divine intervention

Arne Duncan asked Citizens Union to reconsider its position

The executive director of the Citizens Union confirmed today that the group changed its mayoral control position after Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally asked members to reconsider.

At issue was whether to insulate school board members from being fired at will by the mayor by giving them fixed terms. The Citizens Union had supported fixed terms, but Duncan “made it known very clear that he did not support fixed terms and would like the organization to take a look at this position and we did,” CU’s executive director Dick Dadey.

At a press conference today in front of Tweed, the group announced its support for extending mayoral control without fixed terms.

The announcement came after the group received a letter from Duncan and a phone call from Mayor Bloomberg asking them not to endorse fixed terms. According to Dadey, after a year of discussing mayoral control, the group’s board members had reached a consensus to support fixed terms, but that was before the phone call and letters, at which point the board decided to reexamine the issue.

As a compromise, the group is advising that there be a mandatory 90-day notice period before any of the PEP appointees are fired. This, Dadey said, would allay the group’s fears of a Monday-night Massacre-repeat, which was the basis for their earlier support for fixed terms.

The report also suggests that the chancellor not sit on the panel, and that the panel’s size be reduced from 13 to 11, giving the mayor a slim majority of one appointee.

Throughout the presentation, members of the group reiterated their support for mayoral control, but listed objections to the current system’s limited parental involvement, nominal independent supervision, and the powerlessness of the PEP. They also emphasized the need for more racial and ethnic diversity on the PEP and the Community Education Councils.

“I thought it was disappointing,” said PEP member Patrick Sullivan. “They had a lot of recommendations, but on the key one they rolled over to the mayor, which is kind of disturbing.”

For his part, Dadey insists that though he was “flattered” to receive Duncan’s letter, the Education Secretary and Bloomberg’s outreach did not determine the group’s stance on fixed terms. “We were persuaded by a lot of information provided by any number of groups, from the very beginning to now. It wasn’t influenced by one individual.”

Asked whether he was surprised that Duncan had intervened in CU’s deliberations, Dadey said he wasn’t. “They clearly see the model that’s being established here in New York as a model to be followed in the rest of the country.”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.