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.

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.