state of the union

As ballots come in, a look at the teachers union elections

Tonight, as members of New York City’s teachers union celebrate the union’s 50th anniversary with a line up of political and labor celebrities, some of their members will be sitting at home or in schools filling out ballots.

That’s because the United Federation of Teachers is in the midst of an election for its president and governing executive board, as well as hundreds of other positions. To outsiders and even some teachers, UFT elections are a little puzzling. This year, there have been no stump speeches, no public debates, and the only tangible evidence that candidates are campaigning is the fliers distributed in teachers’ school mailboxes and ads printed in the union’s newspaper.

The thousands of ballots counted on April 7 will decide the future leaders of America’s largest union local, and one of the most influential in the state. The UFT’s power to set education policy and craft pension deals  in the city and statewide is so formidable, its former leader was once called “governor” in a newspaper editorial. And no matter how much the city detests the union’s policies, even Mayor Bloomberg admitted today that “they are part of the solution.”

Yet, most UFT members will tell you the election is not much of a competition.

Since the union’s creation on March 16, 1960, one caucus, the Unity caucus, has dominated union politics. What tends to interest union observers (and the candidates themselves) is not whether the Unity candidate — current UFT president Michael Mulgrew — will win, but by how much. Bloomberg staffers used to laugh when they talked to former UFT president Randi Weingarten about her own elections, which she saw as close calls even if she could expect at least 80 percent of the vote.

Like Weingarten, Mulgrew was hand-picked for the job and voted in by the union’s Unity-dominated governing board. Now, for the first time, the entire UFT membership has the chance to decide whether Mulgrew stays in power for the next three years.

Following this post, I’ll put up a rough guide to UFT elections. Below is a video the union produced about its origin story and put on YouTube in November of last year. There’s some great footage of the November 1960 strike — the union’s first strike — when about 5,000 teachers didn’t come to work and more than 100 schools closed.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.