breaking

State says districts without evaluation deals to lose funds Jan. 1

The State Education Department will cut districts off from one pot of federal funds within days unless they settle on new teacher evaluations for some struggling schools.

In a move that the state teachers union called “an arbitrary exercise of brinksmanship,” State Education Commissioner John King issued the threat today to New York City and nine other school districts that are receiving School Improvement Grants to overhaul their lowest-performing schools.

King said all but two had not met the requirements to continue receiving the funds — most notably, the requirement to hammer out agreements on new teacher evaluation systems. Those agreements are supposed to be in place by Dec. 31.

In July, city and UFT officials reached an agreement to roll out new teacher evaluations in 33 of the schools, known as “persistently low-achieving” schools. That agreement came a week after the state turned up the pressure on the city and just in time for the schools to receive nearly $60 million in federal funds.

But city officials said today that the agreement was only a “framework” that must be formalized by the Dec. 31 deadline.

If that doesn’t happen, a funding freeze would not only prevent new reforms from being put in place but also could threaten changes that are already underway. Yonkers is warning that SIG-funded teaching positions at some of its schools would effectively be terminated. Some New York City schools have “master teachers” whose salaries are paid out of the federal grant money.

City and union officials say they remain locked in negotiations — which are sure to be tense after a semester when relations between the groups grew strained over the new evaluation system’s rollout.

The stakes are also higher now because a deadline for all city schools to adopt new teacher evaluations is just six months away. King’s ultimatum today applies only to the 33 schools already being overhauled and 11 additional schools that the city must revamp according to federal guidelines. But a similar strategy in June could put hundreds of millions of Race to the Top dollars in jeopardy if new teacher evaluations are still not finalized.

Last month, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city would not strike an evaluation deal just to keep federal funds flowing. Today, he said city officials were in talks with the union but left the door open to stalemate.

“For months, we have been in engaged in discussions with the UFT around implementing a teacher evaluation model in the SIG schools,” Walcott said in a statement. “We continue to engage in discussions with the UFT, and all parties are cognizant of the deadline.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew sounded a similar note in a statement today.

“We have been meeting with the DOE in an attempt to resolve these issues,” he said. “We have further meetings scheduled this week.”

The state teachers union, NYSUT, said a funding freeze would disproportionately affect schools attended by poor students. Instead of cutting off funding to struggling schools, the union said King should ask federal authorities for more time. More than a dozen states have already gotten extensions, according to NYSUT.

But King signaled that he planned to stick to the deadline, no matter the consequences.

“These funds are targeted to help troubled schools. The last thing the students need is to lose resources because the adults who run those schools won’t fulfill their responsibilities,” he said in a statement. “The clock is ticking. When the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the money drops off the table, and it will be difficult to get it back.”

The other districts at risk of losing federal funds are Buffalo, Yonkers, Albany, Schenectady, Roosevelt, Poughkeepsie and Greenburgh 11. Rochester and Syracuse have turned in materials for the state to review, according to SED. The Journal-News reports that Poughkeepsie is on track to meet the Jan. 1 deadline but that Yonkers cannot and would seek legal recourse if the funding freeze takes place.

#NationalSchoolWalkout

Carranza discourages student participation in Friday’s gun violence walkout — which could come with consequences

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn walked out of class in March to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and call for stricter gun control laws.

Last month, 100,000 students streamed out of city classrooms to protest gun violence, demonstrations condoned by the mayor and education department officials.

Similar but scaled-down protests are being planned for Friday, but with a major difference — students are more likely to face consequences for walking out of their classes this time.

For the March 14 walkout, held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, city education department officials laid out clear rules meant to facilitate student participation. Anyone who left school for the scheduled protest but returned immediately afterward would not be marked absent.

This week, students who are not in school will be marked absent, according to the education department.

At his first town hall meeting with students, Chancellor Richard Carranza implored them not to walk out of class this week.

“I supported it in March,” he said. “This one — I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

Instead, Carranza said, students should focus on having conversations about the issue inside their schools. “You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

The department’s revised approach comes as activists planning the day of action worry that focus on gun control policy is diminishing as the Parkland shooting recedes into the past. That shooting has inspired a sustained protest movement led largely by students, but other topics have pushed it out of headlines in recent weeks.

Indeed, advocates are expecting a smaller turnout this time around, with about a dozen New York City schools registered on the national organizing page — including Bard High School Early College Queens and Stuyvesant High School.

One of the biggest demonstrations is expected to be an afternoon rally at Washington Square park, but other schools are opting for a day of action within their own buildings — and some students say they are prioritizing other ways of making a difference.

“We will be hosting a lunch and learn and creating kindness cards,” Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice junior Robina Afzal said in an email. “We don’t feel the walkouts are most effective. Instead we can stay in school and create a change.”

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Fifth-grade students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn are planning to walk out of school on April 20, marking the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. They will head to borough hall and deliver letters to their local U.S. representative calling for stricter gun control laws.

At M.S. 51 in Brooklyn, students will take part in a day of assemblies where they will write letters to elected officials to demand action on issues that are important to young people.

“We want to balance our walkout and take real action that might influence policy-makers, rather than making another powerful public statement,” according to a press release sent by the middle school students there.

P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is one of the few elementary schools expected to participate on Friday. The fifth grade students have assigned themselves organizing tasks, with separate working groups dedicated to poster-making, writing original freedom songs, and even a media team. They plan to march to Borough Hall, where students will stand in a circle, sing, and chant to draw attention to young lives lost to gun violence every day across the United States.

“I think we should do it outside of the school because more people can see us walking out, because this is very important,” said Bayan Clark, a fifth-grader who is helping to organize the event. “Kids get shot every single day and it’s not just in school. It’s also outside.”

Principal Jackie Allen said such social actions are woven into the school’s teaching and learning.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, students wore black armbands in solidarity with protesters who drew attention to racial profiling and bias. When President Trump proposed an immigration ban on majority-Muslim countries, they marched around their school and created posters to signal that everyone is welcome at P.S. 261.

Ever since the Parkland shooting, students have been tackling issues around gun violence, writing letters to local elected representatives and making connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We try to make sure the curriculum is relevant,” Allen said. “What’s happening in the world, it does make our way into the classrooms and kids want to talk about it.”

“We want to reflect democratic values,” she said. “We want kids to take social action and develop social awareness.”

Still walking

Colorado teachers plan more walkouts, and Jeffco canceled classes one day next week

Colorado teachers march around the state Capitol Monday, April 16, to call for more school funding and to protect their retirement benefits. (Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat)

Teachers from Colorado’s two largest school districts are planning back-to-back walkouts next week to call for more funding for education – and they could be joined by other districts.

Jeffco Public Schools canceled classes for April 26, next Thursday, after many teachers there said they plan to go to the Capitol, while the union representing Denver classroom teachers said they plan to walk out midday April 27, next Friday, to rally at the Capitol early in the afternoon.

In a press release, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association said Denver teachers would be leading a statewide walkout. Corey Kern, the union’s deputy executive director, said he’s not sure yet how many other districts will be represented.

The announcements come after hundreds of teachers marched at the Capitol during a day of action Monday to protect their retirement benefits and call for more school funding. Enough teachers left the suburban Englewood district that classes were canceled there.

Colorado consistently ranks in the bottom tier for school funding and teacher pay, though there is considerable variation around the state. A recent study ranked Colorado last for the competitiveness of its teacher salaries, and nearly half the state’s districts are now on four-day weeks. The 2018-19 budget takes a big step toward restoring money cut during the Great Recession, but the state is still holding back $672 million from what it would have spent on K-12 education if it complied with constitutional requirements to increase per-pupil spending at least by inflation each year.

The wave of teacher activism reflects a national movement that has seen strikes, walkouts, and marches in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky. Unlike other states, lawmakers here can’t raise taxes to send more money to schools or approve teacher raises on their own. Voters would need to approve more money, and local school boards would need to increase salaries.

Teachers interviewed at Monday’s march said they recognize the fiscal constraints in Colorado, but they’re also inspired by the actions of their colleagues in more conservative states.

Many teachers also said they fear that reductions in retirement benefits could lead to an exodus of younger teachers, further squeezing a profession that struggles to recruit new workers and suffers from high turnover.

A House committee made changes to a pension overhaul this week that removed the provisions teachers found most objectionable, like raising the retirement age and making teachers pay more out of their paychecks, but the final form of the bill still needs to be hashed out between Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate.

Jason Glass, superintendent of the 85,000-student Jefferson County district, sent an email to parents Tuesday that said classes would be canceled next week due to a “labor shortage.” Teachers who miss school are required to use their allowed leave time.

Glass called the level of education funding in Colorado “problematic.”

“Public education staff, parents, and other supporters have become increasingly vocal in their advocacy for increased funding for our K-12 public schools and the stabilization” of the state pension plan, he wrote. “There is a belief among these groups that years of low funding is having a significant impact on our ability to attract quality candidates into the teaching profession, and is impeding the ability to effectively deliver the high level of educational experience our students deserve.”

Glass apologized for the “inconvenience” to families and reminded parents that April 26 is also “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.”

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district with 92,000 students, announced late Tuesday that there would be early dismissal April 27, with more details to come.

“Officials across the country and specifically lawmakers in the statehouse must finally recognize that a quality education cannot be provided on the cheap.” Denver union president Henry Roman said in a press release about the walkout. “If we want Colorado’s current economic prosperity to continue, we need to realize the importance of strong schools.”

Advocates are trying to place a $1.6 billion tax increase for education on the November ballot. Voters have twice rejected similar measures in recent years.