turf wars

Red Hook charter paves way out of P.S. 15, but can't say when

A packed crowd gathered for District 15's CEC meeting last night to discuss the shared space arrangement between P.S. 15 and PAVE Academy Charter School.
A packed crowd gathered for a District 15 CEC meeting to discuss the space-sharing arrangement between P.S. 15 and PAVE Academy Charter School.

The founder of a Brooklyn charter school locked in a battle for space with a district school announced yesterday that the school has signed a contract for its own building site.

But Spencer Robertson, founder of the PAVE Academy Charter School, declined to reveal the new location. Nor would he give a date for when the school would move there, instead re-iterating his request for a two-year extension to the school’s contentious site-sharing agreement with P.S. 15 in Red Hook.

“We will be out,” Robertson told a standing-room-only crowd in the auditorium of P.S. 15. “When?” shouted audience members.

The exchange came during an emotional District 15 CEC meeting to which charter school advocates and critics mobilized their most vocal allies. Audience members interrupted speakers, and those who approached the microphone seemed to compete over who could drown out the other groups’ claims.

PAVE Academy Charter School opened last year with 88 students in P.S. 15 despite fierce resistance from parents and teachers at the district school. According to the original agreement, PAVE would stay at the school until the close of the 2009-2010 school year.

But over the summer, PAVE administrators announced that they would seek an extension to allow time for construction on the school’s new space. The request sparked fears that the charter might stay and grow in P.S. 15 indefinitely, squeezing the district school.

Parents and teachers from P.S. 15 waved signs calling on the Department of Education to deny PAVE Academy’s request to stay housed in P.S. 15 until 2012, two years longer than originally agreed. PAVE parents and teachers donned the school’s blue t-shirts and clustered together in one half of the auditorium.

One P.S. 15 supporter claimed that PAVE’s students are not from the surrounding community, prompting shouts of “yes, they are!” from PAVE parents. A PAVE supporter argued that the charter school has as much right to the school building as P.S. 15, eliciting loud boos from the other half of the room.

Adding to the dispute were concerns that the education department is doling out preferential treatment to the charter school because of Robertson’s connections to the Bloomberg administration. Robertson’s father Julian’s grant foundation has donated more than $10 million to Bloomberg’s school initiatives.

Education department representative Courtney McNally said that the DOE followed a “more vague” timeline for approving charter school space extension requests than the formal process a charter goes through in their initial bid for shared space. “Ultimately, the decision will be made by the chancellor,” she said. The department would be in further touch with the CEC, she added.

After the meeting, Robertson told me that he wasn’t comfortable revealing the location of the school’s new site because the school is still in a 120-day due diligence process before closing on a deal that could still fall through. The school will be razing an existing building and beginning new construction, he said, and so also could not commit to a firm timeline for leaving P.S. 15.

District 15 president Jim Devor said that he had wanted the first CEC meeting of the year to center on the charter school siting process more generally, rather than a direct forum on the P.S. 15 building. “But we deliberately set it at P.S. 15 because we knew this would be the center of the firestorm,” he said. “Obviously emotions ran high.”

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.