beyond sexting

School-eye views of the city's new draft discipline standards

When the city proposed changes to its discipline rules, its new policy towards “cyber-bullying” and “sexting” caught the public eye.

But the central changes have nothing to do with text messages. They represent a win by civil rights groups who have been calling on the city to make sure that schools use more counseling and less punishment and suspension to resolve problems.

At a hearing on the proposed changes Wednesday, one middle school principal described a program that she piloted and is now part of the new code. In some schools the program, which is known as PBIS and is designed to encourage good behavior in all students at a school, can include a reward system in which students collect points toward a prize for demonstrating things like good study skills.

Denise Jamison, principal of Williamsburg’s M.S. 50, said that the program has helped improve the behavior of even some of her most struggling students. The “hottest ticket” for rewards, she said, is a “No Uniform Today” pass, or “NUT card.” One day, she recalled, she pulled over a student well-known by school staff for his temper and asked why he wasn’t in uniform.

“He pulls out [his NUT card], and we all started congratulating him,” she said. “Because we knew how much he would have had to improved in order to earn that.”

Jamison is fully adopting the program from a pilot year in sixth grade to all grades next year, over the objections of some of her teachers, whom she described as being more “old-school, traditional disciplinarians.”

But even with the changes, advocates from organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Union and Advocates for Children argued at a public hearing this week that the changes don’t go far enough. Students can still be arrested by school safety agents for minor infractions, they said, or charged with violations of the discipline code that are much harsher than warranted and removed from their classes unnecessarily.

“We have more school safety agents than guidance counselors,” said one Queens high school student, who said that he has been suspended from school for being late and for being accused of instigating fights he was not a part of.

Jamison had the opposite concern. She loves the program, she said, but is concerned that it does not offer schools enough support to deal with the worst of their worst offenders. The program is silent on what to do to help the most severe 5 percent of cases, Jamison said.

“I have students who do not fear God, man or beast,” she said. “And we need to have interventions for these students.”

Chris Tan, the director of Advocates for Children’s Juvenile Justice project, said that the NUT card anecdote illustrates how the PBIS program’s strategies can drive improvement in schools. But he said that Jamison’s concern at being lost over the most severe cases shows gaps between how the program is meant to work and how the city sometimes runs it.

“You’re supposed to be able to bring in outside support, which it sounds like she’s not getting,” he said.

You can read the full proposed disciplinary code here, and the city is accepting comments on the proposed changes until July 14. The proposed changes to the code are in blue text.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.