space wars

Parents contest charter schools proposed for crowded District 2

A hearing about Success Academy's proposed expansion into District 2 drew a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday evening.

A public hearing to discuss Success Academy’s bid to open two new charter schools in Manhattan’s District 2 next year was dominated by angry residents who said the district’s schools are too crowded to share space.

Parents from the district and members of its elected parent council said they opposed the proposal from the charter network because the district — which includes the Upper East Side down through Greenwich Village, Tribeca, and Lower Manhattan — is already overcrowded.

The council passed resolutions at the end of March calling for Success Academy to find its own building instead of moving into existing public schools and for a moratorium on charter school applications in the district.

“You can come in if you’re invited, but if the families are saying don’t come in, I don’t think you should come in,” said Shino Tanikawa, president of the Community Education Council for District 2. Tanikawa said she thinks of charter schools as “vampires.”

Most parents at the public hearing had children enrolled in one of the six schools located at the Julia Richman Education Complex on the Upper East Side or P.S. 158, whose co-located school, P.S. 267, is set to depart for its own space in September.

“What you’re essentially trying to do if you want to get into the complex is put 14 pounds of sand in a 10 pound bag,” said Guy Workman, whose daughter attends Talent Unlimited High School in the Richman Complex.

Widespread crowding is nothing new in District 2, and neither is criticism of Success Academy schools: The charge that it should find its own space has followed the network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, virtually wherever it has sought to open.

In February, a hearing about the network’s application for a school in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg attracted hundreds of people, both supporters and protesters who said the network shouldn’t get public space because it had not adequately recruited among Spanish-speaking families. That same month, a group of parents from Cobble Hill filed a lawsuit against Moskowitz and Success Academy to prevent the charter network from moving into a neighborhood school building. The two schools are among three the network is set to open this fall.

The network regularly encourages current parents to speak out at hearings about its proposed schools. On Tuesday, Ryan Dunn, the mother of twin boys who attend the network’s Upper West Side location, said Success had sped the progress of one son who had special needs. Parents should have a choice to be able to try to find alternative to their zoned schools, said Dunn, who was then interrupted by shouting from the small, crowded room. “People wouldn’t send in applications if there wasn’t interest,” Dunn added.

Neither Moskowitz nor representatives from the State University of New York charter board, which must approve the network’s application to open the new schools, attended the meeting, held at the Department of Education’s Midtown office.

So critics of the proposed schools directed their remarks toward the Recy Dunn, executive director of the city’s charter schools office. Parents questioned Dunn about which schools would be chosen to share space with incoming Success Academy schools, if the applications are approved, and over the late notification prior to the meeting.

“It was, as many parents said, very last minute. None of the PTA was able to come, so I’m going to be reporting back the information I got,” said Doris Moreira-Douek, whose daughter attends P.S. 2 in the Lower East Side near Chinatown. She found out about Tuesday’s hearing in a school letter sent home last week and said parents at P.S. 2 were prepared to fight if the department picks it to house a Success charter school.

The Department of Education typically places charter schools in space that it says is underused. The department has acknowledged the sweeping scale of overcrowding in many parts of District 2, and a spokeswoman for the Success Charter Network, Kerri Lyon, said today that it would only seek space in school buildings that are underutilized. Lyon said the network’s Upper West Side school had received 100 applications from District 2 families this year.

A handful of elementary schools in the district are not operating at full enrollment, especially in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, and multiple high schools in the district are being phased out, which would open up additional space.

The Department of Education has opened several new elementary schools in District 2 in recent years and another, the Peck Slip School, is set to open in September. Parents at the hearing said they preferred available space to be given to a new public middle school. They also said they weren’t against the charter network but argued that the schools should find locations outside of the district’s packed schools.

“The relationships that we built across the grades and across the different schools are amazing,” said Joshua Satin, vice-principal of Ella Baker School in the Richman Complex. “It’s a great place and it should not be touched.”

Success Academy Charter Schools has also applied to open a school in East Harlem’s District 4 next year and three new schools in Brooklyn. Mayor Bloomberg has said he is encouraging the network to expand quickly, and the six schools would be the most the network has opened in a single year.

Rose D’souza is a graduate student at Columbia University’s journalism school.

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.