A New Education Force Enters the Political Arena

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As The New York Times reported last month, the United Federation of Teachers and its president, Michael Mulgrew, are expected to be a powerful force in the mayoral elections next year. With education and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's policies such an important issue in the race -- some would say it is virtually the only issue -- each of the mayoral contenders wants to bring the union, and its vast resources, onto her or his team.

So some education reformers, who are usually at odds with the teachers' unions, are trying to counter that influence -- and all it might portend for the changes that have occurred in the city since mayoral control of the schools began a decade ago, Anna M. Phillips reports in Wednesday's New York Times. She also explained more about the issue on WNYC.

Powerful forces like Joel I. Klein, Michelle Rhee, Eva S. Moskowitz, Edward I. Koch and Geoffrey Canada, backed by a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, have formed a group called StudentsFirstNY, a spinoff of the national group that Ms. Rhee, the former Washington schools chancellor, had formed to press for changes in how schools are run.

The statewide political group "will promote the expansion of charter schools and the firing of ineffective schoolteachers, while opposing tenure," The Times reports

Led by Micah Lasher, who is leaving his job next week as the director of state legislative affairs for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the campaign is beginning while advocates of reform have an ally in the mayor. But their eyes are focused on 2014, when a new mayor — most likely one who is more sympathetic to the teachers’ union than Mr. Bloomberg has been — enters office.

Members of the group worry that without a significant marshaling of forces, their achievements could be dismantled. Their aim is to raise $10 million annually for five years, hoping to make an imprint throughout the next mayor’s first term.

Mr. Mulgrew was dismissive of the group, referring to its board members as "one-percenters" and saying the policies they were defending were not popular with New Yorkers.

The addition of the group is likely to heat up the verbal fighting, and perhaps the tensions, around education. And The Times points out that even some so-called reform advocates "have spoken of the need to lower the temperature of the debate and have turned their focus inward on improving their own schools." Mr. Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools, acknowledges there are concerns.

“Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war,” Mr. Canada said. “And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.”

Also in the news, The Staten Island Advance reported Tuesday something big for residents of that borough: bus service is being restored for seventh and eighth graders.

On the first day of class in September -- two years after a variance allowing bus service for seventh- and eighth-graders was yanked, three months after a seventh-grader was killed walking to a city bus, and two months after a lawsuit to restore service was tossed out of court -- schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told reporters at Susan Wagner High School it wasn't going to happen.

That day he blamed "like circumstances," a clause in state education law he said would force the city to offer bus service across the five boroughs if they gave it to Staten Island and parts of Queens, as they had for decades.

But Mr. Walcott went to Staten Island to personally deliver the news that the State Legislature had passed a bill to exempt the city from the "like circumstances clause." Speaking at Laurie Intermediate School in New Springville, and surrounded by Staten Island elected officials, he said: "Through the excellent teamwork of all these individuals, we've been able to address that issue and as a result I'm here to announce that starting this September, seventh and eighth graders in the borough of Staten Island, and also those parts of Queens, will be eligible to take the yellow school buses."

So as The Advance reported:

Intermediate school students who were eligible for the bus service before the city revoked the variance will be able to ride the buses again -- and the vast majority of schools and students affected are on Staten Island, with some in the Breezy Point and College Point sections of Queens. The list of schools covered by the variance includes all of Staten Island's public intermediate schools, and a slew of private and parochial schools serving grades seven and eight.

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has more of what's in the news on Wednesday.

This Wednesday, Chancellor Walcott has now reached the one-year mark in his tenure.

Monday is the deadline for teachers' applications to participate in the Cullman Center Institute for Teachers Summer Seminars, the New York Public Library reports. Three weeklong workshops will be offered. "The programs are free and provide teachers with the opportunity to work with their peers and enhance their own education. 15 spots are offered for each course, and include a $300 stipend, the required books and course materials, a private office with computer located in the landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, breakfasts and lunches, and the possibility of graduate school credit," a news release says.

The workshops present Adam Shatz on "Black Bohemia: Poetry, Painting, and Jazz on the Lower East Side," July 16-20; Laura Shapiro on "Writing Food: A Workshop in Creative Non-fiction," July 23-27; and Rivka Galchen on "Liberating Constraints: A Creative Writing Workshop," July 30-Aug. 3. Find out more here.

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, in Queens, AT&T; employees and Queens Preparatory Academy high school students will "take over Public School 80 Thurgood Marshall Magnet elementary school’s 2nd-4th grade classes, introducing over 300 students to basic financial literacy concepts and good money management skills. The event is part of Junior Achievement of New York’s economic education programs and highlights the importance of learning and practicing good financial knowledge and skills."