unchartered territory

In Brooklyn school city sees worst case of charter violations yet

A Brooklyn charter school that has the dubious distinction of committing the worst charter violations city officials say they’ve ever seen is about to be closed.

New York City rarely closes charter schools, but yesterday Department of Education officials told East New York Preparatory that it intends to revoke the school’s charter when the current school year ends in June. The K-4 school was authorized by Chancellor Joel Klein in 2006 and would only be the fourth charter school in the city to close.

Director of the city’s office of charter schools, Michael Duffy, said DOE officials began noticing problems last year when parents contacted the department and the school was put on probation in February.

“It’s certainly the worst in New York City that I’ve seen,” Duffy said.

Rather than using its probationary period to turn around, the school’s problems seemed to multiply, Duffy said. Its founding principal, Sheila Joseph, is accused of inflating her salary from $120,000 to $180,000, which she could easily do as vice chair of the school’s board of trustees. According to the DOE’s charter revocation notice, Joseph had Mercer Givhan, the father of her child, placed on the board, which DOE officials said put the board’s independence in doubt. He was paid $5,500 that the school cannot explain.

Last year, a review by the State Education Department found that 48 East New York Prep students were discharged before the state’s standardized tests were given. Among the students who left were seven low-scoring third-graders. That same year, 86 percent of the school’s students scored proficient in English and 100 percent were proficient in math.

An review conducted in 2007 noted that “the percentage of special education students is much lower than in other schools,” and that there were no English Language Learners enrolled.

The school’s teacher turnover has also been extreme. Between June of last year and September of this year, East New York Prep lost every teacher it had, Duffy said. In their stead came new teachers, most of whom are in Teach for America.

It’s not clear whether teachers left voluntarily or were fired. Joseph did not return calls for comment.

The school’s board has 30 days to respond to the DOE’s accusations and then Klein will make a final decision. Duffy said the department plans to hold a public meeting at the school on February 3 to explain the closure to parents and to offer help getting students placed into other schools or entered into other charter schools’ lotteries.

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.