City announces plans to shut four "failing" public schools

The city’s Department of Education announced plans today to close four public schools that the department believes are “failing” to educate students.

Citing the schools’ low graduation rates and poor scores on state standardized tests, the DOE said it would phase out two high schools and two middle schools next year. The schools are William Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn’s East New York, the Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School in East Harlem, the middle school grades at Frederick Douglass Academy III in the South Bronx, and KAPPA II middle school in East Harlem.

Officially, the four closures must be approved by the citywide school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and be discussed in public hearings, in accordance with the city’s new school governance law. In the past, the department has told schools they would be closed without advanced warning, and teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said little had changed this year.

“There is a governance law in place and it is clear that the DOE is thumbing their nose at the law. They have the right to announce that they are going to consider closing a school, but by walking into schools and telling them that they are closing, they are making the new governance law irrelevant,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

In an email to reporters, DOE spokesman Will Havemann listed the department’s rationale for closing the schools, saying they had “failed to advance student learning.”

Two of the schools, Frederick Douglass Academy III and KAPPA II, are in school networks that sprang up in order to replicate already existent successful schools. Schools in the KAPPA network — there are seven of them — are modeled after the KIPP charter schools. Frederick Douglass Academy III, which according to the proposal would lose its middle school grades and keep its high school, is designed to replicate the original Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem.

For both middle schools, the DOE is emphasizing students’ performance on the state’s annual math and English standardized tests, which the department says is below average for the schools’ districts.

Frederick Douglass Academy III, which has a selective admissions policy, has seen its students’ proficiency on state English tests dip slightly in the past two years though its scores are generally very close to district averages. The school’s progress report grades have bounced from a B to a D to a C this year.

“We propose phasing out the middle school grades to allow the principal and school staff to focus on — and build on the success of — the high school,” Havemann wrote.

KAPPA II’s grades on yearly progress reports have slid from a B in 2007 to a D in 2009 and the percentage of its students that score proficient on state math and English tests is below average for District 5. The school is also seeing declining enrollment — it has 90 fewer students this year than it did last year.

The two high schools that the department wants to close have graduation rates close to or below 50 percent.

Havemann added that these are only the first four schools the DOE proposes to close and more are on the way. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg said he wanted the department to close all of the schools performing in the bottom 10 percent of the system.

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.