sad news

Frank Macchiarola, longest-serving chancellor until Klein, dies

Frank Macchiarola, schools chancellor from 1978 to 1983, died today at age 71.

City officials and longtime education insiders today are mourning the death of Frank Macchiarola, who served as chancellor from 1978 to 1983. After he resigned to lead a business and civic group, no chancellor had a tenure as long until Joel Klein.

In fact, even though previous city superintendents had held office for longer, Macchiarola was the longest-serving chancellor until Klein: The title was created when legislators decentralized the city’s school governance in 1970.

Most chancellors during the period of community control ran into trouble with mayor, who nominated them, or the Board of Education, which hired and fired them, but Macchiarola — who started the job at age 37 — left on good terms with Mayor Ed Koch, the board, and the teachers union.

“His tenure as schools chancellor under Mayor Koch proved that bold reforms were possible and helped set the stage for the work we’ve done over the past decade,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement today, and his chancellor, Dennis Walcott, said in a statement of his own that Macchiarola “was instrumental in redefining the role of the principal as the key leader of a school community.”

Here’s how the city’s principals union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, described Macchiarola’s tenure today:

He revitalized direct services to students, opened schools to the community after hours, developed a curriculum and instruction program that served as a national model, relentlessly strived to strengthen special education, and placed a huge emphasis on offering educational support to financially disadvantaged children. He also averted a teachers’ strike, took on the bus industry and published what many educators believed to be the first honest school drop-out report. He was loved and sometimes feared for setting the highest standards for students and educators.

Macchiarola’s New York Times obituary elaborates on his high standards, describing a set of policies that should sound familiar to anyone who has paid attention to city education policy during the Bloomberg administration:

Dr. Macchiarola set about imposing rigorous standards for both students and educators. He replaced more than 60 of the system’s 110 high school principals, rating their performance poor. He blocked automatic promotions for fourth and seventh graders, requiring them to take remedial summer classes or be held back if they failed to meet certain goals. (Almost 25,000 students were left back in June 1981; in later years, the policy sometimes lapsed and was sometimes revived.) …

Before stepping down, he told an interviewer that the school system “would be better off” if its seven board members — five of whom were chosen by borough presidents — were all appointed by the mayor and served without salary. Today the entire system is under the mayor’s control.

But even though Macchiarola’s policies made him something of a proto-Klein, his support for Klein’s tenure was qualified. After Klein exceeded his own time in office in 2007, Macchiarola told the New York Daily News, “He’s moved very quickly, and when you do that, you disrupt a lot of things and make people anxious.”

His own approach, he said in 2000, was more conciliatory, according to his Times obituary:

“As chancellor I constantly prayed not to confuse myself with God,” Dr. Macchiarola said. “They need to find a chancellor committed to providing leadership but who never shuts the door to someone’s ideas, or to the people who harangue and torture you. Otherwise, you end up defending something just because its yours.”

One of Macchiarola’s claims to fame is that he is the only chancellor to serve simultaneously as a principal. In 1982, he spent three months as the interim principal of Jamaica High School to learn, he said, about how high schools work, before handpicking a successor.

”Most of what I have seen here has been a revelation to me,” Mr. Macchiarola told the New York Times a month into his principalship. ”If I ever had any hesitation that money wasn’t being put to useful purposes in the schools that was dispelled.”

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.