everything old is new again

In 9-minute meeting, reborn Board of Ed endorses Klein and mayoral control, and is gone ’til September

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, center with his head bowed, is the new president of the Board of Education.

This piece was reported by Philissa Cramer and Anna Phillips.

The mayor’s top education aide is the new president of the Board of Education, Joel Klein remains chancellor, and Mayor Bloomberg is vowing to stay the course of his reforms to the public schools — even though mayoral control expired at midnight yesterday.

“We’re trying to continue on as though mayoral control was approved,” Bloomberg said at a City Hall press conference this afternoon.

The actions occurred at a speedy meeting of the new Board of Education, which was hastily put together early this morning during a meeting at Gracie Mansion. (Read our live-blog of the meeting here.) Seven new Board members, appointed by the city’s borough presidents and the mayor, voted unanimously to keep Klein as schools chancellor. They also elected Dennis Walcott, Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for education, as its president.

Despite the meeting’s air-tight pace and agenda (it lasted only nine minutes and allowed no public comment period), there were small signs of dissent. The appointee of the Bronx borough president, Dolores Fernandez, abstained from votes to make Walcott president and to endorse a revised version of mayoral control that passed the Assembly two weeks ago.

In an interview after the meeting, Fernandez said she abstained from voting because she was caught off-guard by the quick, seemingly pre-determined pace of the meeting. Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, said the meeting was scripted, but Fernandez wasn’t looped into the plan. Diaz added that he might request that the Board convene again before September 10, the date members this afternoon set for their next meeting.

The borough president of Queens, Helen Marshall, who appointed Walcott to the boad, said she disagreed with Bloomberg’s third-grade retention policy, which holds students back who don’t pass key tests, when it was first anounced. But she said, “I know how to disagree and I know how to agree.” (The last time school board members opposed the retention policy, Bloomberg voted them off the board as it was known under mayoral control, the Panel for Educational Policy.)

“If we disagree with the mayor, there isn’t a borough president here who wouldn’t stand up and do something,” Scott Stringer, the borough president of Manhattan, said.

A pack of parents and other people were not allowed to enter the Board of Education meeting, which was held at Tweed Courthouse. Officials said the room had reached capacity. One parent activist, Jane Hirschmann, protested the meeting, saying city officials were keeping parents out.

It’s not clear exactly what will happen next. The last in its hasty list of votes was a motion to adjourn the Board of Education until September 10, the start of the next school year.

Asked whether he plans to convene community school boards, as the pre-2002 school governance law requires, Bloomberg said officials have not yet decided on a plan. “How can we convene them?” he said.

One of the groups that served in the place of the community school boards under mayoral control, the Community Education Council for District 1, passed a resolution this morning saying it would make itself available to become a community school board.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.