unchartered territory

City argues Brooklyn charter school should be shut this year

City officials made the case today that a Brooklyn charter school should be the first to close before its charter expires.

East New York Preparatory Charter School was the subject of oral arguments today, as the school’s brand new board members tried to convince Department of Education officials to keep it open and officials from the charter school office argued for its closure.

Accused by both the city and state of egregious mismanagement, the school’s principal Sheila Joseph is alleged to have pushed students with low test scores out of the school, given herself a significant raise, and created an environment so unstable that Teach for America is threatening to pull all six of its members out of the building. Were the organization to severe all ties, the school would be left with two teachers.

At a meeting held at the school last month, parents argued for keeping the school open, saying the likelihood their children would get into other charter schools’ was low, and the district schools were a poor substitute. Speaking at Tweet Courthouse today, the DOE’s headquarters,

Yet DOE officials said they remain skeptical that the new board can overhaul the school by next September, saying that the school’s leadership, its teaching staff, and even its planned move to a new location are up in the air. The final decision about whether to close the school rests with Chancellor Joel Klein, who is likely to decide before April 1 — the deadline East New York Prep parents would have to meet in order to enter students in other charter schools’ lotteries.

Both sides’ arguments were heard by Deputy Chancellor John White, who will make a recommendation to Klein.

Problems at East New York Prep, which is authorized by the DOE, first came to city’s attention in February of last year, when a parent complained that her child was being demoted from the third to the second grade right before all third graders took a high stakes state test. DOE officials said that since then, the school’s board has made  superficial changes, but the daily goings-on have hardly altered.

Last month, after the DOE threatened the school with closure, a teacher at the school notified the city that a new first grade student was told to transfer out because of poor test scores. The student has since returned to the school, but only after a district school principal told his parents that the charter school couldn’t force them out.

Mark Clarke, the principal of a Bronx middle school who recently became chair of East New York Prep’s board of trustees, said there was no concrete evidence the school had forced students to leave. “They left on their own,” he said.

Clarke said that in the last month, the board has removed and replaced three members who had conflicts of interest and is planning to vote on whether Sheila Joseph remains the school’s principal this Sunday.

“The board as it is currently constituted recognizes that there were some very egregious acts taken that should not have been taken,” Clarke said, noting that under the school’s new bylaws, the principal must get the board’s permission to hire and fire staff, parents now have a representative on the board, and Joseph’s salary has been reduced from $180,000 to its pre-raise level of $120,000.

“There’s no indication, despite the obvious good intentions of the new board, there has been change on the ground,” said Chad Pimentel, a lawyer for the charter school office. “That’s too much risk to ask the charter school office to bear.”

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.