change of heart

After protests, city reverses decision to close Brooklyn school

In an unusual concession to community protests, the city has decided to keep open a Canarsie, Brooklyn, elementary school slated for closure.

The debate over whether to close P.S. 114 has been one of the most heated this year. Its supporters have argued that the city doomed the school by allowing its former principal to mismanage it for years and didn’t help the school before sentencing it to close.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio broke the news of the reprieve to teachers and parents this evening at a rally that had been previously planned to protest the closure plans. Meanwhile, Department of Education officials spread word to the neighborhood’s elected representatives, who have been outspoken in their support of the school.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Jimmy Orr, the vice-president of the school’s parent association and the father of two P.S. 114 students, who learned of the news at the rally. “We burst into clapping and yelling and hooting and hollering.”

Parents and teachers petitioned the city for years to remove Maria Pena-Herrera, a principal who overspent her budget by $180,000 and was hiring unnecessary staff, before city officials ousted her in 2008. The school was left with thousands of dollars of debt and saw its students’ test scores drop dramatically.

Chancellor Cathie Black said that the decision was made in response to the outpouring of public support the school has received since city officials announced they planned to close it.

“After extensive discussions with the PS 114 community and local elected officials about the struggles this school has faced and its capacity to better serve its students, we have decided to keep PS 114 open,” Black said in a statement. “In the coming days we will work to develop a comprehensive plan for the school that will give it a real opportunity for success,” she said.

The city’s original plan was to replace P.S. 114 with two schools, Explore Charter School and a new district school. The city will move forward with its plan to site the charter school in the same building, city officials said today, but would abandon plans to open the new district school.

Orr credited help from City Councilmen Lewis Fidler and Charles Barron pressuring city officials to re-examine their decision to shutter the school. The citywide school board had been originally scheduled to vote on the closure plan at the beginning of February but had then delayed the vote because of the public outcry. Top city officials had acknowledged that parents and teachers felt abandoned by the city, but until today had indicated they would press forward with their plans to close the school.

“I think what it proves is that you can be heard, and perhaps the more appropriate approach, as opposed to cat calling and all of that, is to work with the city,” said Fidler, who had been a vocal opponent of the city’s plan to close the school. “I think the objective facts at 114 cried out for a different answer than the one [city officials] were giving.”

Fidler had committed to doubling the funding that the school receives from City Coucil from last year to this year, a promise he vowed today to keep.

Parents, teachers, and Canarsie’s elected officials have been lobbying against the city’s closure plan for months. In recent weeks they were joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who hailed the city’s decision to keep the school open. Earlier today, de Blasio released a report criticizing the DOE’s decision to shutter the school.

“This is a major victory for this close-knit school community,” de Blasio said. “P.S. 114 deserved a second chance—and now it will have one.”

This is one of the first times that the city has abandoned its plans to shutter a school in the middle of the process. Last year, the city granted a partial reprieve to the Bronx’s Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School, choosing to keep one of its technical programs open but closing the rest. This year the city also spared four schools it was thwarted from closing last year, choosing not to try to shutter the schools again because of progress they had made.

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.