school closing season

Black defends closure at school where there's little opposition

As the snow began to fall last night, Chancellor Cathie Black headed to Harlem’s I.S. 195 to attend her first public hearing at one of the 25 schools the city wants to shutter.

The city has been holding hearings at each of the schools slated for closure all this month in advance of next week’s Panel for Educational Policy vote on the plans. At some of the closure hearings, city officials have faced off with angry, passionate crowds protesting the city’s plans.

Black did not see that anger at last night’s meeting, which no parents attended, reported WNYC’s Beth Fertig. The bad weather may have discouraged turnout, but the school’s chapter leader also told Fertig that the school has struggled with parent involvement and the city’s teachers union has not mobilized to challenge the school’s closure as it has elsewhere.

Earlier this month, Black paid a visit both to both I.S. 195 and the charter school that shares the building, KIPP Infinity. The district middle school, whose progress report grade dropped from a B to a D last year, was the first school school slated to close that Black visited. The city plans to use the space vacated by I.S. 195 to re-site KIPP’s high school and open a new district middle school, though the details of the plan have not yet been announced.

After the hearing, Fertig and a few other reporters got the chance to speak with Black. The chancellor discussed why city officials made the decision to close 25 schools this year, last week’s rowdy PEP meeting, and her decision to delay planned special education reforms by a year.

Here’s the full audio and a transcript of their conversation. Fertig’s full report on the meeting is available here. WNYC and GothamSchools are partnering on The Big Fix, an ongoing series examining the city’s efforts to improve low-performing schools.

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Reporter: So Chancellor, I just wanted to know first of all, why did you decide to come tonight?

Black: I think it’s very important. You know, I will attend as many meetings as I possibly can. Last night I did a town hall, tonight a joint public hearing, next week we have the two panel meetings.  It’s all a part of being the chancellor, of reaching out, of being – hearing what’s on people’s minds. I mean, we — these are hard, I mean, this is a difficult — it might have been a quiet evening but it’s still difficult for everybody.

But we believe deeply that the option of putting a different school, a different approach in this physical building, is going to be better for the children. And when you look at the statistics, you know, how could anybody — how could a parent want their child to be in a school that’s so underperforming?

That’s why I wanted to visit here — which I did a couple of weeks ago — and the contrast between seeing what the KIPP school in this building has done, and walking around and I spent time with the principal. But this is probably – our team has been here 3, 4, 5 times in the past year, so this is nothing that is quick. We’ve learned, frankly — I saw “we” collectively — from 2009 to 2010, over 2010 — for any of the schools that we were taking a very significant look at, we’ve been back multiple times, multiple conversations with principals, with the senior leadership team, teachers, you know the whole thing, getting a sense.

And at a certain point you come to a decision and say, “we believe there are other options.” And that is what all our whole agenda is all about — choice and options. And we believe that the school that we will put in here is going to be a better option for these children in an intermediate setting than what has been serving this community.

Reporter: While there was not very much feedback tonight, I’m wondering, have you been getting an earful about the closing process so far?

I think what we hear is that people — you know, we’re in New York, people have strong opinions. Sometimes they tend to sort of ignore the facts and just have an emotional commitment. So certainly there’s been a lot of response — everyone’s got a different point of view.

Reporter: You were at that PEP meeting last week, which was – the temperature was a bit hotter and a lot people were talking about school closings. What did you think about that and the way you were greeted?

It’s exactly what I expected. You know this happened to Joel, in different ways, and so I left my Blackberry at home [laughter] — well, that’s not actually true, I left it in my pocketbook; there were moments when I thought, “you know if I could just spend about 10 minutes, I’ll listen to you guys.” But you know, I kind of just listened, I was interested, I wanted to hear what they had to say. The crazy stuff I didn’t pay attention to.

Reporter: What was the crazy stuff?

[At this point, a DOE press officer interrupts, saying, “I think that’s it.” They then decide to take one more question from another reporter.]

Reporter: Since you’ve been chancellor, there have been a couple of things which I like to look at as sort of maybe moves away from…pushing forward with something, and maybe towards a more gradual process. Like for example, the special education reform being delayed a year, or the bonuses, maybe let’s suspend that…

I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. Really, I would not jump to a conclusion. I am the pedal to the metal on reform. But I think that we also want to make sure that for something as important to so many constituents as special ed I mean we want to make sure that we have thought about everything because if were going to scale something up it has got to work. It’s too important. So this was a collective decision, it was not Cathie saying, “lets really sort of” —none of it was a rethink. It is only making sure that we have thought of every single thing to make it a success for these children.

[DOE press officer: Okay, great, that’s your question; let’s let her get home.]

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.