turf wars

Space is a "civil rights issue," Lower East Side parents say

Parents and students rallied outside P.S. 20 to protest plans that would require them to share space with a growing charter school.
Parents and students rallied outside P.S. 20 to protest plans that would require them to share space with a growing charter school.

Parents at Lower East Side schools that may soon be asked to share building space told DOE officials last night that a charter school expansion could not come at the expense of successful district schools.

Hundreds of parents packed into the auditorium of P.S. 20 last night to protest three proposed scenarios that would allow Girls Prep Charter School to grow its middle school program by re-arranging building space at neighboring district schools.

All of the proposals would require district school students to give up resource rooms like art and music rooms or science and computer labs, parents told DOE officials and members of the District 1 Community Education Council.

Parents speaking at the meeting repeatedly characterized that loss as a civil rights issue, charging the DOE with removing resources from predominantly poor and immigrant students.

“No matter what option is chosen, what a school in District 1 will lose is a science lab,” said Yuehru Chu, the mother of a kindergarten son at P.S. 184, the Shuang Wen school, one of five district schools that could potentially be affected. “Why is it that whatever option the DOE picks, it will result in the loss of art and music for a school that is overwhelmingly low-income?”

Girls Prep founder and executive director Miriam Lewis Raccah said her school is as squeezed for space as any of the district’s other schools and so she empathized with parents’ concerns. But Girls Prep has been successful in a small, shared space, Raccah said, and so could other schools.

“The civil right is to an excellent education,” she said. “It’s not about having an art room.”

Charter schools are not legally guaranteed public building space, but the Bloomberg administration has granted some charters space in district school buildings. Girls Prep’s Lower East Side elementary school currently shares space with two district schools and wants to keep their middle school in the neighborhood.

A standing room-only crowd packed into the District 1 CEC meeting.
A standing room-only crowd packed into the District 1 CEC meeting.

The CEC meeting was the first step in a relatively new process of soliciting public feedback on proposed changes to school building use in community school districts. The DOE will accept public comment on their three proposals until December 10 and plans to prepare a final recommendation by the end of the year, officials said. A hearing at the affected school will follow, and the citywide Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the final plan at their February meeting.

The large turn-out was organized primarily by parents at Shuang Wen and P.S. 20 who learned that their schools could be affected last week when DOE officials walked through the buildings to determine what space could potentially be used for new buildings. Shuang Wen parents have also launched a website that allows parents to send a template email or fax to elected officials protesting changes to the school.

An aide to City Councilman and Comptroller-elect John Liu said that his office had been receiving the faxes “in masses.” The superintendent for District 1, Daniella Phillips, said that she received between 260 and 270 template emails yesterday. She encouraged parents to provide more substantive feedback like suggestions for alternative proposals or corrections to DOE enrollment or building data.

Several parents asked DOE officials to re-evaluate the formula used to determine whether a school building has available space for more students or a new school. Troy Robinson, a parent and member of Shuang Wen’s School Leadership Team, urged the DOE to determine building needs in a more “comprehensive” way that focused less on mathematical formulas and more on a qualitative judgment of how schools use space.

Debra Kurshan, the interim director of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning, defended the department’s formula. “We have to have some way of measuring across schools,” she said.

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.