my quick answer is no

Liu stands his ground, Weiner impresses in charter-led forum

Former congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner poses with a parent and student from Girls Prep Bronx at a forum led by charter school parents Tuesday night.
Former congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner poses with a parent and student from Girls Prep Bronx at a forum led by charter school parents Tuesday night. Many parents gave Weiner a favorable review.

Some mayoral candidates who have been critical of charter schools avoided uncomfortable questions by skipping a forum hosted by charter school advocates Tuesday night. But Comptroller John Liu not only showed up but said he would issue a potentially crippling blow to the charter sector if he becomes mayor.

Liu said he would charge rent to charter schools that occupy space in city buildings, reversing a Bloomberg administration policy of awarding unused space in school buildings to charter schools that want to operate there. The policy has allowed the city’s charter sector to flourish.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former congressman Anthony Weiner — who emerged as the audience’s clear favorites — both said they would not consider charging rent, something that some critics of charter schools want the next mayor to do.

“The model of charter schools is in part based on not paying rent,” Quinn said. “So if you say you’re going to pay rent, then you’re not going to have charters.”

Sal Albanese, a former teacher who is mounting a long-shot mayoral candidacy, played to the crowd by saying that he is open to withdrawing his support for a moratorium on the creation of charter schools if communities are involved in the creation process. He also said he would not charge existing charter schools rent.

“The last thing I want to do is erode their ability to provide the services to children and to parents,” he said.

All six leading Democratic candidates had been confirmed for the forum, which was sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools, the New York City Charter School Center, and other charter school advocates. But earlier in the day, former comptroller Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio both backed out, citing scheduling conflicts. Thompson and de Blasio are seen as the strongest contenders for the teachers union’s endorsement, which it is set to make next week.

Liu is also angling for the union’s endorsement after winning support from DC-37, the labor union that represents many school workers. On Tuesday evening, his strategy appeared to hinge on demonstrating a willingness to stand his ground in front of a hostile audience.

He said that because district schools shoulder some costs that charter schools do not, letting charter schools use public space rent-free puts them on an unequal playing field. He also said the tension that co-locations create between parents, teachers and communities is not worth it.

“It has distracted away from the learning environment that should be in each and one of those school buildings,” he said, in comments that prompted the only boos of the night. “If we want to have charter schools they should be community-grown charter schools with their own space.”

Each candidate spent about 25 minutes answering questions posed by charter school parents, whom Families for Excellent Schools is trying to mobilize in the mayoral election. Quinn and Weiner each said, as they have before, that they support continuing to allow charter schools to use public space. But each said tensions between district and charter schools could be reduced.

Quinn said she would do a better job than the Bloomberg administration of making sure resources are distributed equally to all schools in each building.

“I want to make the process one that’s more transparent, more consistent, and better managed.” And then she added with a laugh, “I just want to make sure I’m saying the same thing in every room on this topic.”

Weiner said he blamed both sides for allowing tension and controversy to proliferate.

“Here’s what’s going to be different in my administration … I’m going try to turn down the temperature on this conversation, to get to a place that is less us against them, the traditional public schools versus the charters, the UFT versus the reformers,” Weiner said. “Too many people on both sides of the debate benefit from it. The charter movement raises money off it. The UFT organizes parents around it.”

After Weiner left the stage and took questions from the media, a parent walked up to him and thanked him for wanting to bridge the divide between charter and district schools. Da Abi Renelon, a charter school parent, said she doesn’t believe that simply opening new charter schools is the answer to fixing the city’s school system.

“There are a lot of key points you said in there that are dead on,” she told the former congressman. “We have to start working on schools that are failing. That’s the problem I found with this administration … is that we’re doing charters versus district schools and what we have is parents going after parents.”

After the forum ended, parents stood outside waiting for the buses that the forum organizers had arranged for the hundreds of attendees. Many discussed the candidates.

Charter school parent Amanda Blair said she was leaning more toward Quinn and Weiner and was surprised by how much she liked Weiner. “I came with my preconceived ideas about Weiner, but he’s well polished, he’s a good politician,” she said.

Charlene Philip, who has a child at Achievement First East New York Charter School, stood with a couple other parents discussing which candidates they liked and didn’t like.

“I am more geared toward Weiner. Quinn was a little on the border for me. John Liu, I don’t think so. Sal Albanese, he’s too much of a hand talker,” she said, waving her hands around. “People who talk like this, I don’t trust them.”

The other parents agreed that it was a toss up between Quinn and Weiner, but mostly they liked Weiner. “I was surprised he came out so strong,” Philip added.

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.