the more things change

The Panel for Educational Policy returns, its imprint the same

Members of the revived Panel for Educational Policy approved more than a dozen Department of Education contracts last night over the protests of colleagues who demanded that they be allowed to read the full documents.

Reconvened for the first time since mayoral control’s renewal, the panel now has the authority to approve contracts worth over one million dollars. It also reviews any contracts that were handed out without competitive bidding.

But the biggest change on panel last night was not a result of those contracts, $250 million of which sailed to approval with a nearly unanimous vote, including contracts with Octagon and the Future Technology Associates, which have come under criticism.

The main difference was that the person who has been the panel’s single active dissident, Patrick Sullivan, the representative from Manhattan, yesterday was joined in his protests by Anna Santos of the Bronx. Both objected to voting on the contracts because, they said, none of the panel members had read them in full.

“They’ve asked us to vote on the contracts, and when I’ve asked for the actual contracts, they say they’re not going to give them to us,” Sullivan told me on Monday afternoon. “They want us to look at summaries and take their word that the summaries represent the important provisions.” But he said the summaries aren’t complete. “I’ve found that as I’ve received the summaries, I can’t answer basic questions about the contracts,” he said.

Asked why panel members couldn’t read the complete contracts, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, the Department of Education’s chief operating officer, said members could read drafts of the contracts in the future, provided they weren’t made public.

“Before a contract is executed, it’s always open for negotiation. If we were to actually make them public, we risk the ability to finalize these contracts at the rates we negotiated,” she said.

When Santos called for the panel to delay the vote, her measure was voted down 10 to two. Sullivan’s bids to become chairman and later, vice chairman, were also voted down as the majority selected David Chang and Philip Berry, both mayoral appointees, for these positions.

Despite opponents’ efforts, Mayor Bloomberg retains the right to name eight of the panel’s 13 members — the remaining five are appointed by the borough presidents.

Though PEP meetings are often sparsely attended, last night’s event was packed with parents, students, and D.C. 37 union members who were protesting the DOE’s contracts with firms outside of New York. This left little room for those who arrived late, including City Councilman Robert Jackson, who used his minutes at the microphone to criticize the DOE for restricting access. “I am very annoyed and very angry,” he said, adding, “I insist that you have a meeting where there is public access until your meeting is over.”

Turning to address the panel, he advised them to be skeptical of the DOE’s statements. “With respect to these contracts, let me tell you, please don’t be a rubber stamp,” he said.

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.