sold out

State ed reform task force meeting draws a crowd, and some ire

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission’s 10-stop tour swept into the Bronx for three hours today, members got an earful about more than just how to improve the state’s schools.

It was standing-room-only for most of the meeting, one of many conditions that drew grumbling from some in the crowd who said the commission was giving New York City short shrift on their tour. They complained that the venue was too small, the meeting too short, and the one-time visit too few.

About 140 seats were laid out in a cafeteria on the second floor of Hostos Community College, but they filled up quickly. As the meeting got under way, about 20 people remained outside, waiting to be let in by security.

“I think it’s totally unfair that New York City should get one-tenth of the state’s attention when we have more than one-third of the student population,” said Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson.

Observers who have been to all three of the regional meetings so far — the first two were held in Albany and Buffalo —  said today’s attendance was far larger than at either of the two previous events. And Richard Parsons, the commission’s chairman, apologized for the tight space, saying it was the biggest room that the group could find in the Bronx.

Issues over logistics did not overshadow the meeting’s goal: to air suggestions for how to improve the state’s schools while also cutting costs.

Nearly three dozen advocates, researchers, budget specialists, and educators offered proposed a broad range of reforms for the commission to consider when it submits its recommendations to Cuomo in December. Seventeen people were invited to join formal panels that the commission questioned before the meeting was opened to public comments.

Not everybody who wanted to speak was able to. Several people who submitted testimony in advance learned today that there wouldn’t be enough time to accomodate everyone.

For the first time at one of the regional meetings, a panel was dedicated entirely to the discussion about how to improve student achievement “through wraparound services,” or integrating social services such as health care into schools. One panelist, UFT vice president Leo Casey, discussed the union’s initiative to create “community schools,” six of which will launch in the city this fall.

On the panel for “school system structure and management,” panelists proposed redistributing state aid away from wealthy districts and toward needier ones and lengthening the school day and school year.

“There is enough room in the system already to do the job in New York State,” said Elizabeth Lynham, a director for the Citizen Budget Commission, a non-partisan budget watchdog.

New York State spends an average of about $18,000 per student each year, the highest in the country. Lynham said districts that could afford $30,000 on their students should receive less state aid. She referred to an infographic CBC released today that showed disparities in per-pupil-spending among the state’s 700 districts.

Lynham also said savings could be found in the health insurance plans that teachers receive. Teachers spend significantly less on their health insurance premiums compared to other public employees around the state and Lynham said that if unions renegotiated to raise premiums, the state would save $500 million.

To improve teacher quality, many speakers were in agreement that a teacher evaluation system was paramount in New York State, where just a fraction of the districts have one in place. In New York City, the UFT and the Bloomberg administration have yet to hammer out a deal.

Districts that don’t have a deal in place by the end of the year will lose state aid, but several speakers proposed another incentive.

“Since there has been little progress thus far, we recommend the state should create a default evaluation system,” said Tara Brancato, an Educators 4 Excellence member and a teacher at Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy International High School.

Panelists and public speakers were selected beforehand by organizers from Cuomo’s office, who did not explain how they decided who would be allowed to speak. Haimson said she learned that she would serve on a panel after a Cuomo aide asked for her testimony two days ago.

But Mary Conway-Spiegel, a New York City advocate who opposes school closures, said in a comment on GothamSchools that she submitted a testimony about “warehousing,” a topic that State Education Commissioner John King spoke out about today, but was not allowed to speak at the meeting today.

The commission was missing some members from New York City. Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan were both scratched from the lineup at the last minute. Another half dozen committee members were absent, including Randi Weingarten, whose teachers union launches its annual convention in Detroit today.

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.”