order of operations

School board members often don't see contracts they vote on

On Wednesday, members of the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on several controversial Department of Education contracts totaling millions of dollars.

But the panel’s 13 members won’t be able to see the details of the contracts, which the DOE cannot finalize without their approval.

Department officials said this state of affairs is typical.

The DOE provides panel members with various parts of the contracts being drafted if available, but often contracts up for approval are still under negotiation when the panel members vote, DOE officials said.

Panel members who believe they received insufficient information about a deal may vote against it.

“No” is how Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s PEP appointee, said he plans to vote on Wednesday, when two high-profile contracts are up for approval: a $120 million two-year deal with Verizon Wireless, and contracts of roughly $1.5-3.5 million each over three years with six “restart partners” — nonprofit Education Partnership Organizations set to take over operations at 14 struggling schools.

“They’re definitely putting the cart before the horse,” Sullivan said. “Approval is pretty much expected. They want the panel to approve in advance what they intend to do, and they will decide the details and specifics.”

When he has asked for more information in the past, Sullivan said he has received copies of the requests for proposals the city issues before finding a vendor, but not details about selected vendors’ specific plans.

Last week, Sullivan and two other PEP members, Dmytro Fedkowskyj of Queens and and mayoral appointee Freida Foster, discussed the contracts up for vote with several DOE officials in a 45 minute-long conference call. It was an unusual conversation, he said.

But Sullivan, who has gained a reputation as the voice of opposition to many DOE actions, said the call raised more questions than it answered.

“In the case of the EPOs, I think it is especially bad, because this is really an extraordinary measure: to take a school outside the jurisdiction of the superintendent and hand it to an outside entity,” he said. “If there’s no contract to review then I have to vote no—and I’ve been told there won’t be.”

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.