race to the race to the top

States' education leaders could make all the difference in RttT

As finalist states head into the home stretch of competition for coveted Race to the Top funds, who’s running the show could make all the difference, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said today.

Duncan appeared today at a panel with former Education Secretary Richard Riley at a professional development conference for teachers in Manhattan. Speaking with reporters afterward, Duncan reiterated what he has often said: Race to the Top applications will be judged on “the three C’s,” a state’s “courage, commitment and capacity” to put its plans into action.

When I asked him today how the contest’s reviewers will determine capacity, Duncan said judges’ appraisals of the people behind the plans will be the most important factor — more important, he said, than a state’s policy track record so far.

That stance is likely to comfort New York officials, who have banked in part on the strong reputations of the state education system’s leadership to drive the state’s Race to the Top application, even in the face of perceived setbacks such as the legislature’s failure to lift the statewide cap on charter schools.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner arrived at his job in October bringing with him promises of change in the state education department and a reputation as an innovator in the field of teacher training. And Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch has often emphasized that her reform priorities and those of Steiner — centered around raising academic standards, improving state tests, overhauling the state’s system for tracking student data and making teacher training more practical — align with Obama administration goals.

Each finalist state will send teams of five to Washington, D.C. in two weeks to make their final pitches to the Race to the Top judges. The judges will adjust their scoring of each state’s application in response to their impressions of each team’s presentations.

The point spread among finalists’ applications is so close that states’ performances on these presentations will be the deciding factor, according to EdWeek’s Politics K-12.

The state has not yet determined who exactly will represent New York in their presentation, state education department Tom Dunn told me yesterday. Today Duncan made clear that he wants to meet the captains of each state’s proposals, not outside consultants.

“Bring us the folks who are going to be doing the work,” Duncan said.

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.