what parents want

As charter apps trickle in, Upper West Side debates demand

Hundreds of families have submitted early-bird applications to the newest charter school in Eva Moskowitz’s chain, which so far lacks a home but has seen no shortage of controversy.

Upper West Success Academy reports that 357 families have filed applications since the school was approved last month. Two-thirds live in District 3, the diverse and relatively wealthy district stretching from 59th Street to 122nd Street on the West Side of Manhattan where the school will be located.

“Given that every great elementary school on the Upper West Side is overcrowded and the terrific private schools cost more than $30,000 a year, it’s hardly surprising that Upper West Side parents are lining up for a high performing charter school,” Moskowitz said in a statement. Her organization is also touting the results of a phone poll that found 70 percent of neighborhood parents would support the school opening in the area. When told that the school would share space with another public school, support dropped to 59 percent.

But applications from 269 district families and a poll of 300 households does not “demand” make, according to parent leaders who are pushing back against the school. They say the city would do better to invest in existing schools rather than to carve out space for a charter school.

Resistance from local parents is one reason why Upper West Success is still without a site. The city tried to place the school inside PS 145 on West 105th Street but backed down after the community protested. Now city officials say the school, which will start with a kindergarten and first grade, will likely open in the Brandeis High School building.

At the crux of the debate is the question of whether District 3 needs charter schools, which are meant to serve needy students and so far are mostly located in low-income neighborhoods. The district contains some of the highest-performing schools in the city and includes some of the most affluent zip codes. Moskowitz is billing Upper West Success as an alternative to tony private schools and arguing that middle-class parents need school choice just as much as poor families, a case she will press at a series of apartment parties starting next week.

“They want upper-middle-class white kids who, because the DOE is not paying attention to those schools, are going to be attracted to a school the DOE favors heavily,” said Noah Gotbaum, president of the district’s elected parent council.

But District 3 also serves many poor students and has some schools that enroll black and Hispanic students almost exclusively. It is home to a dozen elementary schools that scored a D or F on their most recent progress reports. Upper West Success plans to offer preference to children zoned for those schools, along with students with disabilities and those classified as English language learners.

Gotbaum said the numbers sound like the school’s aggressive marketing — he said he has received 18 pieces of mail from Upper West Success — isn’t paying off.

“If she doesn’t get thousands of applications, it will be shocking because of the millions of dollars she’s spending in saying there are no good options in the district,” he said.

But Upper West Success has more than four months to collect applications. Charter schools are required by law to accept applications at least until April 1, when they are first permitted to hold admissions lotteries.

Of the 357 current applicants, 14 percent live in Harlem, home to the first three Success Network schools. Another 10 percent live in the Bronx, where the network just opened a school this year.

Gotbaum said he plans to conduct his own survey of parents in the district.

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news