the road to city hall

Fault lines emerge in mayoral hopefuls' consensus on schools

Mayoral candidates mingle after discussing education at an event Wednesday hosted by the principals union.

If education policy discussions among mayoral candidates were a song, the second verse would be the same as the first.

With two recent entrants to the Republican race absent, the lineup for Wednesday evening’s discussion, hosted by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, was identical to the first education debate held in November, and the conversation was similar, too.

The four Democratic candidates — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former comptroller Bill Thompson — and the single Republican, Manhattan Media publisher Tom Allon, rehashed now-familiar positions on school closures (most want a moratorium), educator as chancellor (almost all are committed to that), and community schools (after a visit to Cincinnati, they are all on board with the model).

But CSA President Ernest Logan told GothamSchools that he thought sharper distinctions would emerge in the coming months, particularly about which elements of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies each candidate would maintain.

“I think [the candidates] are trying to come into their own,” he said. “If you dig down deep, I think you can find some disagreement.”

Some of the disagreements broke through onto the stage at Baruch College, where hundreds of school administrators convened for the event, billed as “A Conversation with NYC’s Next Mayor.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio repeated his plan to increase taxes on New Yorkers earning over $1 million to fund full-day, universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programming for low-income students. He also argued that his opponents would likely not be able to underwrite their education policy proposals.

“I respectfully challenge my colleagues to put forward a realistic plan to even pay for it that would achieve the same thing,” he said. But none did, and Allon argued that the increased taxes would drive the city’s wealthiest taxpayers out of the city.

And when Thompson said the city could create community schools without spending any additional money, as Cincinnati has, de Blasio pushed back.

“The reason it’s revenue-neutral in Cincinnati is largely because of scale,” he said, noting that the Ohio district has just 40,000 students, compared to 1.1 million in New York City. “Here we’re going to need new revenue if we want to be serious about this in our schools.”

It was an approach that made him stand out, CSA members said. “Bill de Blasio took a stance and didn’t waver, and I like that,” said Laverne Burrows, an assistant principal at P.S. 160 in the Bronx.

De Blasio was also the only candidate to name names when discussing the process of having charter schools share space in district buildings, which all said could be done better.

“Another thing that has to change starting in January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place,” he said, referring to the founder and CEO of the Success Academy network of charter schools, which the Department of Education has allowed to open in more than a dozen school buildings. “She was giving the orders and chancellors were bowing down and agreeing. That’s not acceptable.”

The candidates also were divided on whether the Department of Education’s system of providing support to schools, which connects them by affinity rather than geography, should continue under the next administration.

“I am dubious about whether this current network structure can be kept,” de Blasio said. “The way it is structured right now just through the networks doesn’t make sense,” Thompson said.

But Quinn said she thought the network structure could survive.

“Some people really love the networks they’re in,” she said. “So I wouldn’t want to eliminate that for principals and schools that are finding a good match in the network, but I would want to explore ways to bring back a geographic overlay.”

Quinn continued to navigate the fine line between supporting Mayor Bloomberg, with whom she continues to work closely, and showing that a Quinn administration would bring change to the city’s schools.

When Allon said he would introduce merit pay as an alternative to more costly across-the-board raises for teachers, Quinn quickly pushed back. “The data simply does not support that,” she said, to applause. (Researchers found that a school-wide bonus program piloted in city schools under Bloomberg did not improve student achievement.)

But when the candidates were asked to say whether schools had improved under Bloomberg, she was the only one to answer, “Yes.” Even though Quinn added, “But it’s not progress I’m satisfied with,” the comment drew hisses from the crowd.

Former Metropolitan Transit Authority president Joe Lhota did not respond to an invitation to participate, and businessman John Catsimatidis bowed out at the last moment, according to a CSA spokeswoman. Catsimatidis’s chair sat empty on the stage.

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.