Strings Attached

Mulgrew spells conditions for backing college loan forgiveness

The UFT would consider supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to pay back the loans of top college graduates who become city teachers — but only under certain conditions.

In a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott today, UFT President Michael Mulgrew spelled out what it would take for him to support a loan forgiveness program of the type Bloomberg proposed in January during his State of the City address. At the time, Bloomberg said the city would give teachers in the “top tier” of their college class $25,000 to repay their loans. A Department of Education spokeswoman said Bloomberg’s proposal would likely apply to students in the top quarter of their class.

Other proposals Bloomberg made at the time — closing and reopening 33 struggling schools, increasing the salaries of teachers who earn high ratings in a new evaluation system — immediately drew union censure. But Mulgrew did not dismiss the loan forgiveness proposal.

In today’s letter, he explains what it would take to bring the union on board. The program should be focused as much on retention as on recruitment of teachers, he writes, and should not give teachers the full $25,000 at one time, so that they have an incentive to remain in the classroom. Plus, the department should commit to mentoring all new teachers, not just the ones who did well in college.

“The point of such a program is not just to bring in recruits – it is to bring in candidates who will learn the craft of teaching and build a successful career in our schools,” Mulgrew said in the letter. “It is absurd to think that a group of recent college graduates, however high their academic rankings, can sweep into New York City public school classrooms and perform instant miracles.”

Mulgrew also says the program should apply to current teachers who were in the top of their college classes, too — a costly proposition for a program whose funding source is not at all clear. Bloomberg has said he would find private dollars to fund loan forgiveness if the union declines to sign on to the initiative, but Mulgrew says in the letter that union lawyers believe the city does not have that right. If the program happens on the public dime, it’s likely that the union would be asked to help the city find places to free up funds.

Mulgrew’s letter to Walcott comes day after a top Department of Education official accused the union chief of stalling on the loan forgiveness program. “The teachers union can try to distract New Yorkers with other issues, but it is inexcusable that the UFT would hold up a program that would provide loan forgiveness to outstanding students who decide to devote themselves to a career of teaching,” David Weiner, a deputy schools chancellor for labor, said in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mulgrew’s entire letter to Walcott is below.

Dear Chancellor Walcott:

We believe that New York City’s traditional problems in recruiting and retaining new teachers have been significantly increased by the recent release of the Teacher Data Reports and the general perception of an atmosphere of hostility from Mayor Bloomberg and his allies in business and the media.

In view of this, it may well be in the system’s interest to offer a loan forgiveness program to selected teacher candidates.  While the UFT could support such a program in principle, there are a number of important issues that need to be negotiated.

In short, in order to make sure the public’s money is well spent, the program should focus as much on retention as on recruiting.  In addition, we would expect the program to have clear guidelines and a transparent selection process, and to be open for qualified graduates of any accredited college, with special arrangements available for colleges that do not rank their graduates.


The point of such a program is not just to bring in recruits – it is to bring in candidates who will learn the craft of teaching and build a successful career in our schools.  Everyone with even the most basic working knowledge of how schools actually work understands that first and even second-year teachers spend most of their time learning to cope with the challenges of the classroom. It is absurd to think that a group of recent college graduates, however high their academic rankings, can sweep into New York City public school classrooms and perform instant miracles.

Therefore, to the extent such recruits will add real value, it will be in their third and later years.  Under these circumstances, loan forgiveness would have to be phased in – at perhaps $5,000 a year for five years.  Alternatively, in order to help make sure these recruits make a long-term commitment to our schools, the loan forgiveness could be phased in with even smaller annual amounts until the recruits are granted tenure, or the program could require that recipients remain in the teaching force for at least three years after their final payment.

Such a system could help reduce the revolving door of new teacher attrition, which has been averaging 8 to 12 percent a year.  The higher the upfront sum, the more the system stands to lose if such individuals follow the traditional attrition pattern.

For instance, a cohort of 100 teachers who received $25,000 upfront would represent a total commitment of $2.5 million – and a new commitment of $2.5 million every year that a new cohort is recruited.

If we had reason to believe that all teachers recruited through such a program would stay for at least five years, it would make a certain fiscal sense.  But if the usual attrition rate applied to these individuals, every cohort would in effect represent a loss of $1.25 million in public funds, as half or more of these highly qualified individuals left for other school systems or other careers, taking with them the experience they have gained.

The UFT is willing to enter into negotiations on such a loan forgiveness program in the context of an agreement to deal with the overall retention issue, specifically a protocol that would provide effective professional assistance and mentoring for all new teachers, along with a commitment to loan forgiveness for current teachers who have joined the system in recent years and who meet whatever program criteria are eventually established for that program.

You should also be aware that we have determined that the Board of Education (the DOE) has a legal obligation to negotiate an agreement with the UFT before implementing a loan forgiveness program, whether it uses private or public funds.

We are interested in negotiating an initiative that is more than a mayoral press conference, but a serious effort to recruit and retain outstanding candidates to teach in New York City public schools.  We look forward to hearing from you in the immediate future to set up a meeting to discuss this proposal.


Michael Mulgrew

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”