turf wars

State overturns one charter space-sharing plan, upholds another

The city must start over its controversial plan to let a Lower East Side charter school expand in city space but may proceed with another, the state education department ruled yesterday.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner threw out the city’s plan to allow Girls Prep Charter School to expand its middle school grades in the building it shares with two district schools, ruling that the city did not properly report the plan’s impact on disabled students who attend school in the building.

But in a separate ruling, Steiner argued that the city did provide enough information about its plan to let Brooklyn’s PAVE Academy Charter School expand in the building it currently shares with P.S. 15.

Both plans have prompted bitter space battles this year between the charter schools and teachers and parents at the district schools who share the buildings. Both charters want to expand the number of grades they serve; opponents of the expansion argue that the plans would squeeze the students at the district schools in the building.

The Girls Prep plan, which Steiner overturned, was complicated by the fact that one of the schools that shares the building is P.S. 94, a school for students with autism run by the Department of Education’s special district for severely disabled students.

P.S. 94 parents have complained that they were excluded from conversations about space sharing at the school from the start. And the final space sharing plan, which the citywide school board approved in February, did not detail how the change would affect P.S. 94 students.

When the city plans to significantly change the way a school building is used, it is required to prepare an “educational impact statement” (EIS) analyzing how the change will affect schools and students in the building. City officials argued that its schools for the most severely disabled students should be exempt from that requirement, since the city frequently has to re-locate programs to accommodate the students’ special needs. But Steiner responded that state education law requires the city to prepare an EIS for any change in school use.

“Accordingly, DOE’s contention that District 75 schools should be excluded is not supported by the plain language of the statute,” Steiner wrote.

A DOE spokesman said the city was reviewing the decision and its options to proceed.

Here’s Steiner’s ruling on P.S. 94 and Girls Prep. The PAVE and P.S. 15 ruling is below.


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.