on the table

Union open to turnaround plan that cuts teachers based on merit

For the first time, the city teachers union could allow teachers to be removed from schools based on merit rather than seniority, a union official close to the negotiations said today.

As part of his middle schools initiative, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced in a speech this morning a plan to pursue federally-funded “turnaround” for 10 low-performing schools that would begin next year. The model, which replaces at least half of the schools’ teachers based on effectiveness –  rather than seniority – can only go forward with approval from the United Federation of Teachers.

The union has already been in “preliminary discussions” with the city about implementing the model next year and is “open” to further negotiations, an official said today.

“These are all struggling schools and we are willing to help struggling schools,” the official said. “It’s not a debatable point.”

This version of turnaround, one of four models the Obama Administration has mandated for low-performing schools, has previously been off the table in any past negotiations. Two other models, plus another turnaround version that resembles the city’s school closure policy, are already in place in New York City, but none are as aggressive. Together the 10 schools could get up to $30 million in federal grants.

Specifics about how teacher would be removed are still under negotiations, the official said. But any teachers removed because of the turnaround would remain on the city’s payroll as members of the Absent Teachers Reserve.

The mere willingness to discuss a plan to identify and remove unfit teachers from struggling schools is the latest sign of an evolved working relationship between the union and city.

Last week, UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised Walcott for his decision to end the controversial Teacher Data Reports program. “I can say confidently for the first time I feel that the chancellor of New York City is trying to put children first,” Mulgrew said.

Responding in a statement to Walcott’s speech, Mulgrew did not specifically mention the turnaround model. He criticized other parts of the plan, which included more school phase-outs and new charter schools, because they “did  not go far enough.”

Last summer, New York State received $300 million to fix 57 of its “persistently low-achieving” schools, the majority of which were located in New York City. But it used just a fraction of its allocated funds on the least invasive model because of negotiation delays with the teachers union.

The city said it did not know which middle schools it would target for the Turnaround model. Eleven middle schools are currently on the state’s persistently lowest-achieving list and more could be added in coming months.


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.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”