charter mania

Live-blogging State Sen. Bill Perkins' charter oversight hearings

State Senator Bill Perkins is currently convening his greatly anticipated daylong hearings on charter school oversight. The hearings, which have been in the works for months, are set to focus on the schools’ finances. Anna is at the hearing now (I’ll trade places with her this afternoon) and we’ll post with live updates from the hearings throughout the day.

5:00 p.m. The room is starting to clear, but Perkins persists.

Perkins: “There are two areas that are going to fatally cripple whatever the charter school movement does…the corruption and the politicization are the Achilles heel of the movement.”

“The pimping, if you will, of the public dollar and the politicization which some people are turning a blind eye to” is what will kill charters, he said. “And I say that not as a curse or a wish but as a concern.”

4:50 p.m.

Perkins: “What politicking can you not do in a charter?”

King: “The same as a district school. I want to make a wider point here: I wish for a day when we can hold a hearing about what goes on in the highest performing schools, and all of these reporters will come, and all these people will be here. I share your frustration about the politicization of education. And I wish for that day.”

Perkins: “That day will come. But its not today.”

4:20 p.m. In the category of “It Was Bound to Happen,” Maura reports that John White and Assembly woman Inez Barron are quite literally yelling at each other about the city’s achievement gap.

4:00 p.m. As if politics weren’t already present in the snippy questions and retorts exchanged throughout the day, the questioning has now turned to charter school operators’ political activity. Referring to a Crain’s article about charter school supporters’ efforts to find a pro-charter candidate to run against Perkins, the senator asked if it’s kosher for the DOE to give public money to politically active charter operators like Seth Andrews, the founder and superintendent of Democracy Prep Charter School.

Perkins: “If by authorizing that school, are you not authorizing political activity?”

White: We oversee educational activities. We can’t control people’s comments to newspapers.

3:20 p.m. Sen. Perkins asks how the Department of Education gets a hold of parents’ addresses and phone numbers in order to send out fliers promoting local charter schools. White responds that the city’s vendor, Vanguard, complies the list on its own. (This isn’t correct — the department gives Vanguard parents’ contact information and Vanguard simply organizes the mass mailings.)

Perkins says that White should be concerned that people believe the DOE is giving out their personal information.

“Noted,” White says.

Asked about today’s Daily News article about five charter schools that hired people who had family ties or other conflicts of interest, White says that only two of the schools were authorized by the Department of Education. Those two are East New York Preparatory School, which Chancellor Joel Klein ordered closed last week, and the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures & the Arts. This school, which the Daily News reports hired a bus company owned by a trustee’s husband, was only given a limited charter extension, White said.

3:00 p.m. Department of Education Deputy Chancellor John White is reading his testimony, which is likely to sound familiar to anyone who’s ever sat through a City Council education committee hearing.

“To be clear we do not advocate for charter schools over district schools,” White says. “We simply advocate for great schools especially in neighborhoods that have traditionally  lacked such options.”

He notes that district schools in Harlem have made gains while more charter schools have opened in the area and says support for both types of schools is “entirely compatible.”

White also points out that though the issue of co-locating charter schools and district schools in the same buildings gets a lot of attention, most space-sharing agreements are between multiple district schools. “Some of our best schools are co-located,” he says.

2:40 p.m. New York State Deputy Commissioner of Education John King is up now. “The Regents have asked the legislature to strengthen the accountability and transparency elements of the charter school statute as part of raising the charter cap,” he said.

Following him is Jonas Chartock, Executive Director of SUNY Charter Schools Institute, who made the case that charter authorizers have been given short shrift. “We’re the link between the legislation you created and the schools built on the ground,” he said. That link may become strained if the Charter Schools Institute loses 70 percent of its budget due to cuts.

2:30 p.m. After hours of testimony, a parent is finally on the stand, Maura reports. Latrina Miley, the mother of a kindergartner at Girls Preparatory Charter School, said her daughter has been suspended four times (most recently, yesterday) and she had to go outside of the school — to Bellevue Hospital — to get her daughter diagnosed with ADHD. “Sisterhood is not giving up on a child. It’s not pushing out kids with spercial needs,” she said.

1:04 p.m. Jackson just finished testifying, Anna reports. He covered a broad range of issues beyond just charter schools, she says, including school closures, how Contracts for Excellence money is being spent, possible teacher layoffs and school turnarounds.

And now everyone is taking a quick break. The hearing is scheduled to last until 5 p.m. But since so far we’ve made it through just four speakers — out of roughly 30 people who are signed up to speak — we could be in for a long day.

12:35 p.m. Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council’s education committee, is up now. He began by describing the bad experience his daughter, a teacher, had in Buffalo’s three charter schools. (She now teaches at a public school in Virginia, he says.)

Jackson then gave a personal example of what he calls “the DOE’s heavy handed tactics of releasing confidential contact information”:

“I speak from direct experience of one of my staff members with children in local public schools. She had an order of protection against the father of her children. She does not release her personal cell phone number. Yet in February, the day before the charter school fair, she received a solicitation on her personal cell phone to attend the fair. This is happening, while [district school] parent association members cannot even obtain contact information for their own schools’ parents.”

12:15 p.m. NYSUT is discussing the “complex subject” of charter funding, saying that charter and district schools are both getting hurt by budget cuts. Allinger danced around a question from Craig Johnson about whether the union would support giving charters money for building schools, Anna reports.

11:55 a.m. After NYSUT’s Allinger rattled off examples of financial mismanagement at charter schools, Michael Benjamin asks Allinger whether good charters should be shadowed by those few bad examples.

Allinger responded that there’s no way to know who’s good and who’s bad right now. “All we have are questions,” he said. “If a charter school is doing the right thing then we should applaud them. But let’s make sure it’s real success.”

To counter the claim that charters counsel out many of the neediest students, Benjamin argues that this offense is not unique to charter schools. “New York State and city public schools have been notorious for counseling students into GED programs,” Benjamin said. “We can’t even tell where those students have gone. We need to have an increasing outrage about that, as well as seeking greater transparency.”

11:40 a.m. Charter school advocates are arguing that today’s hearings are evidence that Perkins is out of touch with his constituents. Perkins’ Harlem district includes about one in five of the city’s charter schools.

A spokesman for the pro-charter group Education Reform Now sent over this new TV ad, which he says will be a “significant part” of the advocacy group’s advertising campaign downstate. The ad features Harlem parents asking for a lift on the charter cap and blasting Perkins for opposing charter school expansion. One parent featured in the ad is Daniel Clark, Sr., the father of a student at Harlem’s Democracy Prep Charter School and field director of the new pro-charter group Parent Power Now!

“Bill Perkins is just playing politics,” Clark says in the ad. “It’s all about his political future and not about the needs of his constituents, like me, and like my son.”

11:35 a.m. NYSUT’s Allinger just compared the lack of financial oversight of charters to “taxation without representation.”

11:16 a.m. City Department of Education Press Secretary David Cantor, who is sitting near Anna in the hearing room, wondered, “Why hasn’t the union ever suggested that we close the (rare) non-charter school in which there is conflict of interest/financial impropriety?”

Cantor also argued that the union’s argument that many charters intentionally cream the best students seems moot, given Mulgrew’s comments about the union’s own charters, which were granted a limited 3-year renewal for having too few special education students and English language learners and for violating open meetings law.

Mulgrew’s criticism of the high salaries of charter school operators is an example of the pot calling the kettle black, Cantor argued. Mulgrew makes a lot of money, as do many UFT high-level staff, he said.

11:09 a.m. The state teachers union will submit a report next week on financial abuses that some charter schools are engaging in, Allinger said. He argued that the key thing “is to allow the comptroller to do audits” of the schools.

10:58 a.m. Now Steve Allinger, legislative director of New York State United Teachers, is testifying. “Despite the rhetoric, attacks,and finger pointing, NYSUT is not opposed to charter schools,” he said.

Allinger, like Mulgrew, referred to the “original promise of charter schools” — the ideal that charters should be designed to serve English learners and special education students. The teachers unions often argue that the original purpose of charters have been corrupted by charter management organizations who turn schools into businesses.

Allinger said there’s no way NYSUT will allow a cap lift without other regulatory changes. He said that if the cap were lifted now, charter authorizers and the city currently don’t have the capacity to oversee an additional 200 schools to make sure there aren’t abuses. “Any lifting of the cap must be accompanied by the needed reforms to the law,” he argued.

10:45 a.m. “This hearing is all over the place,” Anna reports. “It’s covering every hot button issue in the city.” Assemblyman Michael Benjamin asked Mulgrew about the city’s school closure plan and the UFT’s lawsuit against it. Now Perkins is asking about teacher quality. Very few of the questions are actually on the subject of charter finance.

Benjamin is also arguing for greater school choice. “I would even support school vouchers for parents to choose where they want to send their children,” he said. “I believe in total, absolute choice.”

10:34 a.m. For the first time, Mulgrew is responding to questions about English Language Learners and special education students at the UFT-run charter schools. Like other charters, the UFT’s schools enroll relatively few English learners and special ed students compared to district schools in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“When I became president, I said there’s something wrong with the lottery because we don’t have the percentages of the special education and English language learners as the schools around us. We need to do more,” Mulgrew said. “What we’re doing right now is we’re trying to work with the parents and immigrant communities and we’re trying to do some more recruitment.  But it should be something more formalized in legislation to make it happen.”

10:30 a.m. Mulgrew is arguing for some limitations on the salaries of charter school CEOs. “These are ridiculous salaries,” he said.

10:23 a.m. Anna reports that the vast majority of the 60 or so people who made it into the hearing room seem skeptical of charter schools and are applauding the schools’ critics. Charter school advocates counter that Perkins let his allies into the room early, leaving charter supporters shut out of the small hearing room.


City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew testifies.

10:09 a.m. In his first question to Mulgrew, Perkins said, “I’m going to have to ask you to please take a moment to reach into your pockets and to see if I’m in your pocket, because it’s been reported time and time again that Senator Perkins is in your pocket.”

10:00 a.m. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew is testifying now. In his prepared remarks, Mulgrew argued that the cap on charter schools should not be raised unless the state also regulates charters to protect against financial corruption and patronage in the schools and to make sure the schools enroll more needy students.

“Despite the ulterior motives of some, it’s a discussion worth having, but not before we take steps to reform the charter school industry and ensure that it properly serves kids and their communities,” Mulgrew said. “We also need to consider that the school system might not be ready for a dramatic scale-up, especially because there are major controversies over shared space playing out in schools around the five boroughs.”

9:50 a.m. We’re still on the first speaker, prominent education historian and charter school critic Diane Ravitch, Anna reports. She’s being cross-examined by State Senator Craig Johnson, one of charter school’s strongest supporters in the Senate, and was the main Senate Democratic backer of Governor David Paterson’s bill to raise the charter cap back in January. The two had a testy back and forth about the Stanford study on charters, which showed mixed results for charters nationally but reported strong performance for New York City charters.

The hearing room, which Anna reports is about the size of the space the city uses for Panel for Educational Policy meetings at Tweed, is filled to capacity. There are dozens of people outside who can’t get in. Anna spoke to a group of Harlem Success Academy parents who said they signed up and submitted testimony, although no one from the charter school network is on the list of people testifying.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”