cap and trade

Albany seeks trade: more charters, but change in who grants them

Assembly Democrats are ready to approve a lift to the state’s charter school cap — but only if they get a substantial change to the way charter schools are launched and approved in return.

Under the plan being developed by members of the state Assembly, the power to approve charters would be consolidated under the state Board of Regents, who currently share that authority with the State University of New York and local school districts. (Schools authorized by a school district are also granted final approval by the Regents.) The SUNY office has the strongest reputation and has been praised by the Obama administration as a model for developing charter schools around the country.

The plan would also change who decides when and where a new charter school is needed.

Right now, wannabe school leaders pitch plans to either SUNY or the Regents, who let the school open if the plan is solid and there are spots available under the cap. Under the Assembly proposal, the state education department would determine when and where a new charter school should open, and would then issue a request for proposals from charter school operators to launch the school.

Formal language on the proposal has not yet emerged, but there is consensus on the contours of the plan, sources said.

“It makes sense to have one authority,” said Democratic Assemblyman Alan Maisel.

Maisel argued that having a single, centralized body approving charter schools would prevent authorizers from inadvertently allowing charters to dominate certain school districts or neighborhoods, a move he said was necessary to prevent charters from sapping resources from district schools.

Maisel said he was indifferent to whether the Board of Regents or SUNY become the sole authorizer. But the Assembly’s move to grant the Board of Regents the exclusive authority to grant charters has the elements of a power play: the state legislature appoints members of the Board of Regents, while SUNY trustees are appointed by the governor.

The city’s Department of Education and charter school supporters are coming out strongly against the plan.

“I haven’t seen the details of the proposal, but the intention of the proposal clearly appears to be a backdoor way to limit and inhibit where and when charter schools can be started,” said James Merriman, head of the New York City Charter School Center. “And that will limit and inhibit the number of great schools teachers and leaders can start.”

Merriman argued that abolishing the SUNY charter authorizer would hurt the state’s chances at winning coveted Race to the Top funds, a goal widely acknowledged to be a motivating factor for raising the charter cap.

“I think dismantling what the U.S. Department of Education has declared as a model for authorizer quality will not be viewed with favor by the U. S. Department of Education,” Merriman said.

To put pressure on the legislature to abandon the plan, the city is also waiting to endorse the state’s Race to the Top proposal.

“In our view, [the plan is] extremely problematic with Race to the Top,” said DOE Press Secretary David Cantor. “Legislators are thinking that any kind of cap lift passes muster, but we don’t think that’s true.”

The new plan would also change the city’s relationship with charter schools. Right now, Chancellor Joel Klein can approve charter applications and submit them to the Regents for approval. The new method, managed by the state education department, would bypass the city.

Last week, the city ignored the state’s first deadline for signing on to the state’s Race to the Top plan to exert leverage over negotiations. Today, the state extended the deadline again to allow more time for the different sides to come to an agreement.

The next legislative session is scheduled for Tuesday, the day the state’s Race to the Top application must be submitted to the federal government. Sources said it was likely Governor David Paterson would call the legislature into session on Monday, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, in order to pass a bill before the deadline.

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.