The Week That Was: Appealing a Turnaround Decision, Changing No Child Left Behind

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Celebrating the Fourth of July on a Wednesday created confusion for people and employers, and it seemed to put a crimp in the news as well. But a few education issues emerged during an otherwise subdued week.

In late June, the city was facing a dilemma when an arbitrator ruled that its plan to replace staff members at 24 so-called struggling schools violated teachers' and administrators' contracts because the plan to close and then reopen the schools with new names and revamped staffs did not constitute a true closing.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg shot back on Monday, The Daily News reported, calling the arbitrator’s decision “just a disgrace.”

“I have no idea what was going through the arbitrator’s mind,” Mr. Bloomberg said, promising to take “every legal step” possible to fight the decision.

And so the city started to do just that, filing legal papers to appeal the decision and questioning the arbitrator's authority to make such a ruling.

Gotham Schools reported on Thursday that there was, understandably, confusion at the affected schools, where staff members don't know whether they are coming or going in the "turnaround" process.

For now, the Education Department has suspended the hiring committees that had been meeting to consider teacher candidates, according to teachers union officials.

But during the disjointed first week of summer vacation, the department has given teachers and principals no guidance about how they can reclaim their positions, according to officials of the unions that represent the educators.

And at least one interim principal who seems likely to be bumped by the arbitrator’s decision is reporting for work as usual.

The city also took a blow from an unlikely quarter. One of the architects of its education policies. Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor under Joel I. Klein, has written a paper criticizing the Education Department for its top-down policies, Gotham Schools reported.

Mr. Nadelstern, who makes an argument on Friday on SchoolBook in favor of credit recovery for failing students, said that education reforms enacted a decade ago were meant to empower principals to make their own decisions for their own schools, but that the system has become more restrictive, with more mandates and micromanaging. Gotham Schools' post includes his full paper.

Another education initiative is in a state of transition, Motoko Rich reported in The New York Times on Friday. Her article says the federal Education Department's granting of waivers to more than half the states has effectively whittled down the No Child Left Behind law and reshaped it according to the Obama administration's vision.

On Friday, waivers were to be announced releasing two additional states, Washington and Wisconsin, from some of the most onerous conditions of the signature Bush-era legislation. With this latest round, 26 states have been relieved from meeting the lofty — and controversial — goal of making all students proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014. Additional waivers are pending in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

“The more waivers there are, the less there really is a law, right?” said Andy Porter, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

Another federal initiative, the Common Core Learning standards, is being integrated into city schools at a hastened pace in September.

The Learning Network, which provides teaching and learning materials and ideas based on content from The Times, sees the standards as an additional opportunity to help teachers, particularly with meeting the Core's goals of teaching nonfiction and using alternative materials.

Writes Katherine Schulten:

The Common Core Standards place a much greater emphasis on reading nonfiction and informational texts. They also ask that students “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually.”

Almost everything The Times publishes every day is “informational text” in “diverse formats,” including articles, essays, reviews, graphics, photographs, videos, podcasts and more.

So she wants to know: How can the Learning Network help? Respond to the post and share your ideas, questions and opinions there.

A few more noteworthy items in the news this week:

Gotham Schools did a great job telling the stories of some of the "remarkable grads" who were honored by the city last week.

Jenny Anderson reported in The Times on the continuing fallout from the allegations of sexual abuse at Horace Mann.

The summer jobs program is off and running, and a new study shows that summer employment has immense benefits for students, Gotham Schools reported.

SchoolBook, The Times and WNYC wrapped up their series on Paying for Public School, which chronicled the growing role of parents in supporting budget-challenged public schools. The series ended with an article about improving schools that are losing their Title 1 financing and a roundup of the reaction to the series. You can find other articles in the series here.

And maybe the heat got to him, but Chris Christie was in a dustup with a constituent at the Jersey Shore on Thursday, apparently over the passerby's admonition that he "just take care of the teachers." City Room has the post, with embedded video from TMZ.

Next week is the start of summer school for public school students and teachers.

Have a great weekend. Keep cool.