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July 26, 2011
After rocky year, DOE replaces head of family engagement office
After less than a year on the job, Ojeda Hall, the director of the troubled office that oversaw this year’s botched parent leader elections, is out. The Department of Education announced today that Jesse Mojica, head policy analyst for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., will replace Hall as head of the Office of Family Information and Action next month. The position is also being promoted, so that Mojica will also be a member of Chancellor Dennis Walcott's cabinet of advisors. Mojica will make $138,000 a year, compared to Hall's $115,000 annual salary. Walcott’s decision to bring on board the education point person of a critic of the city’s education policies comes after a disastrous spring for the long-beleaguered family engagement office. Community Education Council elections were problematic from the start, and even on a delayed timetable elicited few candidates and votes. Some parents charged that the botched election process symbolized of the Bloomberg administration's dismissive attitude toward parent engagement. Walcott also expressed dissatisfaction with the process, but was previously unwavering in his support for Hall. Today, Walcott praised Hall but said he hoped that changes at OFIA would improve the relationship between the DOE and public school parents.
July 21, 2011
Judge rejects UFT-NAACP claims, allows co-locations, closures
A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that the city can move forward with its plans for 22 school closure and 15 co-locations. In May, the UFT and NAACP filed a suit charging that the city had not adhered to the law and its own promises when planning the closures and charter school co-locations. In a decision released late tonight, Judge Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP's request for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the city from moving forward with its closure and co-location plans while those charges are considered. A temporary restraining order preventing the plans from advancing had been in place since early June. Feinman's decision came just hours after State Education Commissioner John King approved 12 of the closures, of schools on the state's list of "persistently low-achieving" schools. The UFT and NAACP suit had argued that the city could not close schools on that list without state approval. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration's approach to fixing low-performing schools.
June 27, 2011
At PEP co-locations vote, testiness from both sides of the aisle
The major item on the agenda at tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting is more than a dozen charter school co-location plans. The plans are at the heart of a lawsuit, filed by the teachers union and NAACP, to halt school closures and stop some charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. The PEP already voted on the plans once, but in response to the lawsuit, the Department of Education revised all of them over the last several weeks, seeking to equalize allocations of shared space between charter schools and district schools. If the panel approves the new plans tonight, some of the equity charges made in the lawsuit could be neutralized. I'll be filing reports throughout the meeting. 10:30 p.m. Panel members have voted and, as expected, have approved all of the co-location plans before them tonight. Votes for seven of the plans each received four votes in opposition, from appointees of borough presidents. Those plans were for the co-locations at P368, Teaching Firms of America Charter School at P.S. 308; Democracy Prep 3 at P.S. 154; Promise Academy I and II at the Choir Academy of Harlem; Harlem Success Academy 1 at P.S. 123; and Upper West Success Academy at Brandeis High School. But with a majority of panel members being mayoral appointees, the opposition was easily outvoted. Last week, lawyers debating the UFT-NAACP lawsuit called today "D-Day" for the case. That's because the space-sharing plans approved tonight address many of the complaints lodged against the original plans in the lawsuit. Whether and how Judge Paul Feinman, who is assigned to the suit, takes the new plans into account remains to be seen, but last week he signaled that he might when he deferred making a final decision about whether to halt the city's co-location plans. 9:45 p.m. Many of the testimonies tonight have criticized a few specific co-location plans: for P.S. 308 and P368, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brandeis High School. P.S. 308 graduate Aquila Raiford, who went on to attend Stuyvesant High School and then Dartmouth College, testified that it was the quality education she received at Clara Cardwell that paved her road. She returned to P.S. 308 as an English teacher and now opposes any additional co-location at her school. "Bringing in any school inside 308 is going to ruin the learning environment," she said after her testimony. She pointed to safety issues of placing young children of incoming Teaching Firms of America Charter School on the building's third floor. 9:30 p.m. As promised, I'm posting video (above) from the altercation earlier tonight between Hazel Dukes of the NAACP and charter school advocates.
June 20, 2011
In NAACP lawsuit, settlement details emerge then quickly retract
An optimistic press release that was later retracted is the latest sign that discussions to settle a lawsuit over charter school co-locations are intensifying in advance of the suit's first day in court. On Friday, the NAACP announced an agreement with the Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to remove three schools from its lawsuit against the Department of Education. The announcement did not explain the changes, but indicated that the same solution could potentially be applied to each of the 19 charter schools listed in the suit. "Our conversations with the Department of Education are beginning to bear fruit," NAACP CEO Ben Jealous said in a statement from the press release. "Resolution on these three schools gives us hope. It allows us to focus on reaching the same agreement with regard to other schools." But education department officials said they were caught off guard by the press release, which was later retracted. They immediately called charter school founders and principals to deny that a deal had been struck. In an email sent to the city's charter school network on Sunday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whom Jealous credited for the deal, said he was "outraged that the NAACP issued a false statement about an agreement that does not exist."
June 20, 2011
City schools chiefs suggest Jan. Regents exam compromise
Last week, Mayor Bloomberg said he wasn't happy about a state decision to eliminate January Regents exams. But he said city officials hadn't decided whether to push back officially against it. Now it appears they have. On Friday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined his counterparts in four other big-city school districts in formally petitioning the state to reinstate the January exam date. They argue that the change will affect urban students disproportionately because those students are more likely to take nontraditional pathways to graduation. (Dozens of principals from suburban Long Island have also joined the chorus of city principals asking for the decision to be reversed.) In separate letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner of Education John King, the five superintendents — from Syracuse, Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester, and New York City — suggest a compromise. "At a minimum," they say (twice), the state should consider adding back the five Regents exams typically taken to meet graduation requirements. The letters argue that simply reducing the number of exams offered in January would cut costs but would still allow students to graduate. The elimination of the test date was part of a slate of changes that the Board of Regents said would close an $8 million budget gap in the state's testing program. The letters came from the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, which last weighed in on policy issues in May when it suggested changes to the appeals process for teacher evaluations that were not accepted. The website for the conference listed on the letters sent last week is not active.
June 16, 2011
Principals report mounting anxiety about not knowing budgets
With just weeks before students and teachers disperse for the summer, principals are still without any official word of how much money they'll be working with next year. "No word of budget at this point. Not even summer school. I have no idea what’s going [on]," said a high school principal, who reported being told originally that the budget would arrive at the end of May, and then the first week of June. "I have no idea on what next year looks like at this point." Every year, the city enters a budget for each school into Galaxy, the Department of Education's budgeting data system. Principals use the system to allocate those funds for the next year according to their needs and also city, state, and federal regulations. But because of up-in-the-air negotiations over the city's budget, which are centering on Mayor Bloomberg's plan to lay off 4,100 teachers, school-level budgets haven't yet been uploaded. That means principals don't know even how many teachers they will be able to afford next year. Last year, principals received their budget June 2 — and that was late, then-Chancellor Joel Klein told principals at the time. "Even though Albany has yet to pass its own budget, we can wait no longer to release school budgets," Klein said. "We know you need as much time as possible to decide how best to spend the dollars available to your school."
June 15, 2011
The questions LES parents didn't get answered last night
Members of the Community Education Council for District 1 prepared for a meeting last night with Chancellor Dennis Walcott by compiling a 6-page list of questions about the most pressing issues facing the Lower East Side school district. They got few answers. The council's questions addressed space allocation in local school buildings, the implementation of new "common core" standards, and District 1's unique all-lottery enrollment model, among other issues. Their questions went largely unanswered in part because of a scheduling mishap: Walcott told the council on Monday that he would leave the meeting early so he could celebrate his daughter’s birthday. Having billed the meeting as a town hall conversation with the chancellor, the council decided to devote the entire hour to public comment instead of their own questions, according to Lisa Donlan, its president. About a dozen people asked the chancellor questions that were mostly personal, rather than policy-oriented. Donlan said the Department of Education still could have addressed the council's concerns more fully. Department officials came to the meeting with a 2-page response to their questions, which had been submitted earlier in the week. “Clearly this was not a good faith effort to answer the CEC’s questions,” Donlan said. The council's questions and the department's response are below.
June 15, 2011
Momentum growing for new 'core' standards and their architect
David Coleman presenting to principals. View his talk here. A couple of weekends ago, with temperatures climbing toward 90 degrees, 1,400 school administrators stuffed into a non-air conditioned high school auditorium and listened to education officials talk policy. "Energetic" isn’t the first thing that springs to mind from that scene, but that’s just how Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other attending principals characterized it yesterday. “The energy in that room was off the chart. Truly off the chart,” Walcott said on NY1 last night. He and principals had described the event in similar terms at a press conference earlier in the day. So what exactly went on inside Brooklyn Technical High School during the June 4 conference for principals? Besides a virtuoso performance by an all-freshman string quartet to welcome the audience, much of the excitement surrounded a presentation by David Coleman, a charismatic and self-effacing speaker who helped write the new academic standards being rolled out by the Department of Education.
June 14, 2011
City officials pushing back against Jan. Regents exam cuts
Momentum is mounting against the state's decision to eliminate the January administration of Regents exams required for high school graduation. City officials have pressured the state to restore the testing period, Mayor Bloomberg said at a press conference today about the city's graduation rate. He called the elimination of January Regents exams "a very big deal" and said restoration would cost the state only "a trivial amount of money." More than 100 city principals have petitioned the state to restore the testing date. At today's press conference, principals union president Ernest Logan also emphasized the relatively low price tag of maintaining the January testing date, often used by students making a final push for graduation. "The state — for a pittance — has decided to take away that option," he said. This year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today, 2,400 students took a Regents exam in January and then graduated — roughly the same number of students represented by this year's graduation rate climb. "If January Regents disappear, those students unfortunately will not be able to graduate," he said.
June 14, 2011
Touting grad rate boosts, Bloomberg rejects state's concerns
Mayor Bloomberg points to a chart showing graduation rate increases among ethnic groups. City students are doing better than ever, the achievement gap is closing — and state officials' concern about college readiness is misguided. Those were the messages Mayor Bloomberg broadcast at the city's press conference about new graduation rate data, which put the city's official 4-year graduation rate over 60 percent for the first time. Indeed, the data released today show that two trends continued last year: The city's graduation rate again rose faster than that of other urban districts in New York State, and black and Hispanic students posted larger gains than white and Asian students, though they still lag far behind. But today's data also draw attention to the fact that many city students are making it to graduation despite weak academic skills. According to a new measure the state adopted this year, just 21 percent of students who entered city high schools in 2006 were ready for college four years later. A higher proportion of graduates — 35 percent — met the state's standards, city officials noted.
June 14, 2011
Concerns underlie city's grad rate, over 60 percent for first time
The city's 4-year high school graduation rate continued its upward tick last year and now exceeds 60 percent for the first time, according to new figures released by the state today. Sixty-one percent of students who entered high school in 2006 graduated four years later, according to the new figures. Last year, the city's graduation rate was 59 percent. When August graduates are included, the rate rises to 65.1 percent. But the new figures show that city graduates continue to lag on more demanding measures of achievement. Just 1 in 5 graduates is prepared for college, according to the state's measure of college readiness, which looks at students' math and English Regents exam scores in addition to their diploma type. That's compared to 36.7 percent of graduates statewide. And just 16.4 percent of city graduates earned the prestigious Regents diploma with Advanced Distinction, far more than in the state's four other large cities but significantly lower than the statewide average of 30.9 percent, according to the state data. Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott are likely to emphasize the city's performance and growth relative to the state's four other large school districts when they present the new graduation rate at a press conference later today.
June 9, 2011
Delayed notice threatens turnout for run-off CEC elections
Add one more snag to the list of woes plaguing this year's community education council elections. Dozens of run-off elections happened this week with such scant notice that several parent leaders said that they weren't aware the election existed until hours after it began. The 48-hour run-off elections began Wednesday after first-round elections in 27 districts yielded either ties or fewer than the nine required council representatives. But information about the run-off was not announced until hours after online ballot boxes opened yesterday. Even then, several of the parent leaders who vote in these elections said that they weren’t notified of the run-offs . The election will decide who will serve two-year terms on the community education councils beginning next school year. Representatives are scheduled to be announced tomorrow. Caroline Hall, PTA co-president at P.S. 151, said she learned about the run-off from another parent yesterday. "We didn't get any official notification," said Hall, whose husband, the PTA treasurer, is also one of the so-called "selector" parent leaders who vote in the elections. "If we weren't the kind of people who were diligent, we would have given up."
June 8, 2011
As city revises space-sharing plans, settlement looks possible
A contentious legal battle between the city and the teachers union could be inching toward a settlement as school officials race to re-write plans that are key to the dispute. In the past month, city officials have revised each of 20 space-sharing plans outlining how charter schools would be housed inside district buildings. The way that previous plans allocated space between charter and district schools is a central criticism of the teachers union's lawsuit. The sweeping revision effort is in direct response to the lawsuit, filed May 18, Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged in a statement. Several of the plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit praised the revisions and indicated that they might lead to an out-of-court settlement. In a conference call with reporters, Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, a lead plaintiff in the suit, said his organization’s ultimate goal was to place all students in their school of choice. "We are open to all options to settle this suit," he said. Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview today that he was "happy" with the efforts. UFT lawyers, he said, have expressed cautious optimism that the revised plans would satisfy their demands. The city's move means that the plans, many of which were already approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, will require new votes by the PEP and new public hearings to solicit community feedback on their terms. The city began holding new hearings this week.
June 8, 2011
As Walcott watches, AP stats students scrutinize school metrics
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott listens to a student presentation on their school's progress report. Statistics students at a Brooklyn high school took an unusually high-profile final exam today: They presented an analysis of the city's school report cards to an audience that included their principal and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. Their teacher, Eleanor Terry, had invited the Chancellor via email, hoping to put together an official audience for her Advanced Placement statistics students at the High School for Telecommunication Arts and Technology. The school earned an A on its most recent progress report. But that didn't stop students — who wore buttons depicting their statistics class mascot, the "normalcurvasaurus" — from scrutinizing the way their school was graded. They examined technical issues including bias in survey questions, the way students are broken into deciles by their eighth-grade test scores, and how different scores were weighted to come up with their school’s final grade. The students peppered their presentations with recommendations for Walcott, ranging from offering the student surveys online to factoring a school’s size into its grading. Walcott spent more than an hour scribbling notes during the presentations. When students described difficult experiences in freshman physics classes and adjusting to high school, which they said could affect the student progress section of the report, Walcott asked, “Should we be doing something different freshman year?” “The kids were unbelievably impressed that he said he would come. And I can’t say my reaction was any different,” Principal Phil Weinberg said.
June 8, 2011
A year after fatal field trip, Walcott ramps up trip regulations
With end-of--year excursions planned at many schools, the city has adopted new rules for field trips, particularly those that involve water. The new regulations come nearly a year after Nicole Suriel, a sixth-grader at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering, drowned during a field trip to a Long Island beach. An investigation found that the school had not collected permission slips for the trip and took the students to a beach that was not patrolled by lifeguards. Now, schools will have to collect Department of Education permission slips for each trip, ensure that lifeguards are present when students swim and that lifejackets are worn during other water activities, and send extra chaperones on trips with more than 30 students. The new rules were developed during a review process that began after Suriel's death, department officials said. Typically, the Panel for Educational Policy must approve new regulations before they can go into effect, but Chancellor Dennis Walcott decided that the field trip rules should be adopted immediately on an emergency basis. “Tragically, last year we lost one of our students in an accident on a school field trip to the beach. While we can never change history, we can take action to prevent future tragedies and better protect our students on field trips," Walcott said in a statement. "That is why today I signed an emergency order expanding supervision requirements for field trips and strengthening guidelines around swimming."
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