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StudentsFirstNY Weekly Education News Roundup: October 6-11, 2013

In this week's education news: full coverage of the charter school march across the Brooklyn Bridge, arbitrators are excusing teachers of sexual misconduct, and the UFT is accused of breaking campaign finance laws.

Bill de Blasio Threatens to Close NYC's Top-Performing School
New York Post // October 9, 2011

New York City's mayoral election less than a month away, and charter school advocates are amplifying their message and criticism for Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio.

An article in the New York Post interviewed several charter school supporters, and the message from everyone was the same: if Bill de Blasio is elected mayor, then many of the city's top-performing schools will likely have to close. StudentsFirstNY's Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said the city should embrace these schools instead of limiting student choice:

"With 50,000 families on waiting lists for charter schools, we should be looking for ways to expand, not limit, quality school options," said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY.

Charter School Supporters March to Keep Schools Open
New York Post // October 9, 2013

Nearly 20,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park on Tuesday demanding support for charter schools. They are marching to keep charter schools open and to bring their plight to the attention of Bill de Blasio, who wants to stop charter schools from expanding across New York City.

The New York Post supported the march, and wrote the following in an editorial:

Though de Blasio styles himself a defender of the underprivileged, he is working against these families by calling for charters to pay rent and for a moratorium on placing charters in unused space in traditional schools.

These are charter-killers, and de Blasio pushes them for a simple reason: Charters are good schools, and the teachers unions don't like good schools outside their control.

de Blasio Stands By Policies That Will Hurt Charter Schools
GothamSchools // October 8, 2013

In their march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday, charter school supporters demanded the next mayor of New York City keep Mayor Bloomberg's education policies in place that have helped charters thrive. These include allowing charters to co-locate inside public school buildings rent-free.

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor, has pledged to reverse these two policies, according to GothamSchools:

De Blasio doubled down on those pledges on Tuesday, saying through a spokesman that "believes that well-resourced charter networks should pay for the use of school space, as charter schools do across the country." He'd also stop co-locations, an arrangement that has afforded schools free space inside city-owned school buildings, "until we can better assess their impact."

Both changes would affect a majority of the city's charter school sector. Over 60 percent of the city's 183 charter schools are housed in city-owned buildings, and more than half of the city's 50 proposals for new schools and co-locations involve charter schools.

Why One Charter School Parent Will Be Marching
New York Daily News // October 6, 2013

Regina Dowdell is a charter school parent. She will march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday to support Girls Prep Brox, the school her daughter attends.

Dowdell likes Democrat Bill de Blasio, but she feels that he could not be more wrong when it comes to improving NYC's public school system. de Blasio's message about two New Yorks is accurate, she feels, but his education policies, and especially those affecting charter schools, will only bring these two New Yorks further apart on education.

In the New York Daily News, Dowdell writes:

All students deserve a school with high-quality teachers, one that graduates its students on time and prepares them to go on to college and careers. Until every public school in New York City provides that kind of quality education, we cannot afford to limit choices.

Arbitrators Help Keep Teachers Employed Despite Sexual Misconduct Charges
New York Post // October 10, 2013

In 2005, the NYC Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) added language in their teachers contract concerning sexual misconduct. In the agreement, any teacher "found by a hearing officer to have engaged in sexual misconduct" would be automatically dismissed.

However, the arbitrators who are charged with determining whether to terminate or discipline a teacher have been lenient on the teachers, even with overwhelming evidence that points to a clear case of sexual misconduct.

According to Campbell Brown, the founder of the Parents Transparency Project, who wrote an op-ed in the New York Post:

With these and other arbitrators minimizing the sexual behavior of accused teachers with their students, the DOE has had little success in terminating teachers accused of violating the 2005 provision. Only about a quarter of those for whom probable cause of sexual misconduct has been found have lost their jobs.

The union needs to stop claiming there's a zero-tolerance policy for teacher sexual abuse. The arbitrators disagree.

UFT Struggles to Cover Up Potential Campaign Finance Rules Violation
Crain's New York Business // October 9, 2013

The United Federation of Teachers recently paid $370,000 to a fabricated consulting group, drawing concerns that the union purposely seeks to work around campaign finance laws.

Now Crain's New York Business reports that the connection between the UFT’s real consultant and the fabricated firm is clear. When sending invoices on behalf of the fake firm – Strategic Consultants, Inc. – the real firm left their logo on the invoice.

An open records request that came back on Tuesday from the City Campaign Finance Board offers fresh and somewhat amusing evidence of the connection between the two: Many of the invoices the agency received from Strategic Consultants have the Advance Group logo on them.

The payments listed as going to Strategic Consultants obscured that the Advance Group was being paid both to promote candidates for the United Federation of Teachers' independent political action committee, United For the Future, and to work as the main campaign consultant for several of those same candidates. UFT President Michael Mulgrew denied wrongdoing in an interview with WNYC last week, but could not explain the fake name of the firm.

NYC Forced to Spend $29 Million Paying Educators Unfit for the Classroom
New York Daily News // October 7, 2013

A system that makes it difficult to fire teachers is costing NYC a significant amount of money in 2013. As reported by the Daily News, NYC will spend $29 million on salaries and benefits for educators who have already been pulled from jobs in public school classrooms but cannot yet be fired.

According to the New York Daily News:

As of Friday, there were 326 city educators who have been reassigned away from the classroom yet were still collecting pay, a sharp rise from 2012, when 218 ousted teachers drained $22 million from city coffers, Education Department records show.

The teachers and school administrators are accused of abusing kids, breaking rules or just being lousy educators. But they're still collecting salaries because of a controversial firing process that makes it too difficult to terminate bad employees, education officials charge.

Parents Transparency Project Founder Discusses the Importance of Protecting Students
Crain's New York Business // October 7, 2013

Campbell Brown, a former journalist and CNN host, started the Parents Transparency Project to help expose sexual misconduct in NYC schools and those who tolerate it.

In an interview with Crain's New York Business, Campbell describes what led her to found the organization:

It was about a year and a half ago, and the tabloids were going crazy with stories about teacher sex abuse and kids. The Daily News had done a huge feature about teachers who engaged in sexual misconduct with kids and then gotten a suspension or fine. And it had example after example after example. I thought, this can't be true. It was such an egregious thing. So I did all the research and got my own example of teachers and tracked down some of the parents of some of these kids that had been victimized. Talked to them—that'll kill you. Your heart breaks for what they're going through. And the degree that they feel the system has failed them. And I talked to a lot of teachers who were embarrassed that the union was taking the position it was.

Brown goes on to advocate for giving the City schools chancellor the power to fire teachers who engaged in sexualize misconduct. She says that in the past seven years, the NYC Department of Education has unsuccessfully attempted to fire teachers 128 times over sexual misconduct.

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