The co-location situation

Amid criticism, Moskowitz will introduce new Brooklyn charter

Success Charter Network head Eva Moskowitz is making her first public appearance in Brownstone Brooklyn—and as usual, she will be joined by protesters.

Moskowitz is holding an informational session tomorrow to detail her plans for a new charter school that is likely to open in the affluent Cobble Hill neighborhood next year. Most of tomorrow’s protesters are parents from the neighborhood, who say they are planning to attend the meeting to tell Moskowitz that the Success Charter Network is not wanted there.

Opposition is also starting to rise from another group: School leaders in the Baltic Street building where the city has proposed to house the new school. The principals say they are nervous that the charter school’s presence could derail their attempts to improve their schools.

“We have had monumental success this year, and I’m concerned about how we can sustain that with another school added to the building, with the division of space,” Joseph O’Brien, principal of the School for Global Studies, one of the three schools currently housed in the building, told GothamSchools last week, before the co-location plan was announced. 

His school, which is in its second-year of “transformation,” a federally-funded school improvement program, moved from an F to a B on the annual high school progress reports this year. “I wonder, for a school that’s moved so far, how could they lay that at my feet?”

Another principal inside the building, Fred Walsh of the School for International Studies, said he is also worried the co-location will put a strain on the shared space, which the DOE identified as under-enrolled this year.

“To have four schools in the building, to put 190 more students in here, means huge class sizes, which would really, really impact our programming,” he said. “It would be really, really upsetting to both schools.”

Walsh’s and O’Brien’s schools enroll mostly African-American students, many of whom hail from public housing, in an neighborhood that is predominantly white. Nearby, P.S. 29 is known for its white, middle-class student body, while two other elementary schools, P.S. 261 and P.S. 58 in the neighboring Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens communities, also serve largely middle-class populations.

Success Network officials defended the plans to colocate in other schools, citing the Independent Budget Office’s findings that district schools co-located with charter school are less likely to suffer from overcrowding issues.

“We’ve made the decision, so the goal of meeting is to introduce parents to our school model,” said Jenny Sedlis, Success Academy’s director of external affairs. She said the school will replicate the Success Charter Network schools in Manhattan, the Bronx, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

The parents organizing tomorrow’s protest were originally concerned that the charter would be located in their school, M.S. 447, a selective middle school with many middle-class families and a special program for autistic students. Parents there say they are relieved that their school is off the hook. But they said they would keep protesting Success Charter Network’s move into Brownstone Brooklyn.

“We know that things can always change. We are continuing to mobilize to keep the parents and community involved, until its really done and final decisions are made,” said Valerie Price Ervin, whose son attends M.S. 447.

Protesters from that school, other area schools, and several community organizations are planning to rally outside the Carroll Gardens Library tomorrow during Moskowitz’s presentation.

“If they’re not going to put it in our school, then we are still in opposition—not in 447, not in any public schools,” said Isemene Speliotis, a parent-teacher association member at M.S. 447 who is organizing the protest.

The purpose of Moskowitz’s meeting will be to demystify the charter school network’s academic philosophy for parents who are not familiar with charter schools, Sedlis said.

Though attendees will have an opportunity to provide feedback after hearing from Moskowitz, she said Success Academy leaders have already decided to move forward with their plans.

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.”