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.

 

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.