full court press

In court, UFT and NAACP ask for immediate halt to closure plans

UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks at an NAACP rally Friday morning. The organizations are the primary plaintiffs on a lawsuit against the Department of Education.

Seeking to force an immediately halt to the city’s plans to close 22 schools and co-locate another 19 charter schools, the teachers union and the NAACP asked for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education on Thursday.

The court request would force the plans to end whether or not a judge rules in favor of the original lawsuit challenging the city’s plans. That lawsuit, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP last month, argues that the closures and co-locations create an unequal allocation of resources.

City school officials immediately criticized the attempted restraining order, describing a colliding impact that they said would target thousands of high school students.

Last year, when another lawsuit by the teachers union and the NAACP forced the city to reverse its plans to close struggling schools, the city delayed matching students to high schools until the outcome of the suit was clear. This year, the city has already matched students to high schools. It’s not obvious what would happen to re-match students to closing high schools, but school officials said the process would be chaotic.

“It would throw the high school admissions process into disarray,” a Department of Education official said, speaking on background.

Speaking to reporters at Tweed Courthouse today, Walcott said that he was concerned about the late timing of the request. “This changes the whole thing,” he said. “We can’t phase out the schools. We can’t co-locate new schools or new buildings into the schools themselves. We have people who are just on hold. People have selected high schools and have been matched to high schools.”

Teachers union officials said that the injunction simply asks the DOE to allow kids to return to the school they originally attended.

Hours earlier, the NAACP rallied uptown outside of the headquarters of Harlem Success Academy, the charter school network that Eva Moskowitz operates. Last week, Moskowitz was one of the charter school leaders who organized a 2,500-person rally targeting the NAACP in the courtyard in front of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, also in Harlem.

The NAACP’s gathering was significantly smaller — police estimated it at around 100 — but included fiery testimony from elected officials, parents, and union leaders who characterized the resources provided to charter school students as modern-day segregation.

Hazel Dukes, head of the New York NAACP, pledged to continue the fight for equality. “We’re going all the way to the promise land,” said Dukes. “This is just the beginning of our journey.”

Not everyone at the rally agreed. Behind the cameras, Daryl Winslow, a black father whose daughter attends one of Moskowitz Success charter schools, Bronx Success, shook his head and said that his daughter already read at a second grade level thanks to the school.

The NAACP rally, he said, was counterproductive. “It’s creating more separation, and it always involves more of our people to start it,” said Winslow. “I don’t care if you’re Jewish, Chinese, or Portuguese. As long as you get it right in the classroom.”

At Tweed Courthouse, Walcott reiterated his displeasure with the plaintiffs who filed the suit. “It’s ironic that these two groups, especially the NAACP, are deferring the dreams of our children,” he said. “There are choices that people want to make and as a result of this, that will not happen.”

Here’s the UFT’s request for a temporary restraining order:

UFT Memo in Support of TRO and Preliminary Injunction 6-2-11//

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.