deja vu

Political divide still entrenched as PEP shutters more schools

Chancellor Walcott looks on as an I.S. 292 student reads a statement against the collaction of her school with the UFT Charter School. (Photo: Nell Gluckman)
Chancellor Walcott looks on as an I.S. 292 student reads a statement against the city’s plan to move the middle grades of the UFT Charter School into her building. (Nell Gluckman)

At Monday night’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, there was a single moment of consensus: All of the panel members voted to support the proposed location for Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem.

But for the rest of the meeting, as expected, the panel members split along the same lines that have divided them for years, and came to the same conclusions. Mayor Bloomberg’s seven appointees backed all of the 52 other proposals to close, open, and move schools, while four members appointed by borough presidents voted against them.

The divide held when the panel considered a resolution to support a moratorium on school closures and co-locations. The resolution was brought by panel members appointed by the borough presidents: Patrick Sullivan from Manhattan; Kevin Diamond, representing Brooklyn; Robert Powell of the Bronx; and Dmytro Fedkowskyj of Queens, who called the agenda of proposals “excessive and out of control.”

“This process is divisive, destructive and demoralizing for our principals and teachers,” Fedkowskyj said. “I believe other options exist and so do my colleagues.”

Mayoral candidate and former city comptroller Bill Thompson spoke in favor of the resolution at a press conference outside the school before the meeting, as well as during the public comment section. He called for “a comprehensive review of public schools before they’re closed.”

“If this policy continues, more than 65,000 students … would have their school experience marked by school closure,” he said during the meeting. “This is not a political matter and our children and families simply cannot wait for the next administration. We need a freeze on school closures and we need it now.”

Among the plans that the panel approved were four that will begin in 2014 or 2015, when Bloomberg will no longer be in office.

In the public comment section, many teachers spoke about their personal experiences with school closures.

“I’m living this process, we’re in phase out, and I’m here to tell you that it’s horrible for students, horrible for parents, horrible for teachers, and horrible for the school community,” said James Eterno, the teachers union chapter leader of Jamaica High School, which the city decided to close in 2011 and will cease to exist next year.

“You promised that you would keep the programs the school has. The business program, the finance program, the engineering classes, they’re all gone,” Eterno said. “What you promised in the educational impact statement you didn’t go through with … As the school closes you can’t get the class sizes to keep the programs running.”

(Photo slideshow by Nell Gluckman)

Diamond also made the case for better community engagement before any decisions are made. “Parents do not seem to be represented when it comes to the closing of the schools because when the decisions are being made they are not transparent so that parents can understand what is going on,” he told the panel. “We need to gain a better trust with parents.”

When Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg of the Department of Education urged the panel to vote “no” to the moratorium, audience members began shouting over him for a full two minutes, chanting “They say shut down, we say fight back.”

The moratorium resolution was voted down 8 to 3, with one abstention.

Most members of the audience had less to say about city policy than about the city’s proposals to close or change their schools. Seventy people signed up to speak during a public comment period, including members of the elected parent councils from districts across the city.

Some such as the parents from P.S. 167, a school slated to be phased out, had brought banners. Others heckled panel members appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, chanting slogans such as “Shame on you” and “Bloomberg’s puppet” when the panel members tried to speak. And members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a dissident caucus within the United Federation of Teachers, were fresh off a demonstration they had staged outside the school before the meeting began.

Hope Rodriguez, mother of a student in the Performance School, which was on the chopping block, voiced concern about the effect of the changes on high-needs students. “Children need this consistency,” she said. “Some of the children live in shelters and the one thing they can count on is seeing the principal everyday, seeing their teachers and friends everyday, and you’re proposing to take this away from them.”

Students from J.H.S. 292 Margaret S. Douglas and P.S. 167 The Parkway, both in Brooklyn, stayed until 9.30 p.m. to have their say. The 14 students from J.H.S. 292 who spoke eloquently on behalf of their school were adamant that bringing in the middle school grades of the struggling UFT Charter School, whose elementary grades are already sharing space with their school, would hurt their learning.

“Do you really want a top-rated school combining with a failing school? That’s not fair to me and the other students,” said Lance White, an eighth-grader from J.H.S. 292. “I don’t think the young children will be able to learn and be productive in an overcrowded environment.”

At one point, Walcott left the stage to stand at the microphone where the students were speaking to hear more of what they were saying and get copies of their speeches.

Many students said they worried about losing the performing arts programs they loved at the school: African drumming, photography, and the Soul Tigers marching band.

“There is a dynamic of loss in these buildings, but we think that we know from so many examples across the city that it can work,” said Sternberg, the deputy chancellor. “And in return for the small sacrifice, we can provide families with much greater choice.”

A few speakers supported the co-location proposals. Parents backing Achievement First Apollo Charter School and Achievement First Charter High School 2 said the move would increase school choice in those Brooklyn neighborhoods. “Every parent should have the choice to select a great school for their children,” said Mery Melendez, a parent and member of Families for Excellent Schools, a group that organizes charter school parents to support policies that are friendly to the schools.

When the Panel for Educational Policy started its meeting to vote on school closure proposals at 6 p.m. Monday, the large auditorium at Brooklyn Technical High School was filled with hundreds of people, and the atmosphere was rowdy.

The meeting began at 6 p.m. with a packed auditorium and raucous crowd, but by the time the panel began voting on proposals about individual schools, it was 12:45 a.m. and the number of people in the audience had dwindled to around 40. The meeting ended at 1:10 a.m. The panel will reconvene next week to consider another set of school use proposals, but not additional closures.

These schools will be phased out:
M.S 203, Bronx
Performance School, Bronx
P.S. 64 Pura Belpre, Bronx
P.S. 230 Dr. Roland N. Patterson, Bronx
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications, Bronx
M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
P.S. 50 Clara Barton, Bronx
P.S. 167 The Parkway, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn
P.S. 174 Dumont, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero School, Brooklyn
Sheepshead Bay High School, Brooklyn
P.S. 73 Thomas S. Boyland, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, Brooklyn
High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Manhattan
J.H.S. 13 Jackie Robinson, Manhattan
Choir Academy of Harlem, Manhattan
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School, Manhattan
Law, Government and Community Service High School, Queens
Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship High School, Queens

These schools will be closed:
Freedom Academy High School, Brooklyn
M.S. 45 / S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy, Manhattan

These co-locations will move forward:
Success Academy Charter School – Bronx 1 (expansion, beginning 2014) in M.S. 203’s building, Bronx
New high school 07X259 in Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School’s building, Bronx
New elementary school 07X359 and new site of a District 75 program in Performance School’s building, Bronx
Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls Charter School (expansion) in Performance School’s building, Bronx
New high schools 08X320, 08X348, 08X349 in Herbert H. Lehman High School’s building, Bronx
New elementary schools 09X294 and 09X311 in P.S. 64 Pura Belpre’s building, Bronx
New elementary school 09X274 in I.S. 229 Roland Patterson’s building, Bronx
New secondary school 09X350 at the William H. Taft Educational Campus, Bronx
New high school 10X264 in Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School’s building, Bronx
New high schools 10X351 and 10X353 in DeWitt Clinton High School’s building, Bronx
New middle school 11X355 in M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa’s building
New elementary School 12X314 in P.S. 50 Clara Barton’s building, Bronx
Achievement First Charter High School 2 and New middle school 19K654 in J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin’s building, Brooklyn
The UFT Charter School (re-siting of middle school grades) in J.H.S. 292 Margaret S. Douglas’ building, Brooklyn
New elementary school 19K557 and new middle school 19K663 in P.S. 174 Dumont’s building, Brooklyn
New district middle schools 19K661 and 19K662 in J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero’s building, Brooklyn
Achievement First Apollo Charter School (expansion) in J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero’s building, Brooklyn
New district high school 22K611 and new transfer school 22K630 in Sheepshead Bay High School’s building, Brooklyn
New Visions Charter High School for Applied Math and Science III and New Visions Charter High school for the Humanities III in Sheepshead Bay High School’s building, Brooklyn
New elementary school 23K559 and New middle school 23K664 in P.S. 73 Thomas S. Boyland’s building, Brooklyn
New middle school 23K668 in Chappie schools’ building, Brooklyn
New Public Charter School Math, Engineering, and Science Academy in J.H.S. 291 Roland Hayes’ building, Brooklyn
New high school 02M139 in Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers’ building, Manhattan
New district high school 02M135 (from 2015) at the Graphics Educational Campus, Manhattan
Success Academy Charter School – Manhattan Middle School (from 2015) at the Graphics Educational Campus, Manhattan
Harlem Village Academy Leadership Charter School (expansion, from 2015) at M.S. 45 / S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy’s building, Manhattan (M.S. 45 / S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy will close at end of 2012-2013 school year)
Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem at Mott Hall High School’s Buliding, Manhattan
New high school 24Q236 in Newtown High School’s building, Queens
New high schools 25Q240 and 25Q241 in Flushing High School’s building, Queens
New high school 29Q243 at the Campus Magnet High School Building, Queens

Nell Gluckman and Carey Reed also contributed to this story.

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.