elsewhere

Manager-educator pairings: A look at three other cities

New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner may allow publishing executive Cathleen Black to become the next schools chancellor on one condition: Mayor Bloomberg appoints a Chief Academic Officer.

Steiner’s suggestion has met with mixed reviews, but a look at other cities with non-educator school leaders shows that the arrangement is not uncommon.

Chicago

In Chicago, whether the schools Chief Executive Officer has a Chief Academic Officer is not up to the mayor or the schools CEO — it’s in the law.

In 1995, when the Illinois state legislature gave Chicago mayoral control of schools, the law also created the position of chief education officer. Styled after corporate boards, the school system’s administration was to be led by a chief executive officer, who did not have to have a background and education, and four other officers, one of whom would be an education expert. The law says:

The chief executive officer shall appoint, with the approval of the Trustees, a chief operating officer, a chief fiscal officer, a chief educational officer, and a chief purchasing officer to serve until June 30, 1999. These officers shall be assigned duties and responsibilities by the chief executive officer.

Unlike in New York, where the chancellor can decide the titles and job descriptions of his (it’s always been a “he”) deputies, these positions are cemented in the law in Chicago. Chicago’s CEO can change the responsibilities that fall under each officer, but the city is legally required to have an educational expert. Since 2001, the city has had two CEOs without much teaching experience and one chief education officer: Barbara Eason-Watkins. She resigned in April and without her in place, some principals say they feel directionless.

San Diego

Members of San Diego’s school board did not making hiring a chief academic officer the condition for bringing in Superintendent Bill Kowba, but they did make it clear that they wanted him to hire one. A piece in Voice of San Diego about the appointment of Nellie Meyer, deputy superintendent for academics, states:

Board members have repeatedly said he would need a strong deputy superintendent to offset his lack of school experience.

San Diego was the first city to have a non-educator superintendent, setting a precedent for the current arrangement. Former Superintendent Alan Bersin, who had worked the local U.S. Attorney, took charge of the schools in 1998 and appointed Tony Alvarado to oversee academics. Looking back, Bersin has said that he needed a co-leader with experience in education. Alvarado made his reputation by improving schools in New York City’s District 2. From an interview with PBS:

Smith: Not being an educator, did you need an educational partner?

Bersin: No question about that. I understood that I wasn’t about to teach teachers about reading and I needed to connect with an educational leader and someone who could educate our system as well as educate me. There was a period of three to four months beginning in March of 1998 when I was both U.S. Attorney and the superintendent designate. I used that opportunity to speak with many people around the country, get suggestions, and met with a couple of perspective candidates, and then found Tony Alvarado.

Detroit

The leadership structure in Detroit is an example of how appointing a chief academic officer as the number two to a schools leader can lead to turf wars with other education officials.

In 2009, Michigan’s governor brought in Robert Bobb, a former city manager, as the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit’s public schools. A month after his appointment, Bobb, who has no experience in education, named Barbara Byrd-Bennett to be his chief academic and accountability auditor. He put her in charge of revamping the schools’ curriculum and overseeing the hiring and firing of principals while he dealt with the deficit.

Yet Byrd-Bennett’s authority has been challenged by Detroit’s Board of Education, which appointed its own schools superintendent and insists that the board, not Bobb, controls academics. Bobb says that because he controls the schools’ finances, it’s his decision which academic programs get funding.

The turf war is even playing out on the district’s website, which highlights the names of the academic officers appointed by Bobb. The names of the Board of Education-appointed academic leaders are next to them in plain font.

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.