good housekeeping

Civility First: A quest to keep our comments section kind

Our comments section is about to get a little bit nicer.

Our comments section has its moments of glory, instances of brave citizens discoursing civilly despite a national education debate dominated by divisive misconceptions.

But too often, it’s ugly down there. Too often, comments include personal attacks and deliberate deceptions.

And so we embark on a niceness campaign. Down the road, we are open to making more major changes, such as asking commenters to log in with a registered verified identity or creating a community policing system where other commenters can vote comments up or down a la Gawker.

Another idea is to change the structure so you can respond right underneath other readers’ postings and flag comments you find inappropriate. We hope you will share more ideas.

For now, we have drafted a recommended list of principles to govern our most basic (and, at present, only) moderation decision: Do we allow a comment to be published, or do we delete it? (Right now, given our editorial capacity, every comment that the WordPress computers don’t flag as possible spam is published immediately by default. For more on the spam catchers, see #4 below.)

Most of these principles we already follow in an ad hoc way, but we want to codify them. The list is below. Please share your feedback. Once we’ve got something we all like — or at least, most of us like — we’ll publish it permanently on the site.

Draft GothamSchools Community Policy

We encourage vigorous debate and welcome constructive criticism of our coverage. However, we do reserve the right to moderate these discussions and occasionally will delete comments that violate our community policy.

1. No obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, racism or sexism. If you think something might cross the line, it probably does. Disagreement with people’s arguments is fine, but personal attacks — including on other commenters and GothamSchools writers and editors — will not be tolerated. We tend to agree with Jon Stewart that Nazi analogies are rarely appropriate. We reserve the right to judge what crosses the line.

2. Do not impersonate a person you’re not and do not “sock-puppet.” This should not come as a surprise, but we can see your IP addresses and e-mails, so we know if you’re doing this. If you post as Cathie Black or Joel Klein, we will delete your comment unless we can verify that you are actually Cathie Black or Joel Klein. We follow this definition of “sock-puppeting” as the New York Times defined it: “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company.”

3. You’re welcome to post under a username that allows you to retain anonymity, but we encourage everyone to use their real names and e-mail addresses (which are not shared publicly). We feel the same way about this matter as does the New York Times, which writes in its comment policy: “We have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations.”

4. To prevent the comment threads from filling up with spam, our site automatically places certain types of comments in moderation. If your comment includes more than two links or is over 300 words, chances are that our site will think it’s spam and one of us will have to approve it manually. If you post a comment like this in the middle of the night or on a weekend, please don’t fret if it’s not approved right away. We are probably asleep or otherwise engaged in our off-line lives.

5. If you have a correction or a criticism of our coverage, the fastest way to reach us is by email. We do read the comment threads (though often not immediately) and will occasionally respond, but commenting isn’t the most efficient way to get our attention.

6. Help us flag violations! If you believe that another commenter has violated our policy, the best way to let us know is — again — to send us an e-mail.

7. We very rarely block a reader from ever commenting, but sometimes we have no other means of maintaining civility. Should you take it upon yourself to violate the comment policy multiple times, we will contact you and ask you to stop. If you continue, we will block you.

8. Please DON’T POST IN ALL CAPS. Some sites will delete your comments if you do this and, while that seems a bit extreme to us, using all-caps does make you sound like a crazy person. Good spelling and grammar are also appreciated.

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.