p> <p dir="ltr">The release also stated that harsh discipline policies disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities. Last October, <a href="http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2015/10/30/school-suspensions-fall-sharply-but-continue-to-fall-most-heavily-on-black-students/#.Vz-AXYQ-g3a" target="_blank">Chalkbeat NY</a> reported that black students received about 52 percent of the previous year’s suspensions, even though they represent 28 percent of students. Students with disabilities - 18 percent of the student population - received 38 percent of the suspensions. Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director at Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-backed group, believes that suspensions for childish behavior, such as writing on a desk or yelling, drive this racial disparity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The disparities are clear. The racial lines are very clear, not only in New York but across the country, of what children are being suspended,” Ansari said in a phone interview. “It’s important to remember that the DOE hasn’t eliminated suspensions as an option for schools, but that it created another level of authorization for suspensions for minor infractions.”</p> <p dir="ltr">With this added authorization, Ansari hopes that school officials will continue to have in-depth conversations about what supports students need and that students will learn better conflict resolution skills.</p> <p dir="ltr">Relying on disciplinary measures other than suspension can also benefit students’ futures, research has shown. When de Blasio created a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sclt/downloads/pdf/Safety-with-Dignity-Executive-Summary.pdf" target="_blank">Mayoral Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline</a> last year, researchers studied the negative effects of suspensions and repeated behavioral referrals. According to NYU Professor Eddie Fergus, who served as the co-chair of the team’s data and research group, suspensions result in loss of educational time, attendance issues, and a higher likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.</p> <p dir="ltr">A majority of education advocates, academics, and other experts agree that students should not be suspended from school for things like talking back to a teacher or engaging in a verbal argument with a classmate. All agree, though, that schools must have the proper resources to work with students in conflict. If there has been a choppy first phase of the new DOE discipline policy, it has been around those resources. The ratio of students to guidance counselors in city schools has been the subject of controversy recently, and the de Blasio administration has increased funding for more counselors.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are also always those resistant to change, some point out.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates for Children began the School Justice Project to address the root causes of suspension and help keep students out of the criminal justice system. The project also helps students in juvenile detention or those returning from detention stay on track to reach their academic goals.</p> <p>“When students are suspended, it increases their likelihood of not graduating from high school, it increases their likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system,” said Paulina Davis, supervising attorney of AFC’s School Justice Project. “There are high stakes outcomes on the line every time a student is suspended. So it’s really a process that we need to be very thoughtful about.”</p> <p>***<br />by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/21854633165_c76053a27d_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="de blasio school student discipline" /></p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio at Brooklyn Generation School (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In April 2015, the New York City Department of Education modified its discipline code and added an extra step to the process for suspending students from school. Principals are now required to receive authorization from the DOE before suspending students in grades K through 2 for any behavior or any student of any age for incidents involving insubordination, such as cursing at a teacher or refusing to leave a classroom. The change was made in an effort to move away from overusing suspensions and toward alternative disciplinary measures that address the root causes of disruptive behavior.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its first year of implementation, the change in suspension policy and the overall culture shift related to school discipline that the de Blasio administration has sought have yielded a dramatic decrease in student suspensions. The shift has been praised widely, but has also been met with resistance as some say schools are under-resourced to work with students who need to be out of the classroom and others say the policy is leading to a deterioration of school climate.</p> <p dir="ltr">When a school seeks a ‘superintendent’s suspension,’ which can range from six days to one year, an electronic request with a description of the incident is sent to the borough directors of suspension at the DOE, who vote on authorization. An affirmative vote will send the case to the hearing office and begin the suspension process. With the policy change, ‘principal suspensions,’ which range from one to five days, for younger students and cases of minor infractions will follow the same procedure. After the vote, a conversation with the principal is initiated to discuss potential alternative disciplinary measures.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Suspension alone doesn’t change a child’s behavior,” Lois Herrera, CEO of Youth Safety and Development, told Gotham Gazette. “But, for example, restorative practices where the student has to take ownership of the behavior, explain the harm or understand the harm that is caused, and then come up with a solution for repairing the harm is so much more powerful in terms of changing behavior.”</p> <p dir="ltr">What Herrera is explaining is the move toward the “restorative justice” model of school discipline, where students are guided in repairing relationships and investigating the causes of their actions. The process has been panned by some, but the de Blasio administration and the City Council have both committed to it for New York City schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the first half of the school year, the number of suspensions decreased by almost 32 percent compared to the first half of last school year, according to a <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/6FE1AFA7-97FF-4491-9081-DB799789C800/0/March2016LL93BiannualReport33116v2final.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> from the DOE. While many saw this as a mark of success, criticisms of the new suspension policy also began to pick up steam. Representatives from both charter school advocacy groups and the teachers’ union <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/charter-schools-blast-mayor-de-blasio-suspension-overhaul-plan-article-1.2615565" target="_blank">expressed concerns</a>, claiming the new policy interferes with discipline and jeopardizes student safety.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DOE does not oversee disciplinary practices at charter schools. Some charter schools, especially the Success Academy network, have come under scrutiny for their “zero tolerance” discipline code and high suspension rates. Education reform groups like Families for Excellent Schools and StudentsFirstNY, erstwhile de Blasio critics, have become especially vocal in criticizing the de Blasio administration’s discipline policy. A group led by Families for Excellent Schools even filed a <a href="http://safeschoolsnow.nyc" target="_blank">class action lawsuit</a> against the DOE for its “refusal to take action to keep children safe.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A typical de Blasio ally, the United Federation of Teachers, has seen its president say the DOE has not provided adequate support for schools to begin using alternative discipline.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DOE has received $47 million from the city to fund restorative justice programs and mental health supports in schools throughout the city during the next academic year. According to DOE officials, the funding will be used for staff training in social-emotional learning, youth suicide prevention, and therapeutic crisis intervention. It will also allow the DOE to hire more social workers, on-site mental health consultants, and counselors.</p> <p dir="ltr">Staff trained in restorative disciplinary practices will learn to conduct restorative circles, which engage students in repairing and developing relationships, and restorative conferences, which hold a student accountable for his or her actions and the resulting harm and also provides an opportunity to repair the harm.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It isn’t just about taking away something,” said Herrera. “It’s about also providing support and a new way of thinking. It’s a little bit of a mindshift, and in a system as large as the DOE a mindshift can take a number of years.”</p> <p dir="ltr">After years of advocacy by some, the changes began last November when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to reduce the use of punitive school discipline and lower school crime rates.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Parents in all neighborhoods across New York City deserve to the peace of mind to know that their children are empowered to learn and succeed in a safe, inclusive environment,” Mayor de Blasio said in a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/779-15/mayor-de-blasio-roadmap-reduce-punitive-school-discipline-make-schools-safer" target="_blank">press release</a>. “This roadmap will ensure that schools across the city bring families, educators, safety professionals, and community leaders together to support one of New York City's most prized resources – our students."</p> <p dir="ltr">The release also stated that harsh discipline policies disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities. Last October, <a href="http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2015/10/30/school-suspensions-fall-sharply-but-continue-to-fall-most-heavily-on-black-students/#.Vz-AXYQ-g3a" target="_blank">Chalkbeat NY</a> reported that black students received about 52 percent of the previous year’s suspensions, even though they represent 28 percent of students. Students with disabilities - 18 percent of the student population - received 38 percent of the suspensions. Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director at Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-backed group, believes that suspensions for childish behavior, such as writing on a desk or yelling, drive this racial disparity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The disparities are clear. The racial lines are very clear, not only in New York but across the country, of what children are being suspended,” Ansari said in a phone interview. “It’s important to remember that the DOE hasn’t eliminated suspensions as an option for schools, but that it created another level of authorization for suspensions for minor infractions.”</p> <p dir="ltr">With this added authorization, Ansari hopes that school officials will continue to have in-depth conversations about what supports students need and that students will learn better conflict resolution skills.</p> <p dir="ltr">Relying on disciplinary measures other than suspension can also benefit students’ futures, research has shown. When de Blasio created a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sclt/downloads/pdf/Safety-with-Dignity-Executive-Summary.pdf" target="_blank">Mayoral Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline</a> last year, researchers studied the negative effects of suspensions and repeated behavioral referrals. According to NYU Professor Eddie Fergus, who served as the co-chair of the team’s data and research group, suspensions result in loss of educational time, attendance issues, and a higher likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.</p> <p dir="ltr">A majority of education advocates, academics, and other experts agree that students should not be suspended from school for things like talking back to a teacher or engaging in a verbal argument with a classmate. All agree, though, that schools must have the proper resources to work with students in conflict. If there has been a choppy first phase of the new DOE discipline policy, it has been around those resources. The ratio of students to guidance counselors in city schools has been the subject of controversy recently, and the de Blasio administration has increased funding for more counselors.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are also always those resistant to change, some point out.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates for Children began the School Justice Project to address the root causes of suspension and help keep students out of the criminal justice system. The project also helps students in juvenile detention or those returning from detention stay on track to reach their academic goals.</p> <p>“When students are suspended, it increases their likelihood of not graduating from high school, it increases their likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system,” said Paulina Davis, supervising attorney of AFC’s School Justice Project. “There are high stakes outcomes on the line every time a student is suspended. So it’s really a process that we need to be very thoughtful about.”</p> <p>***<br />by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Measuring the Mayor’s Education Agenda 2015-10-14T04:43:52+00:00 2015-10-14T04:43:52+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5933:measuring-the-mayors-education-agenda Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/21233566033_2e069629a4_z.jpg" alt="de blasio parents school brooklyn" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">De Blasio at a parents' night (<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycmayorsoffice/21233566033/in/dateposted/" target="_blank">photo</a>:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayor's Office via flickr)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There are three main data points by which New York City mayors are usually judged on their management of city schools: state standardized test scores; and rates of student graduation and college-readiness. As Mayor Bill de Blasio is now in his second year at the helm of the city’s 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students, his ability to improve these numbers is coming under intense scrutiny - from parents, pundits, and Albany lawmakers, among others.</p> <p dir="ltr">To boost school and student performance and produce college- and career-ready graduates, de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have unveiled a series of new education initiatives, led by the much-heralded rollout of universal pre-kindergarten. The effectiveness of these programs and the pair’s stewardship of the city’s schools will largely be determined by the three aforementioned data points. Of key relevance within those larger statistics is also the outcomes for subgroups of students, like those with disabilities, and the so-called “achievement gap.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a recent speech called “Equity and Excellence,” de Blasio outlined a series of new education plans aimed at improving the opportunities and outcomes for city students. Many applauded the mayor’s announcements, which included more algebra, computer science, and reading coaches. Others, however, say benchmarks for student success are being set too far off and that more robust and immediate change is needed. Some continue to push de Blasio to close underperforming schools and embrace an expansion of charter schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our vision for the New York City public schools is that every school is going to be brought up to the point of excellence. We are putting an unprecedented level of resources in – that’s how we achieved full day pre-K for every child in this city - and that’s going to have a huge impact on the future of our children and our schools,” de Blasio said last week on 1010 Wins radio.</p> <p dir="ltr">Over the course of two years, de Blasio and Fariña have put together an extensive education agenda. Progress, or lack thereof, will be a key to de Blasio’s 2017 re-election bid. More importantly, the success of the de Blasio/Fariña era of city school control will be key to the future of many young people. Parents and guardians of the city's 1.1 million students are seeing firsthand every day whether their children's schools give them confidence in those in charge.</p> <p dir="ltr">As stakeholders and watchers keep tabs on the mayor’s education agenda and its impact, Gotham Gazette takes a detailed look at de Blasio’s major programs and how they fit into the assessment of this mayor’s education leadership.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>First, the latest data on the three main metrics mentioned above:</em><br /><strong>TEST SCORES:</strong> The most up-to-date <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/C7E210CA-F686-4805-BEA6-EDD91F76E58B/185429/2015MathELAPublicDeck81215_SITE.pdf" target="_blank">numbers</a> say that about one-third of New York City students in grades 3-8 are proficient on state math and English-Language Arts tests. For math, it’s 35.2 percent proficient; for ELA, 30.4 percent. These numbers, released this summer, show a slight increase from the year before. (They also indicate performance on recently rewritten tests based on the Common Core Learning Standards - tests and standards that are the source of much controversy.)</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>GRADUATION RATE:</strong> The most recently published <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CBC16138-32FA-4EB8-91BA-525BF4A82EEB/0/2014GraduationRatesPublicWebsite.pdf" target="_blank">graduate rate,</a> from 2014, shows 64.2 percent of high schoolers graduated in four years (including August graduates, the percentage rises to 68.4). Indicative of a long-term upward trend, this also shows an increase, with the August rate up 2.4 percent from the year before.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>COLLEGE-READINESS:</strong> In 2014, <a href="http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2014/11/10/city-touts-slight-uptick-in-college-readiness-as-new-school-reports-go-online/#.VhPJ0VVVikp" target="_blank">32 percent of students</a> tested high enough to be considered “college ready.” The college-ready metric, initially introduced by the state, is determined by percentages of students who attain a score of 75 or higher on the English Regents and 80 or higher on the Math Regents (Regents exams are state standardized tests for high school students). This signifies that students will not require remedial classes to attend four-year CUNY universities.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Bill de Blasio, Education Mayor</strong><br />To ring in the new year and quiet some of his critics, Mayor de Blasio gave a wide-ranging September speech to unveil several new education initiatives. Announcements of new efforts to ensure all students are reading at grade level; offer more algebra, advanced placement, and computer science courses; and individually guide the system’s most vulnerable students were mostly met with praise from officials, advocates, parents, and others.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though all agree with the mayor’s expressed principles of “equity and excellence” in all New York City public schools, there are skeptics who question if the mayor is going far enough or fast enough, and those who question how well his programs, new and otherwise, will be implemented. After all, if one-third of grade 3-8 students are proficient in math or ELA, that means that two-thirds are not.</p> <p dir="ltr">The numbers become even more frightening when looking at the city’s lowest performing schools, often in its poorest neighborhoods and populated by children of color, where there are in some instances grades full of students who do not meet the state standards.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio and others do question the new state tests and caution against using standardized test scores as the end-all. They also point to high poverty rates and the challenges faced by students that impede their ability to learn.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, the mayor consistently acknowledges there is a great deal of work to be done to make all schools good schools. He has little choice but to confront that reality. A new report from pro-charter school organization Families for Excellent Schools shows that black and Hispanic students beginning high school in New York City are one-fourth as likely as their white and Asian counterparts to earn a bachelor’s degree.</p> <p dir="ltr">Much of the mayor’s wide-ranging education agenda - beginning with pre-K - is aimed at increasing opportunity and fostering greater equity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many ask how de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, plan to measure progress on their signature changes to the city’s education system, looking for both what metrics and what benchmarks are in place to assess and ensure success. They and other top city officials are often hard-pressed to give data points other than the big three mentioned earlier, though they cite things like attendance rates and Advanced Placement course access and enrollment.</p> <p dir="ltr">In de Blasio’s most recent announcement, he outlined several goals set a number of years down the road - such as increasing the proportion of high school graduates deemed ‘college-ready’ from less than half to two-thirds by 2026 - leading many to wonder about more immediate effects and goals. Some note that even a goal set that far into the future leaves one-third of city graduates not deemed ready for college.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some schools and students must see immediate progress. Each of the city’s 94 “renewal schools,” the city’s persistently low-performing schools up against the prospect of state takeover, will have set benchmarks to meet, which usually include attendance and test score improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is banking on his pre-K initiative to be a game-changer. And it may be, but time and again de Blasio and others are asked how the program is being evaluated and there are few concrete answers, though<a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/06/8569527/guide-citys-2015-pre-k-expansion-challenges" target="_blank"> a consultancy has been hired to track it</a>. Much of the program’s efficacy will be pegged on the third-grade test scores of the students who have enrolled in the program (third grade is the first year of state standardized tests and seen as a key year for assessing whether students are reading at grade-level).</p> <p dir="ltr">On the first day of school this year, in September, Mayor de Blasio celebrated the progress of programs implemented thus far in his tenure, including the expansion of UPK to enrolling more than 65,500 four-year-olds across the city; 130 new community schools; 126 PROSE schools, which are schools working with unique models and outside of some typical union rules; and free after-school programs for all middle-schoolers. Most of the celebration, though, involves their launch, and with much of it still new, like de Blasio as mayor, there is little else to measure yet.</p> <p dir="ltr">The following week, de Blasio announced the roll-out of another wave of education programs buttressed by a vision of public schools running on the “twin engines of equity and excellence.” &nbsp;Programs outlined included computer science and Advanced Placement courses for all; universal second grade literacy; “Single Shepherd,” by which at-risk students are provided individualized counselors; and college campus visits for all before ninth grade.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Excellence and achievement cannot, and should not, discriminate...As we increase the number of student success stories, we have to make sure success is as common in East New York as it is on the Upper East Side,” <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/619-15/education-remarks-mayor-bill-de-blasio-equity-excellence-prepared-delivery" target="_blank">said the mayor</a>, striking the central theme of his campaign and his mayoralty.</p> <p dir="ltr">Changing the largest school system in the country does not happen overnight, of course, and some defend the mayor’s extended timelines. City Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the Committee on Education and a former teacher, told Gotham Gazette, “I applaud the mayor for not allowing people to think [these reforms] can be done overnight. It takes awhile to change things, to change cultures, and to have real results.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with Dromm, Gotham Gazette consulted several education experts and advocates to discuss the mayor’s education agenda and related metrics.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Pre-K</strong><br />“In principle, [universal pre-k] is an extremely good idea, but in practice, it will depend on the caliber of the program,” David Steiner, executive director at Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and former New York State education commissioner, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Research shows that teacher quality is the single greatest determinant of a student’s performance outside family background and context. So it’s the greatest in-school influence on student performance,” Steiner said, underlining the importance of “the caliber of instruction.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Steiner considers pre-K, he wants to know if teachers have “been prepared to handle the work that needs to be done to ensure that these young children can learn to read effectively.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Suggesting a teacher residency program model in order to equip teachers with the clinical skills they need to ensure preparedness and high-quality instruction in the classroom, Steiner is among those who want to see systemic focus on teacher preparation and quality.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with teacher quality, Steiner cites sufficient socialization, play-time, and acquiring skills such as “<a href="http://www.readingrockets.org/reading-topics/phonemic-awareness" target="_blank">phonemic awareness</a>” for the students as critical to building the foundation for reading and long-term success in learning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has indeed highlighted the significance of teacher instruction, offering the city’s first-ever “Citywide Professional Development Training specifically for pre-K,” with 6,000 educators participating at the launch of the program in 2014. It is not the residency system Steiner recommends, which would be more robust and expensive.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor and others have continually stressed that pre-K is “high-quality,” but it is unclear exactly how prepared the teachers are and how strong the curriculum is - which is where internal and external evaluation will come into play.</p> <p dir="ltr">There will, of course, also soon be those third grade test scores for the first class of pre-K participants. One major question about pre-K is whether initial gains that participants show last through third grade.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2014/Ready-to-Launch-NYCs-Implementation-Plan-for-Free-High-Quality-Full-Day-Universal-Pre-Kindergarten.pdf" target="_blank"> city’s implementation plan</a> for UPK, a core feature of the model is “ensuring recruitment and retention of high-quality UPK lead teachers with early childhood certification.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Instructional coaches from the DOE are placed in schools to provide professional development - which, generally speaking, has been a major focus of Chancellor Fariña, a former teacher and principal herself.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As we move forward with this expansion, we must renew our focus on supporting our pre-K teachers and assistant teachers and creating an atmosphere of engaging and fun learning and play that puts our youngest learners on the path to success in kindergarten and their continuing education,” said Fariña at the initial pre-K launch, in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell told Gotham Gazette that the first wave of pre-K metrics will be released this fall.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell described skill acquisition as essential, along with classroom interactions, and available activities. Pre-K participants are, after all, four-year-olds. When asked about ensuring quality in pre-K, the mayor has often stressed that the curriculum involves establishing key learning basics, such as those needed to become a successful reader, as well as plenty of play, which also builds skills.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell stressed that enrollment itself is key to the success of the program, especially among disadvantaged families. "This is a two-year expansion, and the first year was heavily focused on low-income communities that benefit most from high quality pre-K. In the ten lowest-income communities, enrollment more than doubled last year. And that focus continued this year, where we pushed and successfully enrolled more than 1,000 children whose families were in homeless shelters,” Norvell told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Moving children from under-resourced and unstable environments into school a year earlier can have significant effects in terms of their socialization and language acquisition.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a recent defense against accusations that pre-K success is being measured by enrollment and not quality, Norvell <a href="https://twitter.com/WileyNorvell/status/652135119990341633" target="_blank">wrote</a> on Twitter that a “focus on quality” is the “reason we spread expansion over [two years],” adding that there has been a “huge focus on [professional development] and pedagogical oversight.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community, Renewal, PROSE, &amp; Charter Schools</strong><br />Community schools and <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/schools/RenewalSchool" target="_blank">renewal schools</a> -- at the heart of the mayor’s education reforms -- provide striking examples of divergent policy from de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has promised to close schools only as a “last resort,” focusing rather on providing more and better resources to schools which may be struggling. The city’s most-struggling schools are the renewal schools, almost all of which are part of the community schools program, which means these schools become hubs of services, such as providing health care for students or English classes for parents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Labeling schools ‘low-performing,’ labeling them ‘failing’ makes everybody in that school community feel like they’re failing,” David Bloomfield, professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, told Gotham Gazette. “We have to get away from this notion of a failing school; it’s an incorrect description and an obstacle to reform.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In this regard, Bloomfield appears aligned with de Blasio, who has decided that instead of closing schools and reconstituting them as smaller schools with a remade faculty, that he would flood struggling schools with resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bloomfield believes rigorous testing implemented during the Bloomberg years showed itself to be a “disaster” and “misunderstands the educational situation of students. It ostensibly equates short-term test performance with long-term educational proficiency.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Assessment of “student learning across multiple measures,” not simply discerned through testing, as well as “professional observation” to determine teacher quality would give a more accurate portrayal of student and teacher performance, Bloomfield says.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are investing in tools that we know help students catch up and succeed – more learning time, extra tutoring, coaches to help teachers improve instruction,” said the mayor at a press conference with students and faculty of Richmond Hill High School, one of the 94 renewal schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have a plan to fix long-struggling schools, and we’ll hold ourselves and these schools accountable for results,” de Blasio said. When discussing his stewardship of city schools and the mayoral control system that New York City mayors are allowed through state law, de Blasio has repeatedly said that he has the education system on the right track and that closing school doesn’t solve the problems facing the students in them. He says he will be judged by voters come 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, critics believe that the community and renewal school school approach of extra resources is not the answer, but that closing schools and opening more independently-run charter schools is a better general alternative path.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has been a vocal opponent of the expansion of charter schools, though his rhetoric on the subject has cooled of late. The mayor and others have talked of partnering with charter schools as an opportunity to increase the quality of education in public schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">A controversial recent <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3LSrSZXM8Q&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">advertisement </a>by Families for Excellent Schools, the pro-charter group, slamming de Blasio for “forcing kids into failing schools” is indicative of a <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/education/2014/03/bill_de_blasio_vs_charter_schools_a_feud_in_new_york_city_has_broad_national.html" target="_blank">long-running dispute</a>. Prior to that ad, which is being followed <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/10/8579417/charter-ad-takes-aim-de-blasio-education-agenda" target="_blank">by another</a> critical of the mayor’s education leadership, and a large pro-charter, anti-de Blasio rally, the mayor announced a new program to fund 50 formal partnerships between district schools and charter schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration cites that it will be similar to the <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/InterschoolCollaboration/Welcome/default.htm" target="_blank">Learning Partners Program</a>, matching “host” schools with “partner” schools for collaboration on areas of demonstrated need by the partner schools. Drawing from individual strengths, schools will apply and be matched in pairs “to learn from each other's best practices” creating <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">District-Charter Learning Partnerships</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Moreover, another DOE effort to support struggling schools is the Progressive Redesign Opportunity for Schools of Excellence (PROSE) initiative. Led by the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships (OSDCP), the initiative aims to design and develop new schools, overhaul under-enrolled schools, and support school flexibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">While de Blasio and Fariña’s teams track multiple measures, and have revamped the system by which schools are graded to show a diversity of metrics instead of a single letter grade, much of this can be seen as alphabet soup by those who simply want to know: are schools improving or not? There’s no getting around the fact that schools will largely be judged by state leaders and others through their standardized test scores, seen by many as the best objective measure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Clara Hemphill, senior editor of InsideSchools.org, a publication of The Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, says that “Tests tell you where a school has been, but not where a school is going. There is other data that is predictive of where a school is heading.” She described “improved attendance, increased enrollment, and increased satisfaction by parents, teachers, students” as evidence for “signs of a flourishing school.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Universal 2nd Grade Literacy</strong><br />Every elementary school will receive support from a reading specialist to ensure students are reading at grade level by the end of second grade, Mayor de Blasio announced, noting that early intervention determines long-term success for young children and the importance of early literacy.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">The Mayor’s Office cites</a> that “students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Hemphill is pleased to see the initiative: “The plan for 700 reading specialists is long overdue,” she says. “It’s the one thing that’s really been shown to work in helping kids who may have some difficulties to read get the skills they need.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Learning to read is critical,” Hemphill continues. “There are a large number of kids who don’t learn easily even with good instruction. Reading specialists are teachers with master’s degrees specialized in how to teach reading. Putting one in an elementary will go a long way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, suggested “process-based metrics” in which a student is evaluated over time to gauge improved reading skills for grade-level proficiency by the end of second grade. This would create stronger tracking and assessment well before those third grade tests scores come back.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our goal is to have all second graders reading with fluency by 2026. Teachers will track students’ progress through nationally-recognized assessments, and provide the right kind of additional support to those kids who need it,”<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/619-15/education-remarks-mayor-bill-de-blasio-equity-excellence-prepared-delivery" target="_blank"> announced the Mayor.</a></p> <p dir="ltr">Clearly, the success of this initiative will mostly come down to student scores on the state ELA tests all students take in third grade. One especially important subgroup to watch will be English-Language Learners, or students whose first language is not English. While this is true throughout all grade levels, it is important at younger ages that students show they are beginning to master the official language of most of their schooling.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Algebra for All</strong><br />“For New York City public high school students, algebra 1 represents either the gateway to advanced math or a huge, even insurmountable, stumbling block in their education,” begins an <a href="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53ee4f0be4b015b9c3690d84/t/55d22728e4b06f52f9e678d8/1439835944390/CNYCA+Rough+Calculations.pdf" target="_blank">August 2015 report</a> prepared by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. Why is that so? The report states that the vast majority of students can fulfill math requirements for graduation by passing the Regents exam for the algebra 1 course.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, according to the Center’s analysis, of the estimated 75,500 students who entered high school as the prospective Class of 2014, more than 22,000 failed the Integrated Algebra Regents on their first attempt. “Those who failed the first time went on to retake the exam an average of twice more in later years in order to graduate,” and among the students repeating the exam, “the pass rate plummeted to as low as 20 percent.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And the test has only become significantly more difficult. A new exam was introduced in June 2014, aligning with the tougher academic standards of Common Core, as required in New York State. The test now consists of material that used to be on Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents exams.</p> <p dir="ltr">The difficulty of the exam has elicited reactions ranging from concern to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/27/a-disturbing-look-at-common-core-tests-in-new-york/" target="_blank">outrage</a> given the high stakes for students who may not graduate on time - or even not at all - depending on exam results. Part of the issue at play with algebra, like in other instances, appears to be access.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">announced</a> the Algebra for All initiative to ensure algebra courses for all eighth-graders citywide by Fall 2021, along with “academic supports in place earlier in middle school to build greater algebra readiness.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Today, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">less than 60 percent</a> of public middle schools offer some algebra coursework.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Computer Science for All</strong><br />By 2025, every student in elementary, middle and high school will receive computer science education. Funded through a public-private partnership, city money will be matched by New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC), Robin Hood Foundation, and AOL Charitable Foundation for a total of $81 million invested over the next 10 years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tim Armstrong, CEO and chairman of AOL, said that these contributions will, “allow children of all backgrounds to share equally in the future of a software-driven economy and continue to bolster New York’s position as one of the leading technology cities in the world.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking with Gotham Gazette, Natasha Capers, parent leader and Coordinator of Coalition for Educational Justice, shared in the praise saying “giving [students] this education [will] build the workforce” of the future.</p> <p dir="ltr">An initial pilot program during the 2014-15 school year, the <a href="http://sepnyc.org/" target="_blank">Software Engineering Pilot</a> (SEP), has implemented computer science classes in 18 middle and high schools, enrolling 2,700 students for courses about web design, coding, robotics and more. Computer science classes will expand significantly in other schools beginning in Fall 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some do not see computer science coursework as necessary for every student. De Blasio and others who support the initiative say that it will have multiple positive effects, including engaging students in school, preparing students for the workforce, and enhancing thinking schools. If it is part of improvement in college-readiness and workplace success rates, de Blasio will get credit.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>AP for All</strong><br />Today, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/618-15/equity-excellence-mayor-de-blasio-reforms-raise-achievement-across-all-public" target="_blank">nearly 40,000 students</a> are enrolled in high schools, grades 9-12, that do not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Low-income students and black and Latino students are particularly affected, with only 44 percent enrolling in AP. Full implementation of AP for All is projected for Fall 2021, by which AP courses and prep classes will be available in all schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">Again here, some may point to a far off goal. Progress will be measurable each year in terms of additional offerings, but it is a multi-year expansion plan, and one aimed at improving college-readiness, but also college graduation rates.</p> <p dir="ltr">This initiative builds on the<a href="http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000738-city-to-offer-more-advanced-placement-classes" target="_blank"> AP Expansion program</a> created in 2013 by the NYC Department of Education which has implemented AP courses in over 70 schools since its launch.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000736-report-examines-why-kids-are-not-college-ready" target="_blank">A report reviewed</a> by Inside Schools determines that “taking even one CUNY College Now or AP course reduces the likelihood that students will need remedial classes in college.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kim Nauer, education project director at Center for New York City Affairs, notes that statistically it is true that more students of all income levels are attending college but many are not completing their degrees. Taking AP courses in high school often serves as effective preparation for college course loads.</p> <p dir="ltr">In fact, “we know students who take AP classes are twice as likely to graduate college in five years, compared to those who don’t,” <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/619-15/education-remarks-mayor-bill-de-blasio-equity-excellence-prepared-delivery" target="_blank">noted</a> de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">Students are also more likely to be prepared for college and careers with individual support from school guidance counselors.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, in 2013, <a href="http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000736-report-examines-why-kids-are-not-college-ready" target="_blank">61 percent of guidance counselors</a> faced caseloads of 100 to 300 students -- far too many, critics say, to substantially help students individually prepare for college or career, much less navigate key aspects of their current schools. (The remaining counselors faced caseloads even higher.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Thus, in addition to expanding AP course selection, the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">College Access for All</a> program de Blasio announced will guide students through the college application process, in which “every student will have the resources and individually tailored supports at their high school to pursue a path to college.”</p> <p dir="ltr">College campus visits, assistance in completing applications, mentorships with college students and strategies for family financial planning to afford college tuition are all resources which will be available for students, sixth-twelfth grade, launching in Fall 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">In increasing the focus on college preparedness and college goal-setting, de Blasio may be taking a page from the charter school book. Supporters often note that many charter schools have a college-going culture in place, talking with students about college from kindergarten onward.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Single Shepherd</strong><br /><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">The Single Shepherd program</a> pairs counselors with specific students from sixth grade through their high school graduation and college enrollment, and is being piloted in District 7, in the South Bronx, and District 23, in Central Brooklyn. The program will launch in Fall 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Districts 7 and 23 have among the lowest graduation and college readiness rates in the city, and each serve high poverty, high needs students. We selected two districts with high need, in different areas of the city, and of varying size to serve as proof-points for the initiative so that with evidence, it can be scaled to other communities,” said Department of Education spokesperson Devora Kaye, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Single Shepherd role will focus explicitly on high school graduation, college readiness and on building a long-term relationship with their students,” Kaye continued. “Starting day one of implementation, we’ll be monitoring the progress of this program, and will expand it as we see progress.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Students in the program, and the program itself, are sure to be measured in terms of improvements in attendance, grades, and test scores, along with graduation and college-readiness, as Kaye mentioned.</p> <p dir="ltr">Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director at the <a href="http://www.aqeny.org/" target="_blank">Alliance for Quality Education</a>, also said it is important to watch suspension rates. Ansari, whose group is largely aligned with the mayor and the teachers union, highlights the importance of looking at graduation rates and college placement for students, but also said more schools should be implementing “restorative justice practices,” referring to an approach to school discipline and community building that strays away from suspensions in most cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The social and emotional well-being of students and parent and community engagement are “crucial” for student success, Ansari said. De Blasio and Fariña have devoted new resources to restorative justice and believe that keeping students in school when suspension is avoidable will give students a greater shot at success.</p> <p dir="ltr">Students for which restorative justice is an alternative to out-of-school suspension are likely to be candidates for the shepard program, though that program is only seeing a small pilot in the next school year. Still, the shepard program is another example of the de Blasio administration infusing significant resources toward addressing education problems.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>School Segregation</strong><br />Professor Bloomfield brought up one key for any big city mayor, the differences in learning experiences and outcomes of students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There has been <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/tale-two-schools/" target="_blank">a renewed focus of late</a> on New York City’s segregated schools - the city’s schools are among the most segregated in the country, some of which has to do with the city’s housing, which largely determines elementary school enrollment.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are enrollment and admissions policies that many want to see changed. Others, still, want to see the expansion of charter schools - less so to reduce segregation and more so to reduce the so-called <a href="http://ciep.hunter.cuny.edu/the-persistent-achievement-gaps-in-american-education/" target="_blank">achievement gap</a> between black and Latino students on one hand and white and Asian students on the other. Many charter schools have proved to be more successful alternatives to nearby district schools when it comes to student test scores, and charter schools in New York City are almost exclusively attended by children of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">This past summer, de Blasio signed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which tracks demographic data relating to grade levels and programs within schools, but lacks a mandate for actionable steps to reduce segregation.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bloomfield says, “The way to address [the achievement gap] is not simply through remediation, which is more or less what the mayor’s laundry list of [new] reforms [are].” It is necessary, he says, “to make sure that all students have access to resources by making sure affluent and low-income students are educated together and all students are educated in integrated environments because all students benefit from that.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I want to include the shameful inequity in our competitive high schools Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech,” Bloomfield adds. “The mayor promised he would change that and he hasn’t come up with any proposals.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Bloomfield refers to the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools. De Blasio said as a candidate and repeated as mayor, though not lately, that he wants to see the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools change away from a single test. On the issue of school integration, de Blasio has been cool to innovative admissions models, instead saying that his pre-K and affordable housing programs would foster more integrated schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lori Podvesker, a parent-advocate and manager of disability and education policy at INCLUDEnyc, also discussed the problem of segregation in New York City public schools. Podvesker cites the lack of initiatives for District 75 students, who primarily have significant disabilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It feels like students receiving [special education] services are getting lost in this conversation -- &nbsp;and the overall education conversation -- &nbsp;because everything is being applied to all kids and it’s really not true,” said Podvesker, who also sits on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of students in District 75 don’t take standardized testing and are not going to college. So, the new ‘shepherd’ program -- what does that look like for those kids?”</p> <p dir="ltr">She believes, “special education is siloed,” in the general public conversation on education. “Under Chancellor Fariña it’s getting better,” she says, “but I still feel like it’s an afterthought and it’s not part of decision-making from the beginning.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though disappointed the mayor has not been more proactive on special education, Podvesker noted the initiatives that have been announced are “amazing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As de Blasio seeks an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5884-pre-k-pillar-in-place-de-blasio-must-build-rest-of-his-case-for-mayoral-control">extension for mayoral control</a> next year from the state legislature and Governor Cuomo, he faces tremendous pressure to ensure that others see his vision for education as his supporters do. He must present immediate results beyond pre-K enrollment, and the mayor and his team know it. This summer, de Blasio took great pains to tout small increases in state test score results for students in grades 3-8, and will bring those gains to Albany, as well as his list of programs and any data he can to support their initial successes.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Albany in 2016 and then at home in New York City in 2017, de Blasio will be forced to present data - have test scores continued to rise? Are they rising fast enough? Have graduation and college-readiness rates improved?</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor will also have to contend with the impressions of parents, each of whom has a personal experience with the school system.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio will surely use whatever numbers he can to make the case that he has the city’s students on the right track. He’ll also make his equity argument, spelling out opportunity and access, if not yet excellence.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Kaela Sanborn-Hum, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/21233566033_2e069629a4_z.jpg" alt="de blasio parents school brooklyn" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">De Blasio at a parents' night (<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycmayorsoffice/21233566033/in/dateposted/" target="_blank">photo</a>:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayor's Office via flickr)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There are three main data points by which New York City mayors are usually judged on their management of city schools: state standardized test scores; and rates of student graduation and college-readiness. As Mayor Bill de Blasio is now in his second year at the helm of the city’s 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students, his ability to improve these numbers is coming under intense scrutiny - from parents, pundits, and Albany lawmakers, among others.</p> <p dir="ltr">To boost school and student performance and produce college- and career-ready graduates, de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have unveiled a series of new education initiatives, led by the much-heralded rollout of universal pre-kindergarten. The effectiveness of these programs and the pair’s stewardship of the city’s schools will largely be determined by the three aforementioned data points. Of key relevance within those larger statistics is also the outcomes for subgroups of students, like those with disabilities, and the so-called “achievement gap.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a recent speech called “Equity and Excellence,” de Blasio outlined a series of new education plans aimed at improving the opportunities and outcomes for city students. Many applauded the mayor’s announcements, which included more algebra, computer science, and reading coaches. Others, however, say benchmarks for student success are being set too far off and that more robust and immediate change is needed. Some continue to push de Blasio to close underperforming schools and embrace an expansion of charter schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our vision for the New York City public schools is that every school is going to be brought up to the point of excellence. We are putting an unprecedented level of resources in – that’s how we achieved full day pre-K for every child in this city - and that’s going to have a huge impact on the future of our children and our schools,” de Blasio said last week on 1010 Wins radio.</p> <p dir="ltr">Over the course of two years, de Blasio and Fariña have put together an extensive education agenda. Progress, or lack thereof, will be a key to de Blasio’s 2017 re-election bid. More importantly, the success of the de Blasio/Fariña era of city school control will be key to the future of many young people. Parents and guardians of the city's 1.1 million students are seeing firsthand every day whether their children's schools give them confidence in those in charge.</p> <p dir="ltr">As stakeholders and watchers keep tabs on the mayor’s education agenda and its impact, Gotham Gazette takes a detailed look at de Blasio’s major programs and how they fit into the assessment of this mayor’s education leadership.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>First, the latest data on the three main metrics mentioned above:</em><br /><strong>TEST SCORES:</strong> The most up-to-date <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/C7E210CA-F686-4805-BEA6-EDD91F76E58B/185429/2015MathELAPublicDeck81215_SITE.pdf" target="_blank">numbers</a> say that about one-third of New York City students in grades 3-8 are proficient on state math and English-Language Arts tests. For math, it’s 35.2 percent proficient; for ELA, 30.4 percent. These numbers, released this summer, show a slight increase from the year before. (They also indicate performance on recently rewritten tests based on the Common Core Learning Standards - tests and standards that are the source of much controversy.)</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>GRADUATION RATE:</strong> The most recently published <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CBC16138-32FA-4EB8-91BA-525BF4A82EEB/0/2014GraduationRatesPublicWebsite.pdf" target="_blank">graduate rate,</a> from 2014, shows 64.2 percent of high schoolers graduated in four years (including August graduates, the percentage rises to 68.4). Indicative of a long-term upward trend, this also shows an increase, with the August rate up 2.4 percent from the year before.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>COLLEGE-READINESS:</strong> In 2014, <a href="http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2014/11/10/city-touts-slight-uptick-in-college-readiness-as-new-school-reports-go-online/#.VhPJ0VVVikp" target="_blank">32 percent of students</a> tested high enough to be considered “college ready.” The college-ready metric, initially introduced by the state, is determined by percentages of students who attain a score of 75 or higher on the English Regents and 80 or higher on the Math Regents (Regents exams are state standardized tests for high school students). This signifies that students will not require remedial classes to attend four-year CUNY universities.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Bill de Blasio, Education Mayor</strong><br />To ring in the new year and quiet some of his critics, Mayor de Blasio gave a wide-ranging September speech to unveil several new education initiatives. Announcements of new efforts to ensure all students are reading at grade level; offer more algebra, advanced placement, and computer science courses; and individually guide the system’s most vulnerable students were mostly met with praise from officials, advocates, parents, and others.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though all agree with the mayor’s expressed principles of “equity and excellence” in all New York City public schools, there are skeptics who question if the mayor is going far enough or fast enough, and those who question how well his programs, new and otherwise, will be implemented. After all, if one-third of grade 3-8 students are proficient in math or ELA, that means that two-thirds are not.</p> <p dir="ltr">The numbers become even more frightening when looking at the city’s lowest performing schools, often in its poorest neighborhoods and populated by children of color, where there are in some instances grades full of students who do not meet the state standards.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio and others do question the new state tests and caution against using standardized test scores as the end-all. They also point to high poverty rates and the challenges faced by students that impede their ability to learn.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, the mayor consistently acknowledges there is a great deal of work to be done to make all schools good schools. He has little choice but to confront that reality. A new report from pro-charter school organization Families for Excellent Schools shows that black and Hispanic students beginning high school in New York City are one-fourth as likely as their white and Asian counterparts to earn a bachelor’s degree.</p> <p dir="ltr">Much of the mayor’s wide-ranging education agenda - beginning with pre-K - is aimed at increasing opportunity and fostering greater equity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many ask how de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, plan to measure progress on their signature changes to the city’s education system, looking for both what metrics and what benchmarks are in place to assess and ensure success. They and other top city officials are often hard-pressed to give data points other than the big three mentioned earlier, though they cite things like attendance rates and Advanced Placement course access and enrollment.</p> <p dir="ltr">In de Blasio’s most recent announcement, he outlined several goals set a number of years down the road - such as increasing the proportion of high school graduates deemed ‘college-ready’ from less than half to two-thirds by 2026 - leading many to wonder about more immediate effects and goals. Some note that even a goal set that far into the future leaves one-third of city graduates not deemed ready for college.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some schools and students must see immediate progress. Each of the city’s 94 “renewal schools,” the city’s persistently low-performing schools up against the prospect of state takeover, will have set benchmarks to meet, which usually include attendance and test score improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is banking on his pre-K initiative to be a game-changer. And it may be, but time and again de Blasio and others are asked how the program is being evaluated and there are few concrete answers, though<a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/06/8569527/guide-citys-2015-pre-k-expansion-challenges" target="_blank"> a consultancy has been hired to track it</a>. Much of the program’s efficacy will be pegged on the third-grade test scores of the students who have enrolled in the program (third grade is the first year of state standardized tests and seen as a key year for assessing whether students are reading at grade-level).</p> <p dir="ltr">On the first day of school this year, in September, Mayor de Blasio celebrated the progress of programs implemented thus far in his tenure, including the expansion of UPK to enrolling more than 65,500 four-year-olds across the city; 130 new community schools; 126 PROSE schools, which are schools working with unique models and outside of some typical union rules; and free after-school programs for all middle-schoolers. Most of the celebration, though, involves their launch, and with much of it still new, like de Blasio as mayor, there is little else to measure yet.</p> <p dir="ltr">The following week, de Blasio announced the roll-out of another wave of education programs buttressed by a vision of public schools running on the “twin engines of equity and excellence.” &nbsp;Programs outlined included computer science and Advanced Placement courses for all; universal second grade literacy; “Single Shepherd,” by which at-risk students are provided individualized counselors; and college campus visits for all before ninth grade.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Excellence and achievement cannot, and should not, discriminate...As we increase the number of student success stories, we have to make sure success is as common in East New York as it is on the Upper East Side,” <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/619-15/education-remarks-mayor-bill-de-blasio-equity-excellence-prepared-delivery" target="_blank">said the mayor</a>, striking the central theme of his campaign and his mayoralty.</p> <p dir="ltr">Changing the largest school system in the country does not happen overnight, of course, and some defend the mayor’s extended timelines. City Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the Committee on Education and a former teacher, told Gotham Gazette, “I applaud the mayor for not allowing people to think [these reforms] can be done overnight. It takes awhile to change things, to change cultures, and to have real results.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with Dromm, Gotham Gazette consulted several education experts and advocates to discuss the mayor’s education agenda and related metrics.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Pre-K</strong><br />“In principle, [universal pre-k] is an extremely good idea, but in practice, it will depend on the caliber of the program,” David Steiner, executive director at Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and former New York State education commissioner, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Research shows that teacher quality is the single greatest determinant of a student’s performance outside family background and context. So it’s the greatest in-school influence on student performance,” Steiner said, underlining the importance of “the caliber of instruction.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Steiner considers pre-K, he wants to know if teachers have “been prepared to handle the work that needs to be done to ensure that these young children can learn to read effectively.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Suggesting a teacher residency program model in order to equip teachers with the clinical skills they need to ensure preparedness and high-quality instruction in the classroom, Steiner is among those who want to see systemic focus on teacher preparation and quality.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with teacher quality, Steiner cites sufficient socialization, play-time, and acquiring skills such as “<a href="http://www.readingrockets.org/reading-topics/phonemic-awareness" target="_blank">phonemic awareness</a>” for the students as critical to building the foundation for reading and long-term success in learning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has indeed highlighted the significance of teacher instruction, offering the city’s first-ever “Citywide Professional Development Training specifically for pre-K,” with 6,000 educators participating at the launch of the program in 2014. It is not the residency system Steiner recommends, which would be more robust and expensive.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor and others have continually stressed that pre-K is “high-quality,” but it is unclear exactly how prepared the teachers are and how strong the curriculum is - which is where internal and external evaluation will come into play.</p> <p dir="ltr">There will, of course, also soon be those third grade test scores for the first class of pre-K participants. One major question about pre-K is whether initial gains that participants show last through third grade.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2014/Ready-to-Launch-NYCs-Implementation-Plan-for-Free-High-Quality-Full-Day-Universal-Pre-Kindergarten.pdf" target="_blank"> city’s implementation plan</a> for UPK, a core feature of the model is “ensuring recruitment and retention of high-quality UPK lead teachers with early childhood certification.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Instructional coaches from the DOE are placed in schools to provide professional development - which, generally speaking, has been a major focus of Chancellor Fariña, a former teacher and principal herself.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As we move forward with this expansion, we must renew our focus on supporting our pre-K teachers and assistant teachers and creating an atmosphere of engaging and fun learning and play that puts our youngest learners on the path to success in kindergarten and their continuing education,” said Fariña at the initial pre-K launch, in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell told Gotham Gazette that the first wave of pre-K metrics will be released this fall.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell described skill acquisition as essential, along with classroom interactions, and available activities. Pre-K participants are, after all, four-year-olds. When asked about ensuring quality in pre-K, the mayor has often stressed that the curriculum involves establishing key learning basics, such as those needed to become a successful reader, as well as plenty of play, which also builds skills.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell stressed that enrollment itself is key to the success of the program, especially among disadvantaged families. "This is a two-year expansion, and the first year was heavily focused on low-income communities that benefit most from high quality pre-K. In the ten lowest-income communities, enrollment more than doubled last year. And that focus continued this year, where we pushed and successfully enrolled more than 1,000 children whose families were in homeless shelters,” Norvell told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Moving children from under-resourced and unstable environments into school a year earlier can have significant effects in terms of their socialization and language acquisition.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a recent defense against accusations that pre-K success is being measured by enrollment and not quality, Norvell <a href="https://twitter.com/WileyNorvell/status/652135119990341633" target="_blank">wrote</a> on Twitter that a “focus on quality” is the “reason we spread expansion over [two years],” adding that there has been a “huge focus on [professional development] and pedagogical oversight.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community, Renewal, PROSE, &amp; Charter Schools</strong><br />Community schools and <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/schools/RenewalSchool" target="_blank">renewal schools</a> -- at the heart of the mayor’s education reforms -- provide striking examples of divergent policy from de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has promised to close schools only as a “last resort,” focusing rather on providing more and better resources to schools which may be struggling. The city’s most-struggling schools are the renewal schools, almost all of which are part of the community schools program, which means these schools become hubs of services, such as providing health care for students or English classes for parents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Labeling schools ‘low-performing,’ labeling them ‘failing’ makes everybody in that school community feel like they’re failing,” David Bloomfield, professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, told Gotham Gazette. “We have to get away from this notion of a failing school; it’s an incorrect description and an obstacle to reform.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In this regard, Bloomfield appears aligned with de Blasio, who has decided that instead of closing schools and reconstituting them as smaller schools with a remade faculty, that he would flood struggling schools with resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bloomfield believes rigorous testing implemented during the Bloomberg years showed itself to be a “disaster” and “misunderstands the educational situation of students. It ostensibly equates short-term test performance with long-term educational proficiency.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Assessment of “student learning across multiple measures,” not simply discerned through testing, as well as “professional observation” to determine teacher quality would give a more accurate portrayal of student and teacher performance, Bloomfield says.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are investing in tools that we know help students catch up and succeed – more learning time, extra tutoring, coaches to help teachers improve instruction,” said the mayor at a press conference with students and faculty of Richmond Hill High School, one of the 94 renewal schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have a plan to fix long-struggling schools, and we’ll hold ourselves and these schools accountable for results,” de Blasio said. When discussing his stewardship of city schools and the mayoral control system that New York City mayors are allowed through state law, de Blasio has repeatedly said that he has the education system on the right track and that closing school doesn’t solve the problems facing the students in them. He says he will be judged by voters come 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, critics believe that the community and renewal school school approach of extra resources is not the answer, but that closing schools and opening more independently-run charter schools is a better general alternative path.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has been a vocal opponent of the expansion of charter schools, though his rhetoric on the subject has cooled of late. The mayor and others have talked of partnering with charter schools as an opportunity to increase the quality of education in public schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">A controversial recent <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3LSrSZXM8Q&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">advertisement </a>by Families for Excellent Schools, the pro-charter group, slamming de Blasio for “forcing kids into failing schools” is indicative of a <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/education/2014/03/bill_de_blasio_vs_charter_schools_a_feud_in_new_york_city_has_broad_national.html" target="_blank">long-running dispute</a>. Prior to that ad, which is being followed <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/10/8579417/charter-ad-takes-aim-de-blasio-education-agenda" target="_blank">by another</a> critical of the mayor’s education leadership, and a large pro-charter, anti-de Blasio rally, the mayor announced a new program to fund 50 formal partnerships between district schools and charter schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration cites that it will be similar to the <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/InterschoolCollaboration/Welcome/default.htm" target="_blank">Learning Partners Program</a>, matching “host” schools with “partner” schools for collaboration on areas of demonstrated need by the partner schools. Drawing from individual strengths, schools will apply and be matched in pairs “to learn from each other's best practices” creating <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">District-Charter Learning Partnerships</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Moreover, another DOE effort to support struggling schools is the Progressive Redesign Opportunity for Schools of Excellence (PROSE) initiative. Led by the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships (OSDCP), the initiative aims to design and develop new schools, overhaul under-enrolled schools, and support school flexibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">While de Blasio and Fariña’s teams track multiple measures, and have revamped the system by which schools are graded to show a diversity of metrics instead of a single letter grade, much of this can be seen as alphabet soup by those who simply want to know: are schools improving or not? There’s no getting around the fact that schools will largely be judged by state leaders and others through their standardized test scores, seen by many as the best objective measure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Clara Hemphill, senior editor of InsideSchools.org, a publication of The Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, says that “Tests tell you where a school has been, but not where a school is going. There is other data that is predictive of where a school is heading.” She described “improved attendance, increased enrollment, and increased satisfaction by parents, teachers, students” as evidence for “signs of a flourishing school.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Universal 2nd Grade Literacy</strong><br />Every elementary school will receive support from a reading specialist to ensure students are reading at grade level by the end of second grade, Mayor de Blasio announced, noting that early intervention determines long-term success for young children and the importance of early literacy.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">The Mayor’s Office cites</a> that “students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Hemphill is pleased to see the initiative: “The plan for 700 reading specialists is long overdue,” she says. “It’s the one thing that’s really been shown to work in helping kids who may have some difficulties to read get the skills they need.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Learning to read is critical,” Hemphill continues. “There are a large number of kids who don’t learn easily even with good instruction. Reading specialists are teachers with master’s degrees specialized in how to teach reading. Putting one in an elementary will go a long way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, suggested “process-based metrics” in which a student is evaluated over time to gauge improved reading skills for grade-level proficiency by the end of second grade. This would create stronger tracking and assessment well before those third grade tests scores come back.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our goal is to have all second graders reading with fluency by 2026. Teachers will track students’ progress through nationally-recognized assessments, and provide the right kind of additional support to those kids who need it,”<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/619-15/education-remarks-mayor-bill-de-blasio-equity-excellence-prepared-delivery" target="_blank"> announced the Mayor.</a></p> <p dir="ltr">Clearly, the success of this initiative will mostly come down to student scores on the state ELA tests all students take in third grade. One especially important subgroup to watch will be English-Language Learners, or students whose first language is not English. While this is true throughout all grade levels, it is important at younger ages that students show they are beginning to master the official language of most of their schooling.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Algebra for All</strong><br />“For New York City public high school students, algebra 1 represents either the gateway to advanced math or a huge, even insurmountable, stumbling block in their education,” begins an <a href="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53ee4f0be4b015b9c3690d84/t/55d22728e4b06f52f9e678d8/1439835944390/CNYCA+Rough+Calculations.pdf" target="_blank">August 2015 report</a> prepared by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. Why is that so? The report states that the vast majority of students can fulfill math requirements for graduation by passing the Regents exam for the algebra 1 course.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, according to the Center’s analysis, of the estimated 75,500 students who entered high school as the prospective Class of 2014, more than 22,000 failed the Integrated Algebra Regents on their first attempt. “Those who failed the first time went on to retake the exam an average of twice more in later years in order to graduate,” and among the students repeating the exam, “the pass rate plummeted to as low as 20 percent.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And the test has only become significantly more difficult. A new exam was introduced in June 2014, aligning with the tougher academic standards of Common Core, as required in New York State. The test now consists of material that used to be on Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents exams.</p> <p dir="ltr">The difficulty of the exam has elicited reactions ranging from concern to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/27/a-disturbing-look-at-common-core-tests-in-new-york/" target="_blank">outrage</a> given the high stakes for students who may not graduate on time - or even not at all - depending on exam results. Part of the issue at play with algebra, like in other instances, appears to be access.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">announced</a> the Algebra for All initiative to ensure algebra courses for all eighth-graders citywide by Fall 2021, along with “academic supports in place earlier in middle school to build greater algebra readiness.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Today, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">less than 60 percent</a> of public middle schools offer some algebra coursework.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Computer Science for All</strong><br />By 2025, every student in elementary, middle and high school will receive computer science education. Funded through a public-private partnership, city money will be matched by New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC), Robin Hood Foundation, and AOL Charitable Foundation for a total of $81 million invested over the next 10 years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tim Armstrong, CEO and chairman of AOL, said that these contributions will, “allow children of all backgrounds to share equally in the future of a software-driven economy and continue to bolster New York’s position as one of the leading technology cities in the world.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking with Gotham Gazette, Natasha Capers, parent leader and Coordinator of Coalition for Educational Justice, shared in the praise saying “giving [students] this education [will] build the workforce” of the future.</p> <p dir="ltr">An initial pilot program during the 2014-15 school year, the <a href="http://sepnyc.org/" target="_blank">Software Engineering Pilot</a> (SEP), has implemented computer science classes in 18 middle and high schools, enrolling 2,700 students for courses about web design, coding, robotics and more. Computer science classes will expand significantly in other schools beginning in Fall 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some do not see computer science coursework as necessary for every student. De Blasio and others who support the initiative say that it will have multiple positive effects, including engaging students in school, preparing students for the workforce, and enhancing thinking schools. If it is part of improvement in college-readiness and workplace success rates, de Blasio will get credit.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>AP for All</strong><br />Today, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/618-15/equity-excellence-mayor-de-blasio-reforms-raise-achievement-across-all-public" target="_blank">nearly 40,000 students</a> are enrolled in high schools, grades 9-12, that do not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Low-income students and black and Latino students are particularly affected, with only 44 percent enrolling in AP. Full implementation of AP for All is projected for Fall 2021, by which AP courses and prep classes will be available in all schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">Again here, some may point to a far off goal. Progress will be measurable each year in terms of additional offerings, but it is a multi-year expansion plan, and one aimed at improving college-readiness, but also college graduation rates.</p> <p dir="ltr">This initiative builds on the<a href="http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000738-city-to-offer-more-advanced-placement-classes" target="_blank"> AP Expansion program</a> created in 2013 by the NYC Department of Education which has implemented AP courses in over 70 schools since its launch.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000736-report-examines-why-kids-are-not-college-ready" target="_blank">A report reviewed</a> by Inside Schools determines that “taking even one CUNY College Now or AP course reduces the likelihood that students will need remedial classes in college.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kim Nauer, education project director at Center for New York City Affairs, notes that statistically it is true that more students of all income levels are attending college but many are not completing their degrees. Taking AP courses in high school often serves as effective preparation for college course loads.</p> <p dir="ltr">In fact, “we know students who take AP classes are twice as likely to graduate college in five years, compared to those who don’t,” <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/619-15/education-remarks-mayor-bill-de-blasio-equity-excellence-prepared-delivery" target="_blank">noted</a> de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">Students are also more likely to be prepared for college and careers with individual support from school guidance counselors.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, in 2013, <a href="http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000736-report-examines-why-kids-are-not-college-ready" target="_blank">61 percent of guidance counselors</a> faced caseloads of 100 to 300 students -- far too many, critics say, to substantially help students individually prepare for college or career, much less navigate key aspects of their current schools. (The remaining counselors faced caseloads even higher.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Thus, in addition to expanding AP course selection, the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">College Access for All</a> program de Blasio announced will guide students through the college application process, in which “every student will have the resources and individually tailored supports at their high school to pursue a path to college.”</p> <p dir="ltr">College campus visits, assistance in completing applications, mentorships with college students and strategies for family financial planning to afford college tuition are all resources which will be available for students, sixth-twelfth grade, launching in Fall 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">In increasing the focus on college preparedness and college goal-setting, de Blasio may be taking a page from the charter school book. Supporters often note that many charter schools have a college-going culture in place, talking with students about college from kindergarten onward.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Single Shepherd</strong><br /><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/education-vision-2015-speech-highlights.page" target="_blank">The Single Shepherd program</a> pairs counselors with specific students from sixth grade through their high school graduation and college enrollment, and is being piloted in District 7, in the South Bronx, and District 23, in Central Brooklyn. The program will launch in Fall 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Districts 7 and 23 have among the lowest graduation and college readiness rates in the city, and each serve high poverty, high needs students. We selected two districts with high need, in different areas of the city, and of varying size to serve as proof-points for the initiative so that with evidence, it can be scaled to other communities,” said Department of Education spokesperson Devora Kaye, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Single Shepherd role will focus explicitly on high school graduation, college readiness and on building a long-term relationship with their students,” Kaye continued. “Starting day one of implementation, we’ll be monitoring the progress of this program, and will expand it as we see progress.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Students in the program, and the program itself, are sure to be measured in terms of improvements in attendance, grades, and test scores, along with graduation and college-readiness, as Kaye mentioned.</p> <p dir="ltr">Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director at the <a href="http://www.aqeny.org/" target="_blank">Alliance for Quality Education</a>, also said it is important to watch suspension rates. Ansari, whose group is largely aligned with the mayor and the teachers union, highlights the importance of looking at graduation rates and college placement for students, but also said more schools should be implementing “restorative justice practices,” referring to an approach to school discipline and community building that strays away from suspensions in most cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The social and emotional well-being of students and parent and community engagement are “crucial” for student success, Ansari said. De Blasio and Fariña have devoted new resources to restorative justice and believe that keeping students in school when suspension is avoidable will give students a greater shot at success.</p> <p dir="ltr">Students for which restorative justice is an alternative to out-of-school suspension are likely to be candidates for the shepard program, though that program is only seeing a small pilot in the next school year. Still, the shepard program is another example of the de Blasio administration infusing significant resources toward addressing education problems.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>School Segregation</strong><br />Professor Bloomfield brought up one key for any big city mayor, the differences in learning experiences and outcomes of students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There has been <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/tale-two-schools/" target="_blank">a renewed focus of late</a> on New York City’s segregated schools - the city’s schools are among the most segregated in the country, some of which has to do with the city’s housing, which largely determines elementary school enrollment.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are enrollment and admissions policies that many want to see changed. Others, still, want to see the expansion of charter schools - less so to reduce segregation and more so to reduce the so-called <a href="http://ciep.hunter.cuny.edu/the-persistent-achievement-gaps-in-american-education/" target="_blank">achievement gap</a> between black and Latino students on one hand and white and Asian students on the other. Many charter schools have proved to be more successful alternatives to nearby district schools when it comes to student test scores, and charter schools in New York City are almost exclusively attended by children of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">This past summer, de Blasio signed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which tracks demographic data relating to grade levels and programs within schools, but lacks a mandate for actionable steps to reduce segregation.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bloomfield says, “The way to address [the achievement gap] is not simply through remediation, which is more or less what the mayor’s laundry list of [new] reforms [are].” It is necessary, he says, “to make sure that all students have access to resources by making sure affluent and low-income students are educated together and all students are educated in integrated environments because all students benefit from that.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I want to include the shameful inequity in our competitive high schools Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech,” Bloomfield adds. “The mayor promised he would change that and he hasn’t come up with any proposals.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Bloomfield refers to the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools. De Blasio said as a candidate and repeated as mayor, though not lately, that he wants to see the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools change away from a single test. On the issue of school integration, de Blasio has been cool to innovative admissions models, instead saying that his pre-K and affordable housing programs would foster more integrated schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lori Podvesker, a parent-advocate and manager of disability and education policy at INCLUDEnyc, also discussed the problem of segregation in New York City public schools. Podvesker cites the lack of initiatives for District 75 students, who primarily have significant disabilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It feels like students receiving [special education] services are getting lost in this conversation -- &nbsp;and the overall education conversation -- &nbsp;because everything is being applied to all kids and it’s really not true,” said Podvesker, who also sits on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of students in District 75 don’t take standardized testing and are not going to college. So, the new ‘shepherd’ program -- what does that look like for those kids?”</p> <p dir="ltr">She believes, “special education is siloed,” in the general public conversation on education. “Under Chancellor Fariña it’s getting better,” she says, “but I still feel like it’s an afterthought and it’s not part of decision-making from the beginning.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though disappointed the mayor has not been more proactive on special education, Podvesker noted the initiatives that have been announced are “amazing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As de Blasio seeks an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5884-pre-k-pillar-in-place-de-blasio-must-build-rest-of-his-case-for-mayoral-control">extension for mayoral control</a> next year from the state legislature and Governor Cuomo, he faces tremendous pressure to ensure that others see his vision for education as his supporters do. He must present immediate results beyond pre-K enrollment, and the mayor and his team know it. This summer, de Blasio took great pains to tout small increases in state test score results for students in grades 3-8, and will bring those gains to Albany, as well as his list of programs and any data he can to support their initial successes.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Albany in 2016 and then at home in New York City in 2017, de Blasio will be forced to present data - have test scores continued to rise? Are they rising fast enough? Have graduation and college-readiness rates improved?</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor will also have to contend with the impressions of parents, each of whom has a personal experience with the school system.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio will surely use whatever numbers he can to make the case that he has the city’s students on the right track. He’ll also make his equity argument, spelling out opportunity and access, if not yet excellence.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Kaela Sanborn-Hum, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> As He Campaigns for Top Priorities, Many Wonder Where Cuomo is on DREAM 2015-05-20T02:19:57+00:00 2015-05-20T02:19:57+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5734:as-he-campaigns-for-top-priorities-many-wonder-where-cuomo-is-on-dream Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/17166720914_884e1348bb_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo EITC" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Gov. Cuomo on Sunday in Brooklyn (photo:&nbsp;Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)</span></p> <hr /> <p>It was as if Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on the campaign trail again last week, visiting Long Island and Buffalo one day and then four churches and a Yeshiva in Brooklyn on another. Cuomo doesn't have to run for office again for another three years, of course, but <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/18/nyregion/cuomo-promotes-tax-credits-for-families-of-students-at-private-schools.html" target="_blank">his barnstorming</a> last week was designed to promote what he's calling a top priority: passing a $150 million plan mostly aimed at giving tax credits to families whose children attend private and religious schools and to others who donate to those schools. The push is so campaign-like that Cuomo's visage is plastered across television screens in <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/05/cuomo-given-starring-role-in-eitc-ad/" target="_blank">ads</a> sponsored by supporters of the Parental Choice in Education Act.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/17166720914_884e1348bb_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo EITC" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Gov. Cuomo on Sunday in Brooklyn (photo:&nbsp;Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)</span></p> <hr /> <p>It was as if Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on the campaign trail again last week, visiting Long Island and Buffalo one day and then four churches and a Yeshiva in Brooklyn on another. Cuomo doesn't have to run for office again for another three years, of course, but <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/18/nyregion/cuomo-promotes-tax-credits-for-families-of-students-at-private-schools.html" target="_blank">his barnstorming</a> last week was designed to promote what he's calling a top priority: passing a $150 million plan mostly aimed at giving tax credits to families whose children attend private and religious schools and to others who donate to those schools. The push is so campaign-like that Cuomo's visage is plastered across television screens in <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/05/cuomo-given-starring-role-in-eitc-ad/" target="_blank">ads</a> sponsored by supporters of the Parental Choice in Education Act.</p>