6 Days Till Primary Day

Thompson says DOE spent class size reduction money elsewhere

Comptroller Bill Thompson chose the first day of school to stoke long burning disputes over whether the Bloomberg administration has reduced class sizes as much as it promised to.

Thompson accused the Department of Education of redirecting or misspending millions of dollars that he says the department promised to use to reduce class sizes. The audit, which is based on data collected in 2008, states that $48 million of the nearly $180 million set aside for Early Grade Class Size Reduction funding was not used to create new classrooms.

Thompson, a mayoral hopeful, said the DOE has been living in a “childish neverland.”

“To use this money for other things [than class size reduction] is to defeat the purpose,” he said.

Class sizes have risen in the last year despite several programs — either foisted upon the administration or willingly adopted — that aimed to reduce them. The administration has repeatedly portrayed class size as too costly a reform to be realistic. In May, Chancellor Joel Klein warned that average class sizes would increase this year as the size of the teaching force declines.

The dispute centers around whether or not the city committed a set amount of money to be used to reduce class sizes for grades K-3.

In its response, the DOE called Thompson’s report “bizarre,” and said the class size reduction program the comptroller had audited was no longer in existence.

“Accordingly, we reject the Comptroller’s findings, and suggest that in the future he stick to auditing the administration of programs that actually exist,” the statement read.

Though it was repealed in 2007 after a successful lawsuit required the state to give the city’s schools more money, the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program hasn’t entirely disappeared. Under the new funding program, known as Contracts for Excellence, the city agreed to continue “to be committed to reducing class size in early grades (i.e., grades K-3) via the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program.”

The DOE and Thompson diverge in their interpretations of that sentence. According to Thompson, the city agreed to spend the money to reduce class size. But DOE auditor general, Brian Fleischer, whose job it is to oversee regulatory compliance, said that the money is not ear marked and that the city only agreed to ensure that new classrooms that were created in previous years were not lost to budget cuts, not that new ones be created.

“We were free to spend it however we chose,” he said.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said she was asking the state to withhold Contracts for Excellence funds until the city committed to spend money to reduce class sizes.

Thompson’s report also states that the DOE gave $21 million to schools that didn’t have enough space to add classrooms, and that roughly $18 million went to schools that had enough space, but didn’t create new classes.

Fleischer said Thompson’s methodology was flawed because he used enrollment information from January of 2008, after schools’ populations were largely settled, while the DOE had made funding allocations based on projections.

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.