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.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”