TRUMP, RACISM CONTROVERSIES ON THE SYLLABUS AT ON EDUCATION EVENT

By Grace Segers and Jeff Coltin
Originally published by City and State New York on August 16, 2017

(Photo by Alexis Arsenault)

(Photo by Alexis Arsenault)

With President Donald Trump again drawing a moral equivalency between the white nationalist marchers and their counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, racism and diversity have become a central topic of discussion at many events – including at City & State’s forum on New York education policy.

“I think that what’s happening in Washington is something we need to talk about in our classrooms,” New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm said during a panel discussion at the annual On Education event, held Wednesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. Dromm said that controversies surrounding the Trump administration are raising issues about culture and history that students need to understand.

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman agreed, adding that the Trump administration has “instilled an institution of fear in our public schools.”

“I think that kind of climate sets a bad tone, not just in New York state, but across the country,” added Hyndman, who previously worked for the state Department of Education and served on New York City’s Community District Education Council 29.

The president’s remarks and his administration’s education policies was a recurring theme during the conference. During a discussion of a federal push to promote private schools, Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of New York, said that many professionals in private schools were skeptical of the president’s campaign promises to dedicate $20 billion of federal funding to school choice.

The events in Charlottesville, in which brawls broke out and a counterprotester was struck by a car and killed, and the president’s response remained at the forefront of many discussions, even ones related specifically to New York. State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal from June, which outlined ways to increase diversity in New York City schools but failed to mention the word “segregation” or directly address integration.

“Call it out. You’ve got to name it,” said Rosa. She added that the events of the past six days had underscored the importance of school integration, alluding to Charlottesville.

The New York education sector has had its own controversy over race in the past week: Daniel Loeb, a political donor and chairman of the board of directors of Success Academy, the state’s largest charter school network, said in a since-deleted Facebook post that state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is black, was worse for racial minorities than “anyone who has ever donned a hood,” because of her support of teachers’ unions. A separate 2016 Facebook post from Loeb was also uncovered this week saying the teachers’ union “has done more to perpetuate poverty and discrimination than the KKK.”

Loeb’s comments have been roundly criticized, including during a Monday rally in Harlem where politicians showed support for Stewart-Cousins. Loeb has apologized for the comments, but many, including de Blasio, called for him to step down from the Success Academy board.

Rosa joined the chorus today, saying she was “outraged on every single level” that Loeb would compare an African American woman to the KKK, adding that Success Academy students would be better served by having somebody else as chairman of the board.

There were other signs of tension involving charter schools. Last month, the State University of New York introduced a proposal that would let some charter schools hire uncertified teachers and instead develop their own in-house certification that was less arduous. One proposal would require only 30 hours of classroom instruction.

“I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. Rosa called the proposal “insulting.”

Janella Hinds, vice president for academic high schools at the United Federation of Teachers, connected the proposal to the Trump administration, saying it was “an indicator of  what’s happening nationally around the deprofessionalization of education and this privatization moment that doesn’t really serve students or their families.”

Read more here.

Teacher Recruitment, Retention Will Be Focus of City Council Hearing

By Ben Max

Originally published by the Gotham Gazette on January 20, 2017

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Mayor de Blasio, Council Member Dromm, Chancellor Fariña (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor’s Office)

On Tuesday, the education committee of the New York City Council will hold an oversight hearing on teacher recruitment and retention.

“One of the things I want to draw out is why do we lose 50 percent of our teachers within five years of their starting,” said City Council Member Danny Dromm, chair of the education committee and a retired long-time public school teacher himself. “It’s a hearing that I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Dromm added in a recent interview.

Representatives from the city Department of Education are among those expected to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, which is at 1 p.m. at City Hall. When asked, DOE spokespeople did not provide Gotham Gazette with comment ahead of time or specific data that DOE reps will present at the hearing.

New York City, like many other school systems, has struggled to recruit a diverse teacher workforce, especially men of color, and to retain its teacher — as Dromm said, the city has an exceptionally high rate of teacher departure from the school system. It’s unclear if the rate is quite as high as 50 percent, but data does show that more than one-third of new teachers leave the profession by the end of their fifth year, largely within the first three years.

“What are the contributing factors to that?” Dromm asked, explaining what he hopes to get at in the hearing, “Salary? Lack of support? The evaluation system? What are the reasons that we’re losing all those teachers?”

Dromm said he’s expecting to hear from the DOE, as well as representatives of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and other stakeholders, including advocates. Dromm hopes that several teachers, and perhaps even students and parents, will attend and testify. He said he often likes to schedule his committee hearings for 1 p.m. so that people can come after school hours.

While the UFT has had a strong relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio and this administration, there have been areas of disagreement or conflict that do relate to teacher retention: the union has criticized the administration’s moves to drastically reduce student suspensions, explaining that teachers need more support, and the work climate at the city’s most-struggling schools — those in its Renewal program — which have continued to see especially high rates of teacher turnover.

Asked in 2015 about high turnover rates at Renewal schools, de Blasio pivoted to discuss teacher retention across the city. “I think the challenge of teacher retention is system-wide,” the mayor said at a press conference. “It’s very tough work…People who do it, do it because they’re true believers…You’re talking about, obviously, a lot of kids who come from very disadvantaged circumstances, a lot of kids whose first language is not English, and 171,000 kids who happen to have special needs…Until very recently in this city, teachers were being attacked on a regular basis by the leadership of the school system and the city. We’ve changed that. We support our teachers and they know it.”

David Bloomfield, an education professor and also a former K-12 teacher, believes that “the retention piece really has everything to do with conditions in the schools, such as class size, such as myriad central mandates, on top of the changing Common Core requirements.”

The “lack of retention” also creates a snowballing effect, Bloomfield said, where “so many teachers are new, so many of these teachers are just trying to get their feet on the ground” yet they are often employed in the most challenging schools, receive the most challenging course schedules, and do not receive the support they need to feel successful.

“The greatest vacancies are in the most difficult schools,” Bloomfield said, “the better schools don’t have the vacancies.” Additionally, he said, “there are accountability measures in place that make it an unattractive profession.”

Research on teacher retention is somewhat mixed, though studies do point to the importance of strong administrators (principals, vice principals) and the value of mentors in reducing teacher departures.

“To improve retention, the organization of teaching would require a sea change in how teachers are employed,” Bloomfield said. “The best thing they can do is to improve the school environment. A school is a teacher’s workplace: improve facilities, improve classroom conditions, including class size. Even parking,” he said with a laugh, but stressed that it can be one of many parts of the job environment that matter to people.

“The other issues are salary and benefits, which have improved under de Blasio, but don’t compare to the suburbs,” Bloomfield said.

Indeed, referring to both professional development investment in teachers and their high rates of departure, Dromm said, “Our teachers get recruited out to Long Island. We train them and they go out to the Island.”

Professional development for teachers is expected to be a key theme of the hearing. Enhancing teacher PD has been a major focus of city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who was appointed to the role by Mayor Bill de Blasio at the start of his term and has been involved in the city school system for five decades, including as a teacher. Fariña’s focus on more PD for teachers includes opportunities to teach new courses as the city has expanded its computer science and Advanced Placement offerings under the mayor’s Equity and Excellence agenda.

Mentioning the new weekly professional development block that Fariña instituted for all teachers, Dromm said, “I want to know some of what is going on, how that professional development piece is going…If we hear that the support is not there for new teachers, advocating for that support will be an outcome of this.”

De Blasio has stressed the importance of professional development and his administration’s focus on supporting teachers, saying at the 2015 press conference, “Until recently, teachers were not getting the kind of support for teacher training…if you’re a professional you want to keep getting better – that training makes a world of difference – we’ve double down on teacher training.”

“I think we’re seriously addressing teacher retention by trying to build the foundation for a rewarding work dynamic,” de Blasio said. “But there’s a lot more we’re going to have to do beyond that.”

Agreeing that teachers clearly feel “less under attack” than when Michael Bloomberg was Mayor, Professor Bloomfield said the de Blasio-Fariña regime has “certainly improved the tone so that teachers feel more valued now” and that when it comes to teacher retention, “their positive relationship with the union is probably helpful.” To truly improve teacher retention, Bloomfield said, would require major “structural” changes to the profession that simply haven’t happened yet.

Aside from shifts in how teachers are treated and their work environments, there are other issues related to retention, but also the recruitment piece, which will also be part of Tuesday’s hearing. This is likely to center around how the city is both attracting top teaching talent generally, but especially men of color.

Just 8 percent of the city’s nearly 80,000 teachers are men of color, a statistic that led the de Blasio administration to in 2015 launch NYC Men Teach, which seeks to add 1,000 male teachers of color to the city’s classrooms by the 2018-2019 school year.

Tuesday’s hearing is likely to include an update from the DOE on NYC Men Teach, as well as other recruitment efforts.

In terms of retention and the city’s teaching workforce, there are also calls for tougher weeding out of weak teachers in their early years while increasing efforts to hold on to strong teachers well into their careers. This is where debates over “teacher accountability” and tenure come in — some believe that it is both too easy to gain tenure and too easy to keep your job as a teacher. Questions also persist about a career ladder for teachers so that they can move into mentoring, coaching, and department head type roles without leaving the classroom to become administrators or leaving education altogether.

“It’s a very difficult job,” Dromm said of teaching, “and I don’t think people fully understand or appreciate what teachers have to do. There’s a glamorized idea of working 8 to 3:30 and having summers off. But [retention] numbers help show: this is a tough job.”

Read more here.

Wall Street Journal: Use of Pepper Spray in Rikers Island Classrooms Sparks Concerns

City council members raise objections, but correction officials say spray is needed to break up fights involving young inmates

 

Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

 

Analizan ley para proteger del bullying a estudiantes vulnerables y LGBT

Aunque las autoridades educativas defienden su desempeño, el Concejo asegura que cientos de jóvenes siguen siendo víctima de acoso e intimidación por su orientación sexual, raza o aparienca

 

By Edwin Martinez

Originally published by El Diario NY on October 23, 2016

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José López tiene 16 años y desde que entró a la escuela secundaria, las burlas y comentarios ofensivos de algunos de sus compañeros se han convertido en pan de cada día.

“Me dicen todo el tiempo cosas feas porque soy afeminado, y como estoy un poco gordo, pues me va peor”, comenta el colombiano, quien estudia en una escuela de Queens, y quien por temor a sufrir más rechazo, prefiere ya no quejarse con sus maestros. “Me toca ser fuerte y tratar de ignorar las burlas, pero hay compañeros míos que hasta han pensado en suicidarse. A mí me han empujado, dicho ‘marrana’, ‘miss arepa’, ‘chupa pitos’ y cosas obscenas que para ellos son simples chistes, pero que acaban con cualquiera”.

Y es que a pesar de que el Departamento de Educación de Nueva York asegura que ha implementado varios programas y campañas contra el bullying en los centros educativos, el Concejo de la Ciudad considera que hay fallas gravísimas que ponen en riesgo el bienestar, la salud mental, el desempeño académico y hasta la propia vida de jóvenes LGBT y otros estudiantes vulnerables.

Por ello el Comité de Educación del Concejo comenzó esta semana el análisis de una iniciativa de ley de supervisión contra la intimidación, el acoso y la discriminación en las escuelas, que pretende lograr mayor efectividad a la hora de proteger a los niños más vulnerables.

“El bullying sigue siendo un problema serio cada día en todas las comunidades, empezando en preescolar y poniéndose peor cuando los niños van creciendo”, aseguró el presidente del comité, el concejal Daniel Dromm, al tiempo que mencionó que además de las quejas serias de acoso a niños musulmanes, discapacitados y por cuestiones de raza, la orientación sexual es otro de los elementos que hace más vulnerables a los estudiantes.

“Los estudiantes LGBT son víctimas abrumadoramente de bullying y acoso, y según un sondeo del grupo (GLSEN) sobre el ambiente escolar en el 2013, más del 74% de los estudiantes LGBT fueron acosados verbalmente y el 36% físicamente”, dijo. “Tristemente los malos tratos se extienden a las políticas de las escuelas y sus prácticas”.

El líder político dejó ver su preocupación por el riesgo que enfrentan los menores y mencionó que a pesar de que hay varias medidas antibullying en efecto en la Gran Manzana, el Departamento de Educación ha fallado en cumplirlas.

Casos reportados

“Entre el 2012 y el 2013, el 80% de las escuelas reportó cero casos de bullying. Un análisis de la Fiscalía del estado sobre los datos del 2013 y el 2014 encontró que el 70% de las escuelas reportó cero incidentes”, comentó Dromm, explicando que en el más reciente reporte el 94% de las escuelas reportaron 10 incidentes de bullying o menos. “Aunque ha habido un ligero incremento en el reporte de incidentes en los últimos tres años, el nivel de casos no reportados sigue siendo inaceptable”.

Elizabeth Rose, vicecanciller de la división de operaciones del Departamento de Educación, comentó que en el último año se registraron 4,293 incidentes de bullying, de los cuales 276 fueron por asuntos de género, 201 por motivos de raza, 195 por orientación sexual y 143 por peso, entre otros, pero defendió el desempeño de las escuelas en la protección de los estudiantes.

“El Departamento de Educación trabaja para promover una cultura escolar positiva e inclusiva que esté libre de bullying basado en prejuicios, acoso e intimidación de ningún tipo, a través de una variedad de métodos”, dijo la funcionaria, destacando el programa “Respeto para todos” del DOE. “Aunque hemos dado pasos significativos para construir escuelas seguras, de apoyo e inclusivas para todos los estudiantes, especialmente para los más vulnerables que enfrentan sus retos únicos, sabemos que hay mucho trabajo por hacer”.

A pesar de las críticas, Jared Fox, director de la unidad de enlace LGBTQ del Departamento de Educación, aseguró que en las escuelas ha habido un enorme progreso contra el bullying de los estudiantes LGBT y mencionó la creación en junio del grupo LGBT+ Advisory Council que trabaja con 34 organizaciones para brindar apoyo a los alumnos y a sus familias.

“Hemos entrenado a más de 1,000 coordinadores de padres que están dentro de los más de 2,000 personas que personalmente he entrenado en casi 40 sesiones de desarrollo profesional”.

Toya Holness, vocera del Departamento de Educación, también defendió el proceder de las escuelas en la lucha contra el bullying.

“Nuestras escuelas son más seguras que nunca y tenemos protocolos explícitos y programas de formación sólidos para manejar cualquier incidente que ocurra”, dijo. “Nosotros tomamos los reportes de bullying muy seriamente y seguimos invirtiendo en iniciativas escolares, incluyendo más orientadores y trabajadores sociales, y proporcionando apoyo de salud mental para las escuelas”.

El concejal Rafael Salamanca hizo un llamado al Departamento de Educación para que se enfoque más en las necesidades de protección de los estudiantes vulnerables y mencionó que apoya la creación de una legislación que de paso sirva para educar sobre el respeto a la diferencia.

Por su parte el concejal Ydanis Rodríguez, quien trabajó 13 años en las escuelas públicas, mencionó que aunque los detalles de la iniciativa aun están por definirse, es partidario de una norma estricta con sanciones, que de paso eduque.

Ley contra el bullying

“Tenemos que asegurarnos de que todos los estudiantes sepan que hay una ley que castiga esos comportamientos y aunque no queremos criminalizar a nadie, si es urgente que sepan que vamos a hacer los que sea necesario para que en las escuelas se detenga la cultura de bullying que le ha quitado la vida a muchas personas”, dijo.

Paola Lebrón-Guzmán, líder del grupo LGBTQ Justice de la organización Make the Road New York, se mostró contraria a que la ley que se promueva se base en el castigo y coincidió con Rodríguez en que hay que educar más.

“Debe crearse una justicia para restaurar y eso es una práctica que tiene que partir de los reportes y comunicar mejor que más es lo que está pasando después de esos reportes”, mencionó la activista.

“El Departamento de Educación deben hacer mucho más, no solo presentar reportes sino ofrecer más entrenamientos y hacer seguimiento, porque aunque hay grupos de género y sexualidad en algunas escuelas, solo son para los que quieran estar involucrados, pero no existe para todos los maestros y para la administración”, dijo, al tiempo que mencionó el caso de uno estudiante LGBT de 16 años fue víctima de burla y agresión física en Crown Heights, Brooklyn el lunes pasado como un ejemplo para comenzar a actuar.

“Es inaceptable, ofensivo y desconcertante que eso ocurra y este es un momento importante para las escuelas de Brooklyn y de su escuela en particular, para que involucre a todos el cuerpo escolar a que aprendan sobre la comunidad LGBTQ y cómo ser aliados efectivos”, concluyó.

Datos sobre bullying en las escuelas

  • A nivel nacional el 22% de los estudiantes ha reportado haber sido víctima de bullying
  • Se calcula que cada año 13 millones de estudiantes enfrentan bullying en el país
  • Según el grupo Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) en el 2013 el 74.1% de los estudiantes LGBT fue acosado verbalmente por su orientación sexual y el 36.2% fue víctima de acoso físico
  • Un estudio del Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveló que el año pasado el 40% de los estudiantes LGBT consideró el suicidio y un año antes el 29% intentó hacerlo.
  • Por el bullying, el 60% de los estudiantes reportó sentirse triste o afectado en su vida cotidiana.
  • Se calcula que el 64% de los estudiantes que son víctima de bullying no lo reportan.
  • Las escuelas de Nueva York están señaladas de no reportar todos los incidentes de bullying
  • La Fiscalía de Nueva York descubrió que en el 2013 de las 1,792 escuelas públicas y charter de la Gran Manzana, el 70% no reportó un solo incidente de bullying o discriminación
  • En el 2015 el 94% de las escuelas reportó tan solo 10 o menos incidentes de bullying
  • Actualmente existen leyes y medidas contra el bullying como el “Acta del éxito para todos los estudiantes (ESSA)”, el “Acta por la dignidad de todos los estudiantes (NYC DASA)”, el “Acta de Escuelas seguras contra la violencia (SAVE Act)”, el programa “Respeto para Todos (RFA)” y la Regulación A-832, pero según los críticos parecen ser insuficientes para proteger a los estudiantes de Nueva York.
  • En el último año escolar se reportaron 4,293 incidentes de bullying, de los cuales 276 fueron por asuntos de género, 201 por motivos de raza, 195 por orientación sexual y 143 por peso, entre otros

Read more here.

School Supplies Giveaway

Originally posted by the Queens Gazette on August 31, 2016

(L. to r.); Samaritan Village President and CEO Tino Hernandez, NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm and state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky deliver free backpacks and other school supplies donated by Queens Center Mall to students at the Pan Am Boulevard Family Transitional Residence.

(L. to r.); Samaritan Village President and CEO Tino Hernandez, NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm and state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky deliver free backpacks and other school supplies donated by Queens Center Mall to students at the Pan Am Boulevard Family Transitional Residence.

Last Wednesday, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone, Elmhurst) and Samaritan Village President and CEO Tino Hernandez joined NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm (D-Elmhurst, Jackson Heights) for a back-to-school backpack giveaway sponsored by Queens Center Mall at the Pan Am Boulevard Family Transitional Residence.

Dromm and Stavisky delivered over 200 backpacks to students of all ages living in the Pan Am Boulevard Family Transitional Residence. The 216-unit facility is located at 79-00 Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, and has provided shelter to homeless families with children since June 2014.

“All children have a right to a quality education,” said Dromm, a former NYC public school teacher. “These free school supplies help provide that by enabling them to excel in the classroom. I am pleased to join Queens Center Mall and Senator Stavisky in delivering these backpacks, notebooks and other supplies to our neighbors in need.”

“Proper school supplies set children on the right track for the school year,” said Stavisky. “No one should be denied a backpack, notebook, pens or any other materials they need to be a productive student. I look forward to participating in this giveaway with Council Member Dromm every year, because I believe families should not have to choose between buying groceries or buying school supplies. Socio-economic status should not determine your access to a great education.”

“It is always our pleasure to partner with the community in Back-to-School events,” said Queens Center Mall Senior Property Manager Jeffrey Owen. “Queens Center is pleased to have contributed 1,400 backpacks this year. Queens Center continues to be a proud sponsor and supporter of these events year after year.”

Read more here.

Talking About Coming Out With the Cast of ‘Fun Home’

By Elizabeth A. Harris

Originally posted by the New York Times on August 25, 2016.

At a gathering with the cast of “Fun Home,” which won the Tony for best musical, Samuel Nathanson, a volunteer with Pflag NYC, tells his story of coming out as transgender to his mother. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

At a gathering with the cast of “Fun Home,” which won the Tony for best musical, Samuel Nathanson, a volunteer with Pflag NYC, tells his story of coming out as transgender to his mother. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

The volunteers visit schools in pairs. One person is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and the other has a family member in one of those categories. They stand at the front of a classroom and tell their families’ coming-out stories.

This month, about two dozen of these volunteers received an invitation that could, perhaps, happen nowhere but New York City: Would they like to get some public speaking lessons from the cast of a Broadway show? It’s called “Fun Home,” and it won a bunch of Tonys.

The show, adapted from the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, follows a woman through phases of her life as she learns that both she and her father are gay. The show, which won the Tony for best musical, among other awards, is now approaching the end of its run. It is scheduled to close in September and go on a national tour a few weeks later. The volunteers were invited to attend a workshop on Wednesday, and then to stay to watch the show.

“We thought they could learn a lot from professional actors about public speaking skills,” said Drew Tagliabue, the executive director of Pflag NYC, an organization for family members of gay and transgender people. The group runs the Safe Schools Program, which sends those emissaries into classrooms to talk about coming out.

And so it was that about two dozen Pflag volunteers, some in their 20s, clad in sneakers and tattoos, others comfortably into retirement age, found themselves in the very guts of the Great White Way — a windowless, subterranean room in Midtown Manhattan with gray linoleum floors below the Circle in the Square Theater.

Volunteers meeting with cast members in Midtown. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Volunteers meeting with cast members in Midtown. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Before them sat six cast members from the musical: Michael Cerveris, who plays Bruce, the father; Judy Kuhn (Helen, the mother); Beth Malone (Alison, the main character); Emily Skeggs (Medium Alison, the character in college); Roberta Colindrez (Joan, the college girlfriend); and Kally Duling (the understudy for Medium Alison and Joan).

But what was planned as a class about how to hold onto an audience became something different. There were two sample presentations, but instead of coaching, there was a conversation between two groups of people, strangers to one another, about how what they do — whether on a Broadway stage or in a busy public-school classroom — is actually quite similar. They tell stories that are not often told.

“I have some advice for anyone who is thinking of coming out, or if you have friends who are thinking of coming out,” said Samuel Nathanson, 24, a Pflag volunteer who tells his story of coming out as transgender to his mother. “Don’t do it while your mom is driving.”

The Safe Schools Program in New York City began about 15 years ago, not so many years back, but at a time when gay issues received an immeasurably chillier reception in this country than they do today.

“We got a lot of pushback in the beginning,” said Suzanne Ramos, a Pflag NYC board member and the mother of a gay man. “Back then, schools used to say: ‘Oh, we don’t need anything like that. We don’t have any gay kids here.’”

“Fun Home,” adapted from the memoir by Alison Bechdel, follows a woman as she learns that both she and her father are gay. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

“Fun Home,” adapted from the memoir by Alison Bechdel, follows a woman as she learns that both she and her father are gay. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Today, Mr. Tagliabue and Ms. Ramos said, schools are much more open. During the last school year, volunteers spoke to almost 6,000 students. That is many more students, and often much younger children, than they used to address.

Still, there is resistance. Councilman Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who helped found Pflag Queens, and who quietly found a folding chair toward the back of the room on Wednesday, said it took years to get Pflag into certain schools. Mr. Dromm, who is gay, has been involved with the group for a long time.

When Ms. Malone takes the stage, or when Mr. Nathanson stands up to face rows of young people at desks, they are not just speaking to the most obvious audiences. There are gay people who come to “Fun Home” eager to see a story even a little like their own sung on a stage, just as there might be gay teenagers in a classroom relieved to see that when they grow up, they might just be all right. But there are others.

“There are people who come to New York, who show up in the summer and they just want to see what won best musical — ‘We’ll just go see that!’” Mr. Cerveris said. “Those audiences are, in some ways I think, our favorite ones, because we’re not preaching to the choir at that point.”

“And as you go into schools, you may have a couple receptive kids,” Mr. Cerveris continued. “You’re trying to give those kids a sense of confidence and help them feel not so alone, but you’re also, maybe even more, helping other kids who don’t know that their minds need to be opened.”

“The thing that we have discovered so fully,” he added, “is the value of showing up and telling stories.”

Read more here.

East Village Students Win Fight for LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum in Classroom

By Allison Hope

Originally published by DNAinfo on June 17, 2016

Students from the Earth School have successfully advocated to push a national online education provider to include an LGBT-specific curriculum.  Photo: Colin Schumacher

Students from the Earth School have successfully advocated to push a national online education provider to include an LGBT-specific curriculum. Photo: Colin Schumacher

EAST VILLAGE — An education company that supplies learning materials to millions of students across the nation will be adding LGBT studies to its elementary school curriculum after one New York City public school fought to make it happen.

BrainPOP, an interactive digital educational company based in the Flatiron that’s used by students in public schools across the city, has agreed to create a new LGBT Civil Rights-specific curriculum by the fall — following nearly a year of pressure from students the East Village’s Earth School as well as an outpouring of grief following the recent tragedy in Orlando.

“Children of all ages are exposed to the terrible news, and as parents and teachers, we are once again faced with having to explain the unexplainable. To help provide kids with context, we’ll be publishing a topic that addresses the historic Gay Rights movement and encourages tolerance and acceptance,” BrainPOP Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Din Heiman wrote on the company’s website Monday — a day after gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people in an LGBT club and wounded 53 more before he was killed by police.

“I do hope that the Earth School children that expressed a wish to see a BrainPOP topic realize that their request was heard, and led to real change even before the events of this tragic weekend,” Heiman added in a separate email to the school shared with DNAinfo New York.

Heiman told DNAinfo he planned to prepare standalone LGBT educational materials ready in time for the new school year.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito hugs a student from the Lower East Side's Earth School during a meeting to brainstorm ways to advocate for an LGBT-inclusive curriculum in their elementary school.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito hugs a student from the Lower East Side’s Earth School during a meeting to brainstorm ways to advocate for an LGBT-inclusive curriculum in their elementary school.

The announcement came as welcome news to the students at the Earth School, where fourth and fifth grade students had been calling on BrainPOP to create an elementary school curriculum devoted to the fight for LGBT Civil Rights.

“What is the purpose of education if not to change things for the better?” said Earth School teacher Colin Schumacher, who spearheaded the charge after his fourth grade class realized last year during their civil rights studies that BrainPOP had nothing available regarding the LGBT community’s struggle.

The students sent an email to the company to find out why and to ask that it get added. When the company failed to respond, the students called elementary and middle school principals in the area and asked if they would lend their support. The students sent a second request to BrainPOP with the list of supportive educational leaders, but still heard no response, Schumacher said.

The Earth School’s Principal Abbe Futterman eventually got an email from BrainPOP’s Editorial Director, Jon Feldman, who wrote, “I doubled-checked with our standards provider, and it seems that at present only four states, including New York, have specific standards around LGBT rights. Every one of those standards is at the high school level. While there are high school classrooms that use BrainPOP, we do not create topics that are applicable only to those grades,” according to the email she shared with DNAinfo.

BrainPOP officials wrote in the email that they would consider, “revising the Civil Rights movie to better highlight the connection between the historical movement of the 1960s and the activism it inspired in subsequent generations. This will naturally include the LGBT Rights movement.”

But that wasn’t a sufficient response for the students, they said.

“The kids did not believe that adding LGBT rights as an addendum to any existing video is fair and equal treatment for one of the most significant civil rights movements of their lifetime,” said Schumacher, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at The Earth School, which serves 300 students between pre-K and fifth grade.

The students kept up the battle this spring, creating a standalone website entitled,“Kids for LGBT Rights Now,” which features a multi-faceted effort to push for LGBT-inclusive curriculum in schools, including a video they produced and starred in while wearing a rainbow of different colored shirts, standing in front of various locations of LGBT significance including Stonewall Inn.

The website also includes a blog with updates on their efforts as well as a petition calling on BrainPOP to add LGBT content to its suite of offerings.

On April 29, the students met with LGBT Liaison for the NYC Department of Education Jared Fox, who met with them and advised them on ways to make their advocacy campaign more effective, they said.

“We work closely with schools to develop grade-appropriate curriculum that aligns with the New York State standards and includes positive representations of LGBT individuals and history,” Fox said in a statement. “We support the work of The Earth School in creating an inclusive curriculum and encouraging students to get involved through project-based learning.”

A few weeks later, students met with more city officials including New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, her Community Engagement Liaison Mili Bonilla, and City Council and LGBT Caucus Member Daniel Dromm.

Dromm, who faced homophobia as one of the few out gay teachers in the New York City system in the early 1990s, then sent a letter to BrainPOP as well as to Apple CEO Tim Cook, since Apple has been heavily promoting BrainPOP on its products.

“These incredibly inspiring activists have one simple mission. They want BrainPOP, a resource they highly value, to cover history accurately. I look forward to receiving your response about why such content is not on your site and why you have no plans to address its glaring omission,” Dromm’s letter read.

On June 8, the students attended the New York City Council pride celebration where they showed the video the kids produced calling on BrainPOP to create standalone LGBT resources. “The kids were the hit of the evening,” Dromm said. “They received a five-minute-long standing ovation.”

The Earth School students with their teacher had planned to return to the New York City Council on June 21 to be recognized for their work as part of the annual ceremony to highlight the accomplishments of New Yorkers — and the news of their success will make the visit even more powerful, Dromm said.

“Many people have laid down their lives, Harvey Milk and others, in this cause for LGBT civil rights,” Dromm said, “So I think to present history in an intellectually honest way is something we must do.”

Read more here.

Dancing and Drag Performances Planned for Pride Prom at Queens Museum

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on May 19, 2016

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

CORONA — Eat, dance and enjoy being your fabulous self at next week’s Pride Prom, which offers a do-over for those who felt excluded from their own high school celebration.

The free event, which will be held Tuesday, May 24 at the Queens Museum, will feature prizes, music from DJ Yayo and performances by host Lady Quesadilla.

The idea is to offer a safe place for celebration, for people of all ages, according to organizers.

“A proper rite of passage for individuals of all ages, this celebration is for anyone who is currently being shut out of their prom, was excluded in the past or simply did not feel welcome to be themselves,” the event’s listing page says.

City Councilman Danny Dromm — who organized the borough’s first pride parade — is the special guest.

The prom is open to everyone, young and old, who wants to celebrate themselves and others.

The event sponsored by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Hispanic Federation, with support from Make the Road New York, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, The Hetrick-Martin Institute and other groups.

You can register for the event here.

Read more here.

Dromm To Highlight Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Tests

By Michael Florio

Originally published in the Jackson Heights Post on April 1, 2016

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The New York State English Language Arts exams are set to take place next week and Council Member Daniel Dromm wants parents to know they have options.

Dromm will be hosting a meeting on Sunday at noon in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office, located at 78-02 37th Ave., where he will alert parents that they have the option of allowing their children to opt out of the test.

“I want to inform parents of their right to opt out,” he said. “I don’t think the [Department of Education] made that as well known to parents as they should have.”

The ELA test will start Tuesday and run through Thursday. The math test will take place the following week.

The test, which students in grades three through eight take, is used to evaluate students’ skills and mastery of content, as well as to help shape future instruction, according to the DOE.

The test is also used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

For Dromm, this use of the test is problematic.

“The tests used to be used to determine where a child was academically and what they need more help in,” Dromm, a former teacher, said. “The reformers came up with the idea to use the grades to evaluate schools and teachers.”

“The tests were never intended for these purposes,” he said.

While parents have been able to remove their children from these tests for years, opting out has only picked up momentum recently due to the pressures now placed on children, Dromm said.

Dromm said in recent years parents have caught on and now the movement to opt out is gaining traction. Last year more than 240,000 students chose to opt out, according to his office.

“Parents realize that the tests are not being used properly,” he said. “That’s when they revolted and said no more to these tests.”

Parents who are interested in opting out of the test should speak to their child’s principal, according to the DOE.

If a student does opt out of the test, the school will work to the best of its ability to provide the child with an alternate education activity, such as reading, during test times, the DOE said.

Read more here.

How to Better Serve Dyslexic Students In Our Public Schools

BY DANIEL DROMM AND ROBERT JACKSON

Originally published by New York Slant on March 15, 2016

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Teaching children to read is the most fundamental and consequential job of our schools.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recognizes this and should be applauded for his commitment to ensure all children are reading on grade level by the end of second grade. However, there are too many children affected by dyslexia who, by no fault of their own, do not have a chance to reach this important goal. They work twice as hard as their peers who read more naturally, but accomplish only half as much. Their frustration mounts and it affects all parts of their lives. As we recognize New York State Dyslexia Awareness Day on Tuesday, let us all commit to do more to identify, educate and support students with dyslexia.

We need to create a culture for dyslexia, or what leading city advocates refer to as Dyslexia (Plus) in Public Schools, where city public school students with dyslexia and related language-based learning disabilities will be provided with the opportunity to thrive and learn in their neighborhood schools. A partnership between the Department of Education and the City University of New York in creating a cadre of highly trained teachers that can be the beginning of a game changer in a system that has often left too many of our children behind.

Dyslexia is a neurologically based learning disability that makes reading, writing and spelling difficult and is the most prevalent learning disability in our school system. The fact is one in five children in our schools are dyslexic – more than 200,000 New York City public school students.

Despite the prevalence of the disability, our school system lacks a coherent plan or commitment to support dyslexic students, and schools aren’t providing access to early identification of dyslexia and related language-based learning differentiations. Therefore, a majority of students with dyslexia are not identified and struggle silently with a diminished self-esteem and anxiety about school.

The problem is particularly severe among children whose parents lack the awareness, knowledge, understanding of outcomes and resources to seek outside help. Even if these families can afford to get a diagnosis, our public schools don’t have the ability to support these children. This leaves parents with the unfortunate options of either keeping their child in an under-resourced school or paying for expensive specialized tutoring. (A select few can find a seat in a private school specializing in dyslexia). Furthermore, in most cases, the schools follow a misguided policy of having these students repeat the grade or they are referred for special education services that lack a true understanding of how to address dyslexia, further hindering and stigmatizing the child.

Many dyslexic students are able to mask their reading difficulties until the third or fourth grade. However, failure to identify the problem early usually magnifies the consequences. What was a manageable academic challenge in the first grade can become a far more significant issue in the fourth grade as the child falls further and further behind. In the worst cases, the outcome can be more tragic. A scientific study at the University of Texas found the prevalence of dyslexia in prisoners was almost 50 percent – more than twice that of the general population.

The good news is there are proven methods to educate children with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. There are many examples of famous people who have succeeded with dyslexia, including President John F. Kennedy, Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein, attorney David Boies, Apple founder Steve Jobs, entrepreneur Daymond John, heart surgeon Toby Cosgrove and many children who get the right education and help.

While we appreciate the Department of Education’s openness to a plan that would change how struggling readers get the help they need, right now New York City lags behind many other regions in dyslexia legislation, resources and care. We need to bring the teacher preparation techniques that have been successful in specialized schools to our public schools and create a new paradigm for literacy instruction.

Dyslexia (Plus) in Public Schools pushes for more than teacher training. More specifically, it involves:

– Increasing dyslexia awareness and training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies for teachers and literacy specialists.

– Providing students access to proven teaching methodologies and helping dyslexics learn to use their learning differentiation to their advantage for success.

– Providing social-emotional support in public schools and access to affordable evaluations.

– Providing support for all parents in the form of advocacy, resources and knowledge.

– Developing partnerships between the Department of Education and CUNY to prepare teachers going into our public schools.

– Supporting policies and legislation now in Albany (such as A.4330A sponsored by Assemblywoman JoAnne Simon/S.5439 sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden) that require the certification or training of teachers, administrators and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders.

Let’s teach every child to read and make sure each has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Daniel Dromm is a New York City Council member for the 25th district and the chairman of the Council’s Committee on Education. Robert Jackson is a former Council member and chairman of the Committee on Education, and a candidate for the New York state Senate.

Read more here.