Tag Archives: Chalkbeat

And the Next New York City Schools Chancellor Will/ Or, Will Not Be (According to the NY Times, and friends) …..

It’s been thirty days and no leadership decision has been made , no, not the schools chancellor, the NY Giants coach! For many New Yorkers a far more important decision than who occupies the seat in the Tweed Courthouse  (the ornate 19th century building that houses the Department of Education). There is no time frame for the decision, the mayor announced that Carmen Farina, the current chancellor, will be retiring and a replacement will be named in the coming months.

The speculation began as whispers and has now become a contest. Eva Moskowitz came out with her list of fourteen possibilities. A friend half-joked, “If I really wanted the job that’s a list I would not want to be on.”

Charles Sahm, at the Manhattan Institute mused over possible contenders, “Six intriguing candidates for New York City chancellor”.

Chalkbeat, the education website joined in with its list of possibles, “What you should know about seven people who could be the next New York City chancellor.”.

Eliza Shapiro at Politico took a different tack, “Here’s Who Won’t Be the Next NYC Chancellor.”

A New York Times editorial endorsed a list of candidates praising the Bloomberg years and demeaning the de Blasio/Farina years, “Some Bright Hopes for NYC Schools.”

Let’s conduct an exercise, a list of qualities or requirements necessary in the next chancellor: experience in leading a large urban school system and/or a record of success in prior educational leadership posts, demonstrated experience in working with parent and advocacy groups, especially the teacher union, experience in working in New York City would be helpful, plus, demonstrated experience in working in a highly politicized environment, a public persona with a demonstrated ability to communicate with media outlets (“get out the message”), and, the key acknowledgment: you are not a superintendent or a chancellor, in reality, in a mayoral control city you are the deputy mayor for education. Every policy decision you make will be vetted by the mayor and you will be expected to successfully implement mayoral initiatives.

Next step: Do any of the “candidates” referenced above fit the bill?

How about someone who (a) created and implemented the only large urban city program for low performing schools that was successful, (b) successfully led two large urban school systems, and (c) in her last job led the nation in academic growth in the third largest school system in the nation “Chicago leading nation in growth scores.

Before you get too excited, Barbara Byrd Bennett had a secret, she was a compulsive gambler and illegally took dollars from vendors, she is currently a “guest” of the federal government.

Rumors were that she was the de Blasio # 1 choice four years ago, she declined, she had promised to complete her contractual obligation in Chicago.

Of all the “speculations” the New York Times is the furthest out of the mainstream. The editorial folk at the Times are fixated on the chaotic twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg,

Mayor Bill de Blasio took control of New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, four years ago, denouncing the aggressive, data-driven approach to school improvement that his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had used with considerable success. Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña — who recently announced her retirement — shared his vague agenda.

…  the proven school managers whose accomplishments make them appealing candidates will be hesitant to accept the post in the absence of a clear, compelling mayoral vision and backing for forceful action on behalf of students.

The mayor has described his mission over the next four years as promoting equity and excellence, but those goals remain largely out of reach, even as test scores have inched up and graduation rates have risen. In fact, the city needs to move more urgently on three fronts: ending profound racial segregation; closing failing schools while opening better ones; and finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system.

How fast the editorial writers forget:

  • Four major management system upheavals that kept the school system in permanent turmoil. (from Regions, to ill-defined Knowledge Networks, to Empowerment to Affinity Networks)
  • The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) system, a Bloomberg/Klein “innovation”
  • The Open Market Transfer system, actually “teacher free agency,” teachers can move from school to school, moving from high poverty, lower performing to higher performing schools guaranteeing that low performing schools would be continually staffed by neophyte teachers.
  • The “data-driven” systems included SESEIS, an online special education database that was a disaster and actually deprived students of services rather than tracking services.
  • Creating over a hundred “screened” schools, increasing segregation and pulling higher achieving kids out of poor schools effectively lowering achievement in those schools.

I could go on and on; yes, the Bloomberg/Klein leadership closed 150 schools, many, not all, were beyond repair, and created 500 schools, initially with academic gains, gains that have eroded; however, the battles with teachers and their union extinguished many of the early accomplishments.

Is the de Blasio/Farina agenda “vague,”?  Universal PreK and 3 for All (PreK for 3-year olds beginning in the poorest district) will positively impact lives for generations.

Ending profound segregation,” has a nice ring; only 14% of the children in the school system are white and most children attend hyper-segregated schools that reflect neighborhoods.

 “Closing failing schools and creating better ones,” seems simple, no one has found a magic bullet. Closing an elementry school and opening a successor school in the same building has not been a winning strategy.

“ …finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system,” is exactly what the current de Blasio negotiated union contract does, sets aside time each week for professional development; retaining the best teachers in the highest poverty schools under the Bloomberg “free agency” and data mania has driven teachers to higher performing schools or out of the system. The Times doesn’t know, or, fails to comprehend, the current New York State teacher evaluation system includes expedited hearings, allows management to bring charges after two “ineffective” ratings and moves the burden of proof to the teacher.

The Bloomberg years, like former partners, look better in retrospect, the pain and anguish fades.

Picking winners, like picking school/school district leaders can be a “roll of the dice.”

I’ve participated in interviews, sat in audiences while superintendent candidates were interviewed and watched interviews online, all sort of “speed dating.”

For some you kept glancing at your watch, it was agony to listen; others were glib, well-rehearsed answers, a few charming; however, the quality of the interview does not translate into the effectiveness on the job. You vet, you contact the former employer, parents and electeds and I called the teacher union leader.

It’s hard to see someone without ties to the city leading a 1.1 million children system, a system so embroiled in political agendas. Dan Drumm, the new chair of the City Council Finance Committee is a 25-year teacher and a union activist in his teaching days, Mark Tryger, the new chair of the Council Education Committee was a high school teacher four years ago, and an outspoken critic of the Bloomberg data-madness. Betty Rosa, the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents was a career teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx.

I’m not going to list “favorites,” don’t want to jinx anyone, it is a monumental task, as I wrote earlier this Jesus-Mohammad-Moses-Buddha-like personage is hard to find.

Maybe the feds will let Barbara become chancellor as part of a work release program?

BTW, if you haven’t discovered it yet you must watch “Rita,” about a “kick-ass” Danish teacher, it is fantastic, click on the link: https://www.buzzfeed.com/matwhitehead/one-less-lonely-hjordis?utm_term=.ism55mqKo#.tjnddzqQZ

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The Freedom of Speech Thin Line: Defending and Advocating for Your School or Indoctrinating and Using Students

Jill Bloomberg has been the principal of Park Slope Colleague, a small high school on the John Jay campus since 2004.  According to articles in Chalkbeat (“Investigation of activist principal has free-speech advocates asking what politics are allowed at school”) and the New York Times (“A Principal Is Accused of Being a Communist, Rattling a Brooklyn School“) is under investigation allegedly for “communist organizing.”

… one of her assistant principals, who had met with an investigator, revealed to her exactly what the allegation was, one that seemed a throwback to another era: Communist organizing.

The Office of Special Investigation (OSI), the investigative arm of the Department of Education has opened an investigation into the principal’s conduct and the principal has gone to court to squelch the investigation.

Chalkbeat writes,

The war, it seems, will partly depend on whether Bloomberg violated D-130 — a Chancellor’s regulation that prohibits school employees from “being involved in any activities, including fundraising, on behalf of any candidate, candidates, slate of candidates or political organization/committee during working hours.”

The city claims, among other allegations, that Bloomberg violated the regulation by advocating on behalf of the Progressive Labor Party, a political organization with communist ties, at school. Bloomberg denies that and says she isn’t a member herself. But the case raises a larger question of what the regulation is meant to cover.

The New York Times writes,

Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg has become one of the most outspoken and visible critics of New York City’s public schools, regularly castigating the Education Department’s leadership at forums and in the news media. Most of her criticism is aimed at actions that she says perpetuate a segregated and unequal educational system and that penalize black and Latino students. Through the years, she has helped organize protests and assemblies to push for integration and equal resources and treatment for her almost entirely black and Latino student body.

I believe there are a number of questions: are the actions of the principal “protected speech”? and, the larger question, have recent Supreme Court decisions broadened the definition of “speech” under the First Amendment? finally, did the principal violate Chancellor’s Regulation D-130?

I have written at length about the issue of “protected” and “unprotected” speech,” one of my most accessed blogs: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/freedom-of-speech-outside-of-the-classroom-protected-versus-unprotected-speech-when-is-teacher-speech-job-related-or-citizen-speech/

 The case law has been extensive and has narrowed the definition of free speech.

In Givhan v Western Lane Consolidated School District (1979), Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Court argues that the interests of a teacher as a citizen in commenting on matters of public concern “must be balanced against the interests of the state, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency” of public schools. A teacher’s speech may not be protected when it specifically impedes “the proper performance of his classroom duties or generally interferes with the regular operation of schools.”

The United States Supreme Court further limited speech, and ruled that when public employees speak while performing their official duties, (i.e., “job duty speech”); this speech is not protected by the First Amendment and can be the basis for discipline or discharge.

In 2006 in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court clarifies and limits the issue of protected speech. The plaintiff in the case was a district attorney who claimed that he had been passed up for a promotion for criticizing the actions of his office The Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that because his statements were made pursuant to his position as a public employee, rather than as a private citizen, his speech had no First Amendment protection.

Commenting on the decision, a legal memo distinguishes between a government employee as citizen and as an employee,

 … a government entity has broader discretion to restrict speech when it acts in its employer role, but the restrictions it imposes must be directed at speech that has some potential to affect its operations. On the other hand, a citizen who works for the government is nonetheless still a citizen. The First Amendment limits a public employer’s ability to leverage the employment relationship to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as private citizens …. So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively.

Justice Kennedywriting for the majority concludes his opinion,

    We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties. Our precedents do not support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.

The impact of the Kennedy decision has had a chilling impact.

Garcetti v Ceballos (2006) has been the precedent in a number of cases denying teacher claims of protected speech.

In 2010, in Citizen’s United, the court, in a 5-4 decision invalidated a statute that limited political contributions by corporations and unions; the court ruled that statute unconstitutional and vigorously expands freedom of political speech,

Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. See Buckley , supra , at 14–15 (“In a republic where the people are sovereign, the ability of the citizenry to make informed choices among candidates for office is essential”). The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it. The First Amendment “ ‘has its fullest and most urgent application’ to speech uttered during a campaign for political office.” Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm. , 489 U. S. 214,223 (1989) (quoting Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy , 401 U. S. 265, 272 (1971) ); see Buckley , supra , at 14 (“Discussion of public issues and debate on the qualifications of candidates are integral to the operation of the system of government established by our Constitution”).

     For these reasons, political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence. Laws that burden political speech are “subject to strict scrutiny,” which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.” 

Did the court erode the distinction between “protected” and “unprotected” speech? While Citizen’s United is reviled because it basically allows unlimited contributions to campaigns, does it also allow for wider freedom to comment and advocate on the political stage?

The OSI investigation, according to media accounts is based on whether or not the principal violated a Department regulation, D-130 (Read regulations here), the Department does not comment on ongoing investigations.

Chancellor Regulation D-130 is entitled, “Use of School Buildings, Elected Officials and Political Organizations and Conduct of Employees and Officers with Respect to Political Campaigns and Elections,”  On the face the regulation does not appear relevant to the actions of the principal.

Employers do have wide discretion in imposing discipline; however, the limiting factor is the collective bargaining agreement, aka, the union. If the Department brings charges against the principal she is entitled to have the accusations heard by an impartial arbitrator.  Courts will usually not intercede until all the administrative remedies have been exhausted, namely, the decision of the arbitrator has been rendered.

I have always advised teachers, if they intend to speak at a public forum, to make it clear, “I am speaking as an individual;” hopefully, that statement will “protect” their speech.

Diane Ravitch in her blog asks, Do employees of the New York City Department of Education have Freedom of Speech?

The answer, as you have read, is complicated.