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StudentsFirstNY's Bed-Stuy Chapter Marches to Demand School Reform

The local StudentsFirstNY chapter, consisting of parents, students, and organizational leaders, marched the streets of Bed-Stuy to demand better schools for the children in their community. According to Patch, business owners and community members alike joined the StudentsFirstNY members in calling for quality schools and teachers:

Residents leaned out of their windows – some clapping – and bodega owners and retail store customers poured out of businesses along the route to survey the commotion, as the group chanted, “Ain’t no power like the power of the parents!” and “What do we want? Quality teachers! When do we want it? Now!”

Patch shared one parent’s thoughts:

“The Department of Education, the school’s principal and teachers all need to raise expectations for these students. Our kids deserve to do much better.”

Watch the video of public school parents and community members marching.

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Statement by Glen Weiner, the Acting Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY

A report issued by the American Federation of Teachers today purports that Paul Tudor Jones, Peter Kiernan, Ken Langone, Daniel Loeb and Dan Senor support the replacement of defined benefit plans because of their association with StudentsFirstNY. This allegation based on an inaccurate inference is incorrect.

The position of StudentsFirstNY on retirement plans for teachers is as follows: Consistent with our support for educational choices for students and their families, we advocate for choices for teachers as well. As professionals, teachers should be empowered and have the right to choose between a properly funded portable defined contribution plan and a properly funded defined benefit plan for their retirement.

StudentsFirstNY is a legally separate entity from StudentsFirst, a national organization.

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NYC to Open 78 New Schools in September

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced that the city will open 78 new schools in the fall, bringing the total number of schools opened by his administration to 656. With the new schools, there will be a record 1,821 public schools in New York City.

According to the New York Daily News, these new schools will hold more students, offer college programs and focus on providing a technical education for students looking for opportunities in a specialized field:

"The schools opening in September will enroll 32,000 students at full capacity and include two high schools that will offer associate's degrees in six-year programs with the City University of New York.

"Education officials also will open seven new career and technical education high schools, including the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering."

Bloomberg's education reform strategy has centered around closing large, failing schools, opting to replace each one with several smaller schools. Since he took office in 2002, the city has closed 164 failing public schools. The New York Daily News reports that education officials see performance improvements in the new schools.

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New York State Budget Includes $1 Billion Increase in Education Funding

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York State's $141.3 billion 2013-2014 fiscal year budget into law, and it included a large bump in state education spending. According to The Examiner News, education aid funding, which goes directly to school districts across the state, was increased by nearly $1 billion:

"The $936 million bump in education money, nearly twice as much as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's originally proposed $490 million, was one of the key highlights of the state's $141.3 billion budget that was approved by the Assembly last Thursday. The Senate wrapped up voting earlier in the week."

Governor Cuomo's original budget fell short of what many elected officials were hoping to receive for education aid. The State Assembly and State Senate made education funding a priority in their revisions to the Governor's budget:

"The governor's original proposed aid formulas would have been devastating for schools statewide," said state Senator Greg Ball (R-Patterson). "I am happy to say that we not only restored the cuts but that we increased funding across the board from last year."

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Governor Cuomo Continues to Push for a Teacher Evaluation Deal in NYC

The Wall Street Journal reports that Governor Cuomo is attempting to make changes to state law that will ensure teacher evaluation agreements will not expire after just one year and help the City of New York and the teachers’ union come to an agreement on a new evaluation system:

Cuomo's proposal would clarify that the evaluation agreements between districts and teachers unions are subject to the Triborough Amendment, a 1982 change to a state law that keeps union contracts in effect after they expire. Mr. Cuomo was negotiating Thursday with legislative leaders to include the change as part of state budget legislation.

The expiration date on teacher evaluation agreements was a major concern for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who believes that an evaluation system that expires after just one year would be useless. The quality of a teacher is the most important factor in a student’s success and Cuomo’s legislative efforts are an important step in the right direction, especially when New York City’s schools have already lost funding on the issue:

The city and UFT's failure to reach an agreement by the Jan. 17 deadline cost the public-school system about $260 million in state aid for the 2012-13 school year, or roughly 3% of the district's total budget.

According to the Journal, if a deal has not been reached in NYC by June, the state Education Department will enact a new teacher evaluation system for the district.

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Transforming NYC's Underperforming Schools

Stevenson High School in the Bronx used to operate as one high school with more than 3,000 students. As one high school, only 30 percent of its students graduated. According to the New York Times, Stevenson High School saw marked improvements after being closed, along with 22 other high schools in the Bronx, as part of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s education reform strategy.

Stevenson High School was replaced by nine smaller schools. The New York Times reports that smaller schools opened to replace underperforming ones, including Stevenson, boast better programs and student achievement:

The graduation rate for schools in the building has nearly doubled, to 57.3 percent at the five traditional four-year schools with graduating classes in 2011, according to statistics from the city’s Education Department. Attendance at Stevenson has gone from 75 percent a decade ago to 81 percent across the nine schools this year.

Marc Sternberg, a deputy education chancellor, discussed the ongoing reform occurring at Stevenson High School:

“The work that is happening at the Stevenson campus is dramatically better today, without question, than it was in 2004. And we have a long way to go.

What we care about are student outcomes, not being right all the time. When we see that we haven’t gotten it right, we intervene.”

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Editorial: UFT Attempts to Weaken Mayoral Control of NYC Schools

The UFT is working roll back mayoral control in New York City, including reducing the number of mayoral appointees on the Panel for Educational Policy from eight members to five and limiting the options a future mayor would have for selection of a schools chancelor.

An editorial in AM New York outlines how dysfunctional the system was before mayoral control, noting:

The last time control of the schools was split among warring political tribes, school leaders couldn't say how many employees the system had. It took years to fix window casings that leaked in the rain and snow. Principalships were sometimes up for sale. Patronage was rife, school headquarters hid budget numbers from City Hall and social promotions were the rule.

The editorial is pretty clear on its opinion of the UFT's plan, commenting:

Can there be a worse idea? The United Federation of Teachers wants to strip the mayor of control over city schools. If this is a trial balloon, it has all the appeal of the airship Hindenburg.

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Some NYC Schools Have Not Rated Teachers "Unsatisfactory" For Eight Years

A recent analysis conducted by the Wall Street Journal highlights the need for a more nuanced system of evaluating teacher performance. New York City is one of a handful of school districts that hasn’t adopted a new system, due to the disagreement between the City and its teachers' union.

The proposed evaluation system would have four tiers: ineffective, developing, effective, and highly effective. Sandi Jacobs, a vice president with the National Council on Teacher Quality, commented on the need for change:

"In this all-or-nothing, pass-fail system, it is quite possible that schools don't have anybody who merits an unsatisfactory rating, but there might be quite a few teachers who are in need of real improvement."

The new evaluation system could be implemented in June if the City and the teachers' union can’t reach an agreement.

Read the full article. (This article may have limited access without a subscription)

Read StudentsFirstNY's report “Unsatisfactory: The Distribution of Teacher Quality in New York City” (PDF).

View an interactive map of NYC schools with the highest percentages of “Unsatisfactory” teachers.

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UFT Seeks to End Mayoral Control of NYC Schools

Late last week, UFT President Mike Mulgrew demanded that City Hall’s control of New York City’s schools end. 

The New York Post editorial elaborates on Mulgrew’s desire to put roll back mayoral control, noting:

Mulgrew must find mayoral control burdensome. He wants to go back to the old days, because he knows that getting rid of mayoral control really means ushering in uncontested union control.

His plan works like this: Strip the mayor, whoever it is next year, of the right to choose a chancellor or even to pick a majority of the members on the Panel for Education Policy, which sets school policy. Instead, spread the power to make these picks over a broad group of officials: the borough presidents, comptroller, public advocate and City Council speaker. This way, no single official could be blamed for letting union excesses keep schools failing. Everyone wins — except the kids.

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Democrats Divided On Issue of Restoring State Funding to NYC Schools

New York state plans to take back the $260 million in funding for NYC schools that was lost after the city and the teachers’ union failed to come to an agreement on teacher evaluations by the January 17 deadline. According to GothamSchools, some lawmakers are now saying they don’t agree with this approach:

The law was meant to be more of a threat, some said Wednesday, and they never expected it to go this far.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, head of the Senate Democratic Conference, is one lawmaker who now feels the funds should not be taken from NYC’s schools:

“The children shouldn’t have to suffer because the adults couldn’t agree,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Despite the lack of support from some lawmakers, the Independent Democratic Conference feels that cutting the funding is the appropriate consequence for failing to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations:

“Unfortunately, the law is the law,” said Jeff Klein, a Bronx senator who heads the Independent Democratic Conference. Klein said he instead supported Cuomo’s legislation to allow state Education Commissioner John King to decide the evaluation system if New York City can’t come to an agreement for next year. “I think restoration of the money is going to be very, very difficult, because it was mandated in law. It was very clear.”

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