Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chicago is boarding up 50 public schools over the summer because, officials say, the schools have too few kids to keep operating. But for every one that Chicago Public Schools is closing, there’s a severely overcrowded school, many where parents and administrators are begging for additions, WBEZ reports.
READING WOES: A raft of past programs in CPS have failed to substantially improve the reading skills of middle grade and high school students. The evidence: Only 10 high schools, all of them selective, have average reading scores for freshmen that are at a level that predicts college readiness, and 4 in 10 CPS high school graduates who go on to Illinois 4-year colleges end up in remedial courses. The summer 2013 issue of Catalyst In Depth reports on the problem of adolescent literacy and how CPS is trying once again to tackle it as part of a new federal project.
PARTNERING FOR SAFETY: Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that CPS and its faith-based community partners will the expand Safe Haven program from some 60 to 100 locations across the city this summer. The program, started in 2009, is meant to keep Chicago students off the streets and engaged in educational activities during the winter, spring and summer breaks. The program runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday starting July 1 and ending on Aug. 13. Each location will provide students free breakfast and lunch through CPS’s partnership with Catholic Charities. Throughout the day, the program will also engage students in workshops that focus on positive conflict resolutions, anger management, anti-bullying and anti-violence. (Press release)
IN THE NATION
THE NEW MAJORITY: Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in Texas public schools, surpassing non-Hispanic whites in Lone Star State enrollment for the first time in history. (Huffington Post)
SUCCESS AND FAILURE: Denver’s charter high schools are doing a better job than traditional public schools at retaining students, but are doing only slightly better than the traditional schools at graduating their students in four years. (EdNews Colorado)
COLLEGE GRADS SURGE: The number of Americans graduating from college has surged in recent years, sending the share with a college degree to a new high, federal data shows. Despite the recent improvement, higher education experts emphasized that college completion rates were still distressingly low, with only about half of first-time college freshmen who enrolled in 2006 having graduated by 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. (The New York Times)
A steady stream of blue flowed down the Brooklyn Bridge Wednesday afternoon as union teachers marched in solidarity with more than 100 other labor organizations that are without contracts for the first time in New York City’s history.
Public school teachers haven’t had a contract, or a raise, in more than four years since it expired in 2009. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew has said that either Mayor Bloomberg or his replacement will have to find the money to pay his members more than $3.2 billion in back wages.
“It’s time, it’s overdue,” said Rosalina Vazquez, a school librarian. “Not just for the UFT, but for all the unions. We’re here as one, united.”
The teachers ended at City Hall Park where they joined police, fire fighters, sanitation workers, nurses and other public employees who make up the city’s 300,000 workforce for a rally calling on Bloomberg to negotiate back pay in their contracts.
Bloomberg has refused to consider back pay in any contract negotiations, a condition that has stalled talks and led to the widely held assumption that his successor will inherit the issue.
The mayor has said the city can’t afford retroactive raises because it would cripple finances at a time when the local economy is still recovering from the recession. City estimates project that backpay would cost $7.8 billion in 2014, with the biggest payout going to teachers.
Union leaders point to annual budget surpluses, which exceeded $2 billion each of the last two years, as an example of fiscal stability for the city and a reason for Bloomberg to at least consider backpay in negotiations.
“I think it’s important that working conditions be fair and that there be a place for the middle class in New York City,” said Carolyn R., a teacher in Brooklyn who declined to give her last name. “I’ve lived here all my life and I really don’t feel like I belong here any more.”
Wednesday’s event was a rare show of solidarity for city labor, which has been fractured recently in its mayoral endorsements. District Council 37, the city’s largest union, endorsed John Liu; a coalition of police unions picked Bill Thompson; and the healthcare workers union is backing Bill de Blasio.
The UFT is endorsing next week, but it is expected to back Thompson. As they marched to City Hall on Wednesday, several teachers said they’d go along with whoever the union’s pick is.
“We have to stay united,” said Rich Mantell, a math teacher at M.S. 68 in Brooklyn. “We have to make sure we support somebody who … ultimately will win.”
Michael O’Shea, a social studies teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, said he can’t vote because he lives outside of the city. But he said his top picks would be Thompson or Anthony Weiner.
Ellen Driesen, a teacher at P.S. 69, said she was undecided, but added that she didn’t think that was such a bad thing.
“It’s really going to be a tough decision because there are wonderful people running,” Driesen said.
The State Board of Education on Wednesday voted 5-1 to approve a new online school that will be operated by K12 Inc., a for-profit education company whose operation of another online school has been controversial.
The new College Prep Online Academy of Colorado will be overseen by the Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Services, which consists of the Falcon School District near Colorado Springs and the Yuma district on the eastern plains. The new BOCES is in negotiations with Pikes Peak Community College for that institution to join the organization.
College Prep has contracted with K12 Inc. to operate the school, providing curriculum and teachers. K12 Inc. has been the operator of the troubled Colorado Virtual Academy, a charter school authorized by the Adams 12-Five Star district. The district has had concerns about the performance of COVA students but recently renewed the school’s charter for one year, with the understanding that Adams 12 would not authorize the charter after that. COVA also is renegotiating its relationship with K12 Inc.Do your homework
The relationship between College Prep and K12 drew repeated questions from board member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver, who ultimately was the only “no” vote.
“Why did you choose a vendor that has such a bad track record?” she asked.
Officials of the Digital BOCES defended their choice, saying they needed a vendor with the resources to get College Prep up and running by next fall. They also stressed that they will keep a close eye on K12.
“Where there has been strong governance, independent governance, K12 tools work very well,” said Rob Stannard, Yuma superintendent and president of the Digital BOCES board. He added that K12 has had problems when it hasn’t had strong oversight.
“It is not always about the vendor … it has a great deal to do with oversight,” agreed Peter Hilts, BOCES board vice president and a Falcon administrator.
Both said they feel K12 has a “mixed” record.More SBE action
“We have a one-year contract with them. They either do it or they don’t,” said, Kim McClelland, interim executive director of College Prep. She also is a top administrator in Falcon. She said the district has successfully used K12 curriculum for its own online program.
Unlike COVA, Colorado Prep will not be a charter school but rather a school directly overseen by the BOCES, whose board includes representatives from the participating districts.
BOCES traditionally are organizations created by groups of neighboring school districts to provide shared services, such as special education programs. The Digital BOCES is a new wrinkle.
The new school plans to open in the fall, and McClelland said it is budgeted for 800 students next year. There has been speculation that Colorado Prep might draw COVA students. If it enrolls more than 50 percent of COVA students, Colorado Prep would inherit COVA’s state rating, which is priority improvement, the second-lowest level.
Colorado currently has 56 certified online schools or programs of five different kinds – multi-district online charters, multi-district schools run by districts, single-district schools, single-district online programs (as opposed to full schools) and supplemental online programs.
Some 17,289 students were enrolled in online schools in the 2012-13 school year, 39 percent of those students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch.
The largest are COVA with 4,602 students; Hope Online Learning Academy with 3,079 students (chartered by the Douglas County Schools); GOAL Academy with 2,590 students (chartered by the Charter School Institute but transferring to the Falcon district), and Colorado Connections Academy with 1,534 students (not a charter, overseen by the Mapleton Schools). Total enrollment in those four programs is 11,805, 68 percent of the statewide total.
Get more information on Colorado online schools here.BEST finalists jump another hurdle
The state board approved the recommended list of 2013-14 grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program.
The grants include $98.6 million in total costs for six large projects that are to be financed by lease-purchase agreements. Those include $64.1 million in state funds and $30.5 million in local matches, and the projects include new PK-12 or K-12 schools in six small districts: Creede, Kim, Limon, Moffat 2, Haxtun and South Conejos.
Also approved were two alternate projects worth $47.6 million for a new middle school in Fort Morgan and a new building for the Ross Montessori Charter in Carbondale. Either or both of those projects will be considered funding in November if any of the finalists forfeit their state grants because bond issue elections fail and those districts therefore don’t raise their local matches.
The board also approved $15.7 million in 24 cash-grant projects that will be used for roof replacements, new boilers, security upgrades and similar renovations. That group includes $9 million in state funds and $6.6 million in local matches.
The two lists were submitted to the board by the state Capital Construction Assistance Board. The lease-purchase projects are subject to final review June 19 by the legislative Capital Development Committee.
In other action Wednesday, the board approved $464,000 in grants to 14 districts and schools from the Colorado Counselor Corps program.Learn more
The program allows schools to hire additional counselors and otherwise update counseling services in order to improve graduation rates and other measures of student achievement. The program started in 2008-09. Individual schools receive grants for three years. According to the Department of Education, 85 percent of participating schools have retained their additional counselors after grant money ran out.
According to a report presented to the board, the 76 secondary schools that received grants in 2011-12 improved their graduation rates by 4.2 percent overall, reduced dropout rates by 1.2 percent and improved the overall counselor-to-student ratio from 363:1 to 261:1.
The board also awarded the first set of grants under the 2012 READ Act, the law that requires schools to improve literacy skills of K-3 students so that students are reading at grade level when they enter the fourth grade. The law allows lagging third graders to be held back in some cases and goes into effect for districts next school year.
In addition to $15.3 million in formula-based funding for all districts, the law also created a competitive grant program. Sixteen of the 21 districts that applied were awarded grants totaling $4 million. (See the full list.)
Seth Vander and Tim Johnson of the Denver Math Fellows program discuss how daily small group math instruction can help improve student outcomes.
In November the voters of Denver passed a number of ballot initiatives to expand city services and increase funding to our public schools. A portion of that funding is going toward the expansion of an in-school math tutoring program that was piloted in Denver’s far northeast and will now be expanded to an additional 40 schools across the city to serve thousands of students in the upcoming school year.
The Denver Math Fellows program presents a unique opportunity for Denver Public Schools students to receive daily small group math instruction from a corps of over 300 highly motivated and engaged recent college graduates, career changers, and retirees who participate in a full time year of service. Fellows come from Denver and across the country to be a part of our team and then transition into teaching positions or continue on to graduate school or a career outside of education.
Fellows work with students during the school day in groups of no more than four students per fellow. The small group context facilitates a mentoring relationship as fellows help their students realize that they are capable, cared for, and connected. Students have responded with huge academic gains as well as an increased sense of math self-efficacy.
Many students enter the program lacking confidence in their ability to achieve at high levels. One particular student, Jessica, struggled early on in the year and was multiple grade levels behind when she came to tutorial. Based on years of struggling with math Jessica did not feel capable and her confidence was low. In order to instill in her that she was capable of mastering the material, we identified her misconceptions and gaps in foundational skills and worked each day to address her individual needs while also reinforcing what Jessica was learning in her regular math class. Jessica would work with me on fluency facts, she would practice strategies at home with parents and siblings, and she would come to tutorial prepared and ready to learn. Jessica began to feel more and more capable as her foundational understanding of math increased and by the end of the year she was performing at grade level and actually told me that she enjoyed math!
In addition to having academic challenges one of my students regularly acted out throughout the school day for a variety of reasons. Due to this Dae’veon was not participating in Math Fellows and was falling behind in class. Dae’veon’s classroom teacher and I met to develop an action plan about how to fulfill his needs. We contacted Dae’veon’s parents to solicit their advice and met with Dae’veon for lunch and at recess. After these attempts to show Dae’veon how much I cared about his success, our relationship blossomed and Dae’veon was back on track with his schoolwork.
Another student, Manny, was initially difficult to reach but as part of my fellowship year I was also able to coach basketball and I encouraged Manny to join the team. He did and began to feel more connected to the school community. Over time the coaching relationship that we developed transferred to tutorials and I was able to push Manny to achieve at high levels with the ultimate goal of being prepared to complete college in mind. This June Manny graduated from high school and will be attending college in the fall.
The Denver Math Fellows program has been successful because of the exceptional individuals who commit to participating in a year of service. Fellows support classroom teachers by reinforcing grade-level material and by filling in gaps in foundational math skills. Fellows support students by making them feel capable, cared for, and connected. In return, fellows gain experience utilizing data to drive instruction, receive professional development in the areas of classroom management and instructional delivery, and are rewarded for the impact they have made on each of their student’s lives. To learn how you can be a part our program, please visit www.denvermathfellows.com.About the author
Seth Vander is the Assessment Coordinator for the Denver Math Fellows Program, where he analyzes data to ensure classroom instruction is as rigorous and stimulating as possible for all types of learners. He also strives to assist classroom teachers and Math Fellows by making sure the necessary resources and materials are available to successfully lead a class forward. He graduated from Miami University with a psychology degree and a minor in neuroscience. During his tenure at Miami, he developed the America Counts program, a tutoring initiative assisting students in local schools surrounding the University. After college he became a Math Fellow at Ford Elementary, where he has been serving students for the past two years.About the author
Tim Johnson is the director of small group instruction for Denver Public Schools. He is currently working on the launch of the Denver Math Fellows Program. Tim graduated cum laude from Wheaton College (Norton, MA) in 2007 majoring in English Literature. He went on to study sociology at the New School for Social Research (New York, NY) and completed his master’s degree. Tim was an Urban Education Fellow at Match Charter High School in Boston. In 2010 Tim worked with MATCH, Harvard EdLabs and Houston ISD to design and implement the Apollo 20 Fellow Program as part of the district’s turnaround effort. Tim continued to work with the district as a program director for Apollo 20 prior to relocating to Denver, CO.
Another high-profile candidate has entered the race for the Denver Public School Board.
Former City Council President Rosemary Rodriguez Wednesday entered the District 2 race, where she will be running against incumbent Andrea Merida and union organizer Rosario C. de Baca.
“I am running for Denver School Board because I believe that our public schools are the foundation of Denver’s success,” Rodriguez said. “The children of District 2 are a precious resource and deserve every opportunity to succeed. It is up to all of us to come together and unite to improve the quality of education we are offering our kids.”
Rodriguez, a who attended DPS schools, is currently state director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Before being appointed to the Senate in 2009, Bennet was superintendent in DPS and launched a slate of reforms still being championed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
She also served on Denver’s City Council from 2003-2007, including a stint as council president from 2005-2006. On the City Council, Rodriguez worked on then-mayor John Hickenlooper’s task force for early childhood education and helped create the Denver Preschool Program.
Rodriguez is the second well-known Denver public figure to enter the Denver school board races in recent days. Last week, former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien announced that she would run for the at-large seat being vacated by the board’s president, Mary Seawell.
The District 2 seat is one of four that are up for grabs in the upcoming election and is a race that will be closely watched. Incumbent Merida is a member of the vocal board minority that opposes many of Boasberg’s policies. A second open seat is also currently held by a board minority member, Jeannie Kaplan, who is leaving her seat because of term limits. The other two open seats are held by members who typically vote in support of Boasberg.
Rodriguez’s announcement was coupled with endorsements from Tim Sandos, former Denver City Councilor at-large and CEO of the National Hispanic Voter Educational Foundation, Democratic state Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver and Denver community leader Rudy Gonzalez.
“Denver’s kids deserve more than the status quo, and Rosemary is dedicated to educational achievement and excellence for every child in Denver,” Gonzalez said in a statement.
Update: An earlier version of this story identified Rudy Gonzalez as the executive director of Servicios de La Raza; his endorsement of Rodriguez comes in a personal capacity and not in his role at that organization.
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Some mayoral candidates who have been critical of charter schools avoided uncomfortable questions by skipping a forum hosted by charter school advocates Tuesday night. But Comptroller John Liu not only showed up but said he would issue a potentially crippling blow to the charter sector if he becomes mayor.
Liu said he would charge rent to charter schools that occupy space in city buildings, reversing a Bloomberg administration policy of awarding unused space in school buildings to charter schools that want to operate there. The policy has allowed the city’s charter sector to flourish.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former congressman Anthony Weiner — who emerged as the audience’s clear favorites — both said they would not consider charging rent, something that some critics of charter schools want the next mayor to do.
“The model of charter schools is in part based on not paying rent,” Quinn said. “So if you say you’re going to pay rent, then you’re not going to have charters.”
Sal Albanese, a former teacher who is mounting a long-shot mayoral candidacy, played to the crowd by saying that he is open to withdrawing his support for a moratorium on the creation of charter schools if communities are involved in the creation process. He also said he would not charge existing charter schools rent.
“The last thing I want to do is erode their ability to provide the services to children and to parents,” he said.
All six leading Democratic candidates had been confirmed for the forum, which was sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools, the New York City Charter School Center, and other charter school advocates. But earlier in the day, former comptroller Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio both backed out, citing scheduling conflicts. Thompson and de Blasio are seen as the strongest contenders for the teachers union’s endorsement, which it is set to make next week.
Liu is also angling for the union’s endorsement after winning support from DC-37, the labor union that represents many school workers. On Tuesday evening, his strategy appeared to hinge on demonstrating a willingness to stand his ground in front of a hostile audience.
He said that because district schools shoulder some costs that charter schools do not, letting charter schools use public space rent-free puts them on an unequal playing field. He also said the tension that co-locations create between parents, teachers and communities is not worth it.
“It has distracted away from the learning environment that should be in each and one of those school buildings,” he said, in comments that prompted the only boos of the night. “If we want to have charter schools they should be community-grown charter schools with their own space.”
Each candidate spent about 25 minutes answering questions posed by charter school parents, whom Families for Excellent Schools is trying to mobilize in the mayoral election. Quinn and Weiner each said, as they have before, that they support continuing to allow charter schools to use public space. But each said tensions between district and charter schools could be reduced.
Quinn said she would do a better job than the Bloomberg administration of making sure resources are distributed equally to all schools in each building.
“I want to make the process one that’s more transparent, more consistent, and better managed.” And then she added with a laugh, “I just want to make sure I’m saying the same thing in every room on this topic.”
Weiner said he blamed both sides for allowing tension and controversy to proliferate.
“Here’s what’s going to be different in my administration … I’m going try to turn down the temperature on this conversation, to get to a place that is less us against them, the traditional public schools versus the charters, the UFT versus the reformers,” Weiner said. “Too many people on both sides of the debate benefit from it. The charter movement raises money off it. The UFT organizes parents around it.”
After Weiner left the stage and took questions from the media, a parent walked up to him and thanked him for wanting to bridge the divide between charter and district schools. Da Abi Renelon, a charter school parent, said she doesn’t believe that simply opening new charter schools is the answer to fixing the city’s school system.
“There are a lot of key points you said in there that are dead on,” she told the former congressman. “We have to start working on schools that are failing. That’s the problem I found with this administration … is that we’re doing charters versus district schools and what we have is parents going after parents.”
After the forum ended, parents stood outside waiting for the buses that the forum organizers had arranged for the hundreds of attendees. Many discussed the candidates.
Charter school parent Amanda Blair said she was leaning more toward Quinn and Weiner and was surprised by how much she liked Weiner. ”I came with my preconceived ideas about Weiner, but he’s well polished, he’s a good politician,” she said.
Charlene Philip, who has a child at Achievement First East New York Charter School, stood with a couple other parents discussing which candidates they liked and didn’t like.
“I am more geared toward Weiner. Quinn was a little on the border for me. John Liu, I don’t think so. Sal Albanese, he’s too much of a hand talker,” she said, waving her hands around. “People who talk like this, I don’t trust them.”
The other parents agreed that it was a toss up between Quinn and Weiner, but mostly they liked Weiner. ”I was surprised he came out so strong,” Philip added.
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
Chicago's record high graduation rate is still roughly 20 percentage points below the national four-year graduation rate, but some of the progress the city has made in driving down the dropout rate over the past five to 10 years is because of a network of charter schools around the city that for more than 15 years has provided small, alternative programs that specialize in serving recovered dropouts or students at high risk of becoming dropouts. (Education Week)
TAX OPTION: Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn't ruling out seeking a way to raise Chicago Public Schools' property tax cap to help close the $1 billion deficit the district faces. CPS is allowed to raise its property taxes annually by either the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less. Should the district want to raise its taxes by more than that, it could ask voters through a referendum, something suburban school districts have been doing for years. The district also could try an end-around through legislation in Springfield. (Tribune)
LEGAL OPENING: For now, Chicago Public Schools has legally left the door open to the possibility of halting 10 of its 50 historic school closings. Until a new judge can be assigned to a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teachers Union and parents from 10 elementary schools, CPS attorneys agreed the district wouldn’t take any permanent actions at the schools in question. (Sun-Times)
PUSHBACK ON CHARTER PUSHOUTS: On Tuesday, student activists in the organization Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), many of whom had been pushed out of charter schools, held a press conference to protest the expulsions, fines and other push-out tactics used by charter schools to pick and choose which students are retained in these schools. The students called on legislators to demand accountability for all publicly funded schools. (http://charterpushout.tumblr.com/)
Students from George Washington High School won an honorable mention for best presentation in the “Cooking up Change” Healthy Cooking National Finals held recently at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. The students competed against seven other teams from across the county in the preparation of healthy, tasty and creative school lunches that meet the nutritional standards and cost structure of CPS school food service staff. (Press release)
IN THE NATION
ANOTHER RECONSTITUTION: D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson called it a “fresh start” and a “momentum-shifter” for Cardozo Senior High last month when administrators removed nearly half the staff at the school. Henderson had used her power to “reconstitute” the struggling school, requiring the entire staff to reapply for their positions. But the district’s efforts to remake schools this way have largely failed to produce improved test scores, suggesting that replacing staff is not by itself a reliable route to addressing the challenges of high-poverty inner-city schools. (The Washington Post)
TRUANCY COMPLAINT: Advocacy groups have filed a civil rights complaint with the Justice Department on behalf of seven students in Texas. The move was to protest policies under which students are referred to truancy court. (The New York Times)
A wealthy tech entrepreneur with a passion for education and a background that resembles Mayor Bloomberg’s is positioning himself to enter New York City’s mayor’s race.
Jack Hidary filed papers this week with the city’s Campaign Finance Board signaling an intention to receive city matching funds in a political campaign. He has also formed a political action committee, Hidary for NYC Inc, and someone registered the URL HidaryforNYC.com just days ago.
Hidary intends to run for mayor as an independent, according to three sources with knowledge of the bid. His entry would shake up a political race in which Bloomberg’s staunchest supporters have found few inspiring candidates.
Stu Loeser, who resigned as Bloomberg’s press secretary last year and now works as an independent consultant, has advised Hidary about his bid, according to a source.
Loeser distanced himself from Hidary today. “I’ve offered my ideas to several candidates running for mayor and several have taken me up on them,” he said. “Jack is a great person, but I am not working for him.”
Still, Hidary’s passions for business development, education reform, and the technology sector would make him an attractive candidate for people who believe Bloomberg has been a strong leader for New York City.
“Jack represents new ideas and new technology — these are the frontiers of the economy and what NYC needs to excel in to create jobs, improve education, and manage the city in a complex world,” said Nova Spivack, a former business partner who has known Hidary for nearly two decades. “Jack also cares deeply about education, the environment and job growth. I think he has the right combination of innovation and concern for the little guy that NYC needs. Where other candidates represent big money, Jack is an independent who believes in the best ideas, regardless of whose ideas they are.”
Hidary’s biography bears several similarities to Bloomberg’s. A serial entrepreneur, his first major venture was the tech company EarthWeb/Dice, which offers job postings for the information technology industry.
He currently heads a sustainable energy technology company, Samba Energy. He has made hybrid taxis a pet issue, founding a nonprofit called Smart Transportation to lobby the City Council to allow them.
He is also a philanthropist. According to the website of his foundation, called the Jack D. Hidary Foundation, begun in 2001, his philanthropy aims “to catalyze scalable, self-sustaining programs in clean energy and economic development.”
And like the mayor, he has ideas about how education should be delivered. One of his foundation’s investments is in the National Lab Network, a project that aims to connect scientists and teachers.
“The interactions I’ve had around education ideas with him have been very thoughtful,” said Mark Federman, principal of East Side Community High School, where Hidary kicked off the network in 2010 with then-Chancellor Joel Klein. “He was reflective and interested in what’s happening and listening to what schools are doing. I thought he was very respectful in wanting to hear from educators and trying to find out what’s working and what’s not and why.”
Hidary’s internet profile is rudimentary at this point, including a lightly designed and irregularly updated blog and a website for his foundation. One entry on his Typepad blog dated July 10, 2012, is titled “Disrupting the Education System.”
“Hi Typepad,” it begins. “How are you? I hope your summer is off to a good start.” Then the post links to an article he published on the Huffington Post about new online platforms that could change education. The entries all focus on education technology companies, including Khan Academy and Coursera.
About 10 Loveland teenagers arrived in Dixie Straight’s front yard just as the summer heat was starting to descend on a recent Monday morning. Soon, the sweat began to show on their brows as they pulled weeds, scraped grass from between bricks on the front walk and plucked dead blossoms from a swell of purple and gold irises.
There wasn’t much typical teen talk. No debriefing about funny YouTube videos or planned pool meet-ups. Seventeen-year-old Emily complained about the heat as she hacked at a section of unwanted grass, but mildly enough that you could tell she was still enjoying herself.
Adam announced he’d found a spider’s egg sack in a black planter and several students hurried over to check it out.
Bella exclaimed to no one in particular, “What the heck? I haven’t even found one worm today?”
The students, who all have special needs or are at risk of school failure, are part of a unique summer program offered by a local non-profit called Loveland Youth Gardeners. (The program asked not to give students’ last names to protect their privacy.) Through the organization’s 17-year-old “Youth Gardening Program,” they learn job skills, social skills and life skills by planting and tending personal garden plots as well as community herb and vegetable gardens.
While planting, watering, weed-pulling and harvesting are the tasks at hand, anyone familiar with the program will tell you the results are far more profound than a pile of ripe tomatoes or a bed of colorful flowers. Essentially, they say, gardening is the vehicle for personal transformations, ranging from holding coherent conversations to making close friends.
Ross Milliken, former board president of Loveland Youth Gardeners, said his daughter Bailey found a sense of belonging in the program that she’d never experienced at her high school, where she was often teased because of her special needs.
“All of the sudden, here was this program where she was an insider,” he said
Milliken admits that at first, he didn’t see the point of sending Bailey to a gardening program when there was a garden in their backyard that she was welcome to use.
“The name can be deceiving…It’s not just a gardening program,” he said. “What I discovered is that those kids found a home.”Going on instinct
Joanna Rago, executive director of Loveland Youth Gardeners, started the Youth Gardening Program as a pilot project in 1996. At the time, she was a practicing clinical social worker working with children and teenagers who had behavioral and emotional problems.
“Part of the inspiration was because I knew young people needed something besides weekly therapy and talking about their issues,” she said.
Rago enjoyed gardening herself and instinctively believed it would benefit students. That summer, 13 teenagers participated in the inaugural program at an elementary school garden.
This summer, a dozen students, ages 13-18, are in the program, which now takes place at several sites near downtown Loveland, including Straight’s front yard. In addition to horticulture lessons and hands-on gardening, there are field trips, guest speakers and many opportunities to hone skills, such as shaking hands when meeting people, making eye contact, talking audibly in front of a group and working as part of a team.
The youth gardeners work three hours every morning Monday through Thursday and sometimes do additional volunteer work on the weekend. Although Loveland Youth Gardeners only employs the equivalent of 1.5 employees, interns and volunteers keep the adult-to-student ratio about one to three.
Over the years, the Youth Gardening Program has become more structured and builds in more accountability with a “three-strikes” policy and a $200 “achievement award” towards the end of the program instead of an hourly wage throughout. There is also a greater focus on community involvement, with students tending gardens at a local sculpture park, a city museum and an elementary school as well as two on private land.Branching out
In addition to the 10-week Youth Gardening Program, the non-profit runs Leaf Out, a companion program for the same population that provides cooking classes and volunteer opportunities during the school year and, for students 13-21 who can work more independently, gardening internships during the summer.
For younger children, Loveland Youth Gardeners offers a series of classes and camps called Green Adventures. The organization also coordinates Loveland’s Plant-A-Row for the Hungry campaign, to which the youth gardeners routinely donate hundreds of pounds of produce.
While the organization has grown over the years, it is still relatively small. It has an annual budget of $96,000 and, like many non-profits, faces consistent funding challenges.
Rago always believed the Youth Gardening Program was filling a need in the community, but it wasn’t until 1999 she saw hard evidence. While helping assess gaps in youth services for a different job, she found that there was very little vocational or life skills programming, particularly during the summer, for special needs and at-risk teens.
“That was 14 years ago and it’s still true,” she said.
Sarah Newton, whose son Zander started in the Youth Gardening Program in 2009 and is now a Leaf Out intern, said the void is even more pronounced for those older than 18. She said her son has mild to moderate mental retardation and a form of muscular dystrophy. Before learning that Zander, now 19, had secured one of five summer internships through Loveland Youth Gardeners this year, she’d talked with friends who have backyard gardens, hoping to cobble together a homemade garden-tending program for him.
“As a parent, it’s tough,” she said.Seeing the impact
Newton remembers a pivotal moment during her son’s first summer as a youth gardener. Zander, who had a hard time looking people in the eye and tended to start off-topic conversations, was giving a tour of the youth garden to a pair of visitors. Then he looked at them and asked, “What do you grow in your garden?”
“It was such a huge moment for us and for him,” she said. “What we truly saw was more of an interest in the world around him in a relevant way.”
That connection to both people and nature is a major benefit of such programming, said Rebecca Haller, director of the Horticultural Therapy Institute in Denver.
“It can bring a lot of engagement in life,” she said.
Haller said she knows of no other program in Colorado like Loveland Youth Gardeners, with its intensive gardening emphasis and its focus on special needs and at-risk teens.
“For some of these kids, it’s a place they can succeed that’s different from an academic classroom,” she said. “That can be a really profound shift for that person, in their self-esteem, their self-worth.”
Most of the teens involved don’t cite reasons like increasing self-esteem when explaining why they applied to participate. They’re more likely to mention needing a job, wanting to make friends or enjoying the outdoors. Still, hints of those deeper changes often linger just under the surface.
Emily, a returning youth gardener with a chatty demeanor, was blasé when she described finding out about the program through her aunt. She reports saying, “Eh, I’ll give it a try,” but soon adds earnestly, “I think it went beyond what I hoped for.”
Austin, who recently finished 11th grade at an alternative high school in Loveland, described himself as only “kinda, sorta” interested in gardening, but then gave this assessment of the program: “I think it’s going to be good. I’m having a lot of fun and all these kids are really nice.”
When parents from charter schools around the city grill mayoral candidates about their education views this evening, two expected candidates won’t be there.
The campaign of Bill Thompson, the former comptroller, told Families for Excellent Schools today that he would not be able to make the forum, which is one of the first times that charter school advocates will get a chance to ask questions of the candidates. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also backed out of attending the forum at the last minute.
FES, a group that is trying to mobilize the parents it works with to play a role in the mayoral election, had previously announced that Thompson and de Blasio had confirmed their attendance.
The last-minute lineup changes come as candidates gear up for a conversation that could be uncomfortable for those who, like Thompson and de Blasio, have declared opposition new charter schools and to school co-locations, a controversial space-sharing arrangement that has allowed charter schools to flourish under the Bloomberg administration.
According to FES’s press advisory about the event, charter schools and co-locations are chief among the topics that parents will be asking the candidates about today — and the advisory makes clear what answer the group hopes candidates will provide.
“The discussion will address issues important to families with children in public schools, including: school safety; the role of charter schools; preparing students for success in college; and whether schools should co-locate in the same building, as more than 800 schools are co-located across the city,” the advisory says.
Getting a favorable response is likely to be a challenge, even with the depleted lineup. Comptroller John Liu and former City Councilman Sal Albanese have all said they would impose a moratorium on co-locations. And both Anthony Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have said that the co-location process should be conducted more sensitively.
The teachers union, too, has said that it opposes co-locations that are done without approval of the local school district’s elected parent council.
The union is due to endorse a candidate next week, and Thompson and de Blasio are seen as top contenders. (Earlier today, Thompson called on the city to restore discretionary funding for teachers, a pet issue for the UFT. He is also seen as one of the candidates who is most palatable to supporters of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.) But a union official dismissed the idea that candidates might have made the decision based on the union’s preferences.
“We’ve not talked to any of the candidates about the forum, and it is up to them whether they go or not,” the official said. “Not our call.”
The mayoral candidates have appeared together at dozens of forums on wide-ranging topics this year. But this is not the first time that a mayoral candidate has dropped out of an education forum shortly beforehand. Last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn skipped a forum hosted by ParentVoicesNY and moderated by Diane Ravitch, each vocal critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.
After four years of budget cuts, next year’s state education budget rose about $210 million to a total of $5.5 billion. That provides an increase of 2.7 percent in average per-pupil spending. The new budgets start with the fiscal year beginning on July 1.
Click in the box below to see what the act means for your district. The Colorado Department of Education calculated these figures using estimated district enrollments.
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*Data source: Colorado Department of Education.
Democrats for Education Reform, the national political organization with local roots, is urging calm for anxious supporters who fear that a new mayor could weaken their hold on favored education policies.
“Don’t believe all of the doomsday talk you’ve heard surrounding the NYC mayoral race,” a political briefing memo on the mayoral race begins. The memo, which GothamSchools obtained from DFER, was sent out internally last month to supporters and funders.
The briefing was written in response to concerns raised by people who’ve pestered DFER to explain what its plans are in the race, according to an email sent by Executive Director Joe Williams.
“Since we are getting a lot of questions on this, I wanted to update you on our latest thinking regarding the NYC Mayor’s race,” Williams writes.
The briefing paints a surprisingly rosy picture of the race from a perspective of education advocates who have supported Mayor Bloomberg’s policies and often clashed with the teachers union. It goes on to suggest that its allies take a long view of the mayoral race, excuse the Democratic field’s eagerness to please the United Federation of Teachers, and take a second look at some of the candidates who’ve previously been antagonistic.
“You probably wouldn’t want to be supporting a candidate who was too stupid to try to get enough endorsements to win,” the memo says, referring to some of the candidates’ embrace of the UFT.
The memo names Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner as the three most palatable candidates to focus their support around. Bill de Blasio has “offered the least support for issues of concern to education reform advocates,” perhaps a reference to the public advocate’s public spate with influential charter school leader Eva Moskowitz.
Republicans have “zero chance” right now, the memo says.
Democrats for Education Reform has kept a low profile in New York since it unsuccessfully backed several downstate candidates for state office in the 2010 elections. In the years since, it has continued to expand nationally, establishing chapters in 13 states and cozied up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last year, it took a backseat seat to StudentsFirstNY, a once-emergent rival advocacy group that has since faded after its founding director left.
Its strategy on the mayoral race appears to be much of the same. It will “continue to QUIETLY work with Quinn, Thompson and Weiner” while “De-escalating education reform as a key issue in the PRIMARY election.”
For now, DFER tells its supporters that it’s going to wait until after the UFT makes its endorsement: “This will mark the official start of the 2013 Mayor’s Race.”
After that, sources say that one thing to look out for is negative advertising funded by groups like DFER and StudentsFirstNY against its lesser favored candidates.
“It will be a long summer, with ups and downs and editorial page endorsements, but most of the action will heat up in the final weeks of August and early September.”
DFER Memo by GothamSchools.org‘s profile on Scribd” href=”/profiles/show/7995812-gothamschools-org”>GothamSchools.org
Facing simmering opposition, the State Education Department seems likely to give up on a plan to add more weight to test scores in teacher evaluations.
Education officials have long intended to increase the percentage for which test scores count toward a teacher’s overall evaluation by 5 points, from 20 to 25 percent. A provision in the state’s evaluation law, passed in 2010, allows for the increase if officials adopt a more complex “value-added” model to measure student growth.
Commissioner John King always planned to embrace the option, but his proposal at April’s Board of Regents meeting was met with resistance from members who questioned the methodology’s reliability and asked to shelve the plan. In recent weeks, the state teachers union also lobbied members who were on the fence.
This week, Chancellor Merryl Tisch signaled the pressure was effective, acknowledging that she expected the Board of Regenst to hold off on the proposal when it meets next week.
“This is not the stuff that I feel we go to war over,” Tisch said Monday in a radio interview.
King and Tisch have repeatedly declined calls to slow down implementation for the major parts of their reforms on standards, testing and evaluations. The possibility of a concession comes just two days after thousands of teachers and advocates protested in Albany to rally against the state and country’s education policies.
Tisch struck a conciliatory note on Monday when explaining the state’s reasons for reconsidering.
“I think we’ve heard very carefully from teachers [and] principals about the need to go about this cautiously,” Tisch said.
“I think that the rally had to be on her mind when she spoke Monday morning,” said New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi, who added that union leadership had also been explaining their position to Regents last week.
Ianuzzi said that he wanted to minimize the weight of test scores because he isn’t confident that the state will be able to accurately calculate student growth that compare results from two different types of tests. Last year’s tests were based on state standards, but this year’s tests are based on new national standards known as the Common Core.
If the Regents decide not to introduce a value-added formula, some districts across the state could face paperwork headaches. Hundreds of districts will have to revise their evaluation plans to specify what they will do if there is no value-added measure, state officials have said.
But in New York City, there is no issue. Because the city’s evaluation system does not take effect until next year, city teachers would not get scores based on this year’s value-added data anyway.
Tisch said New York City’s implementation timeline could delay the introduction of value-added for the rest of the state. She said she was “mindful that the largest school district in the state is just going to start its evaluations system in September. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lag time of a year or two.”
Even if the weight of test scores don’t increase, Tisch said she expected that some variables of the value-added model could still be used to measure student growth this year and next. The variables take into classroom characteristics, such as the ratio of high-needs students in a teacher’s class, and student demographic information, such as whether their families are in poverty.
“I don’t believe that necessarily we need to wait for valued added to add those critical indicators,” Tisch said.
State education officials declined to comment.
To show that he respects teachers’ hard work, Bill Thompson wants to give each of them $200 a year to use on classroom supplies.
The mayoral candidate and former comptroller made the request during a conference call this morning that his campaign said would focus on “how to cut waste and abuse at the Department of Education.” The department has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on outside consultants and pricey contracts but, when it comes to teachers, has been “nickel and diming them for out-of-pocket expenditures,” he said.
Restoring Teacher’s Choice, a City Council program that gives teachers a small stipend for discretionary purchases, to its pre-recession levels would cost about $15 million a year, Thompson said. He added, “I’m sure we can find those dollars in the excess waste at the Department of Education.”
Thompson’s request comes just a week before the United Federation of Teachers is scheduled to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary. The union helped launch Teacher’s Choice in the 1980s and has advocated annually for its continuation. The union expressed disappointment when the City Council sacrificed the program to avert teacher layoffs in 2011 and last year, when teachers received only about $40 each through the program.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew quickly applauded the request. “Bill Thompson’s solution makes a lot of sense and would solve what has been a longstanding problem for teachers — spending hundreds of dollars of their own money every year for basic supplies for their kids,” he said.
Thompson said the timing of his announcement was not related to the union’s endorsement. Instead, he said, he was speaking out now because city officials and the City Council are locked in annual negotiations about next year’s budget, which must be settled by the end of this month.
Teacher’s Choice allocations are usually settled at the very end of budget talks, after the City Council determines how much funding it has to allocate to pet projects. In 2007, before the city’s budget picture worsened, each teacher got about $220, and even as late as 2010, teachers took home about $110. In 2011, the program was eliminated completely, and for this school year, the council managed to allocate only about $40 to each teacher.
That’s only 10 percent of what teachers spend, on average, to equip their classrooms with the supplies they need each year, according to the results of a 2004 City Council survey that Thompson cited today.
“Our teachers give a lot,” Thompson said. “We need a mayor who understands that commitment and works in kind to give them the little extra support they need.”
Thompson said there would be other benefits — for the city, and for the UFT — of reining in Department of Education spending on consultants and outside contracts. Doing so would “free up resources that will allow us to compensate teachers to the tune they deserve and free up flexibility for the next round of negotiations,” he said.