changing of the guard

Randi Weingarten resigning today from city teachers union

Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February.
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)

Ending what might have been one of the city’s worst-kept secrets, Randi Weingarten this afternoon is announcing her plan to resign as president of the city teachers union at the end of next month.

Weingarten is making the announcement to members of the United Federation of Teachers right now at the union’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. Before today, she had not confirmed her intention to step down, even after news of her impending departure leaked to the media. Beginning in August, Weingarten will be devoting herself full-time to the presidency of the second-largest national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, which she assumed last summer.

A union press release (posted in full after the jump) contains praise for Weingarten’s 23-year tenure at the UFT from a host of prominent figures, including Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

One name that doesn’t make an appearance in the press release is that of Michael Mulgrew, the union vice president who is widely assumed to be next in line for the presidency. Anna just posted a profile of Mulgrew in which she calls him “the new power broker you probably don’t know.” From the profile:

Mulgrew also couldn’t be more different from Weingarten. Tall and apple-cheeked, he has the physical presence of Mr. Clean (both shave their heads) and a quiet charm. “Women seem to like him,” noted one union member.

Still, he’s often bullish and he gained renown in the union for being one of a small number of people to stand up to Weingarten.

Read the complete profile. Below the jump, read the union’s press release announcing Weingarten’s resignation:

WEINGARTEN TO ANNOUNCE RESIGNATION AS UFT PRESIDENT

UNION’S EXECUTIVE BOARD TO ELECT INTERIM PRESIDENT

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is announcing today that she will step down from her role as the union’s president effective July 31st, in order to devote full time to her role as the president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten will make the announcement in a speech at the union’s June Delegate Assembly meeting this afternoon. She has been serving as president of both the UFT and the AFT since July of 2008.

Randi, who was elected UFT President in 1998, came to the union full-time in February, 1986 from the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. During her time as UFT president, Randi has made unprecedented progress in promoting teacher professionalism, improving teacher quality and attracting and retaining teachers through a series of landmark accomplishments. She also navigated the union into a position of growth and strength when the labor movement has been struggling.

“Randi Weingarten has been a tireless advocate for public education in New York,” said Governor David A. Paterson. “She is an innovative leader, a no-nonsense reformer, a tough negotiator and someone I am proud to call my friend. During her tenure at the United Federation of Teachers, she has led the effort to forge strong ties between parents, communities and teachers, and she has broken new ground on major reforms. While this is certainly a loss for the UFT, Randi will continue to fight for excellence in education on behalf of New Yorkers and educators across the nation as she now focuses on her role as head of the American Federation of Teachers. I applaud Randi’s advocacy and tenacity, and I look forward to continuing to work with her to help give all of our children a better education.”

“Randi has been a big part of many of the reforms we have implemented over the past seven years – and a big part of the incredible turnaround our schools have made,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “She’s a tireless champion of her members, and her leadership has benefited not only our schools, but our entire City. I look forward to continuing to work with her as she partners with the Obama Administration to replicate our reforms all over the country.”

“Randi is a progressive leader and a dynamic figure and a symbol for what is possible,” said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. She will be missed but she will be remembered in New York for the leadership that she provided during a critical reform era.”

“When it comes to labor leaders, Randi is the gold standard,” said Denis Hughes, President of the 2.5 million member New York State AFL-CIO. “She has an innate ability to lead. She knows how to bring people together, forge consensus and most importantly, get things done. Randi’s contributions to her members, the labor movement and all working men and women throughout this city and state go beyond words. We’re sad to see her go, but so very proud of the indelible mark of leadership, caring and commitment that she leaves behind.”

City Comptroller William Thompson said, “During her tenure over the last decade, Randi Weingarten has exemplified the true meaning of ‘fighter.’ She has fought for smaller class sizes, for higher standards, and for safer schools. Randi has been a fierce – and downright tireless – advocate for our city’s educators, for parents, and for students. She has stood up to City Hall and the Department of Education when classrooms have swollen with too many students, when day care workers have not been paid properly, and when spending has spun out of control. Through it all, she has always viewed her role as a partner with a vested interest in improving our schools. We need more leaders like Randi Weingarten, who focus their energies on yielding better transparency and greater accountability in our system. I wish Randi the best of luck; our loss is the nation’s gain.”

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, “Randi Weingarten is a great, progressive labor leader, very much like my husband Victor. Over the course of her tenure, she has tirelessly stood up for the interests of teachers and has been a leader on education reform. I am grateful for her tremendous commitment to making our school system the best it can be and giving teachers a stronger voice in the decision-making process. I know her work will have a lasting impact on New York City public schools and I look forward to her continued strong and visionary leadership at her new post.”

“For the last decade, Randi Weingarten has been the leading voice for 80,000 New York City public school teachers,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “While we her departure from the United Teachers Federation is a huge loss for New Yorkers, the 1.4 million members of the American Teachers Federation will benefit from the vast experience and numerous achievements she has made here at home. Randi has been a true friend to this City Council and a true friend to me. We wish her the best of luck as she continues on in the fight to keep our country’s teachers strong and our schools even stronger.”

“Randi is without question one of the greatest human beings I have had the privilege to know,” said George Anthony, a UFT representative at Susan E. Wagner High School. “A lot of what she does is subtle and behind the scenes, and I’m not sure people fully appreciate that. Earlier this school year, my attempts to get permission for a class of students to speak at the United Nations were stuck in bureaucratic limbo. We had literally tried for months, and I was just about to give up when I sent her an email asking if there was any way the UFT could help. She got right back to me, made a few calls, and the very next day, the trip was scheduled. My students will never forget that trip, and I have Randi to thank. I have met some extraordinary individuals in my life, but Randi’s fearlessness and relentlessness on behalf of teachers and students only makes you try that much harder in your own job. She has devoted her life to this work, and I admire her for that.”

“Ms. Weingarten was always focused on making us better individuals,” said Chris Cassagnol, a former student of Randi’s at Clara Barton High School and now a SAPIS Counselor (Substance Abuse Prevention & Intervention Specialist) at Brooklyn’s PS 109. “She was very generous with her time and really took an interest in our lives and our dreams. She pushed us to try harder and think bigger, and I owe her a lot for that.”

“During the winter months of 1991-1992, a team of Clara Barton High School students from my AP Political Science class and I spent long evenings at the Grand Army Plaza library and in a Congressman’s local office in Brooklyn, perusing Supreme Court cases, preparing for the City and later State-wide Championship Rounds of the Fifth Annual Bicentennial Competitions on the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” said Tamika Edwards, former student and now Director of Legal Education of Legal Outreach. “Ms. Weingarten was a phenomenal teacher and fine example of a legal advocate. Not only was she the first female attorney I had ever met, her passion for the law and young people coupled with her teaching prowess inspired me to pursue a career in law and serve New York City youth as well.”

Randi is the fourth president of the UFT in its storied 49-year history, following Charles Cogan (1960 to 1964), Albert Shanker (1964 to 1986) and Sandra Feldman (1986 to 1998).

Weingarten holds degrees from Cornell University and the Cardozo School of Law. As a teacher of history at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, from 1991 to 1997, she helped her students win several state and national awards. Randi is a vice president of the national AFL-CIO, and served ten years as head of the city’s Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization for some 365,000 city employees in 100 city employee unions. She also served as a vice-president of the New York City Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, chairperson of the Health Insurance Plan (HIP) of Greater New York and as a board member of the N.Y.C. Independent Budget Office.

Today’s announcement means the union’s executive board will meet in the coming weeks to nominate and vote on candidates to fill the vacancy. The person elected by the executive board will serve out the remainder of Weingarten’s term, which ends in the spring of 2010, at which time the union is scheduled to hold an election for its entire slate of officers.

The United Federation of Teachers represents more than 200,000 active and retired members, including teachers, classroom paraprofessionals, school secretaries, attendance teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, education evaluators, nurses, laboratory technicians, adult education teachers and home child-care providers. The UFT also runs more than 300 teacher centers around the five boroughs as well as two charter schools.

The union’s delegate assembly meets monthly during the school year, and is made up of more than 2,500 elected chapter leaders, executive board members and other representatives.

 

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”