what parents want

As charter apps trickle in, Upper West Side debates demand

Hundreds of families have submitted early-bird applications to the newest charter school in Eva Moskowitz’s chain, which so far lacks a home but has seen no shortage of controversy.

Upper West Success Academy reports that 357 families have filed applications since the school was approved last month. Two-thirds live in District 3, the diverse and relatively wealthy district stretching from 59th Street to 122nd Street on the West Side of Manhattan where the school will be located.

“Given that every great elementary school on the Upper West Side is overcrowded and the terrific private schools cost more than $30,000 a year, it’s hardly surprising that Upper West Side parents are lining up for a high performing charter school,” Moskowitz said in a statement. Her organization is also touting the results of a phone poll that found 70 percent of neighborhood parents would support the school opening in the area. When told that the school would share space with another public school, support dropped to 59 percent.

But applications from 269 district families and a poll of 300 households does not “demand” make, according to parent leaders who are pushing back against the school. They say the city would do better to invest in existing schools rather than to carve out space for a charter school.

Resistance from local parents is one reason why Upper West Success is still without a site. The city tried to place the school inside PS 145 on West 105th Street but backed down after the community protested. Now city officials say the school, which will start with a kindergarten and first grade, will likely open in the Brandeis High School building.

At the crux of the debate is the question of whether District 3 needs charter schools, which are meant to serve needy students and so far are mostly located in low-income neighborhoods. The district contains some of the highest-performing schools in the city and includes some of the most affluent zip codes. Moskowitz is billing Upper West Success as an alternative to tony private schools and arguing that middle-class parents need school choice just as much as poor families, a case she will press at a series of apartment parties starting next week.

“They want upper-middle-class white kids who, because the DOE is not paying attention to those schools, are going to be attracted to a school the DOE favors heavily,” said Noah Gotbaum, president of the district’s elected parent council.

But District 3 also serves many poor students and has some schools that enroll black and Hispanic students almost exclusively. It is home to a dozen elementary schools that scored a D or F on their most recent progress reports. Upper West Success plans to offer preference to children zoned for those schools, along with students with disabilities and those classified as English language learners.

Gotbaum said the numbers sound like the school’s aggressive marketing — he said he has received 18 pieces of mail from Upper West Success — isn’t paying off.

“If she doesn’t get thousands of applications, it will be shocking because of the millions of dollars she’s spending in saying there are no good options in the district,” he said.

But Upper West Success has more than four months to collect applications. Charter schools are required by law to accept applications at least until April 1, when they are first permitted to hold admissions lotteries.

Of the 357 current applicants, 14 percent live in Harlem, home to the first three Success Network schools. Another 10 percent live in the Bronx, where the network just opened a school this year.

Gotbaum said he plans to conduct his own survey of parents in the district.

Newsroom

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 Spokane, 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.”

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.