early engagement

Moskowitz's Success expansion set to go deeper into Brooklyn

The city’s school board isn’t set to vote on the last of the Success Charter Network’s 2012 expansion plans until tonight. But plans for the network’s 2013 additions are already well underway.

In a letter sent last month to elected officials and community leaders in central Brooklyn, Success CEO Eva Moskowitz announced that she intends to apply for charters to open three schools in the area in the 2013-2014 school year.

One school would go in District 13, an area of Brooklyn that Moskowitz had originally said would house the school now set to open this fall in Cobble Hill. The two others would go in District 17, which includes Crown Heights and parts of Flatbush.

Already, the tentative plans are drawing criticism. The district manager for Community Board 2, which covers much of District 13, told the Brooklyn Paper that the community would be hesitant to embrace any such plan after Moskowitz suddenly opted out of her plans to open a school in the district this year.

“The board is not prepared to go down that road again,” Rob Perris told the newspaper.

City Councilwoman Letitia James, whose district covers large swaths of both districts, said she has grown wary of co-location battles in public school facilities, something that has accompanied nearly all of the Success network’s school openings.

“I’m not anti-charter, but it would be great if she had her own free-standing school,” James told GothamSchools. “I have an issue with forced co-locations that pit parents against one another and put elected officials in the middle of it.”

The new schools would grow Moskowitz’s network to 15 schools, and more 2013 applications for other areas might well be on the way. Mayor Bloomberg has already said that part of his education agenda for the remainder of his term is to accelerate expansion plans for high-performing charter networks. In his State of the City address, he specifically named Success and another network, KIPP.

Moskowitz has said that she wants to expand the network to 40 schools in New York City. But with Bloomberg exiting office after 2013, that plan could be in jeopardy if the next mayor is not as willing to let charter schools operate in public school space.

By entering District 17, Moskowitz is also signaling that she hasn’t abandoned the idea of opening schools in low-income neighborhoods with large minority populations. Over the past year, controversy surrounding Moskowitz has focused on her swift and aggressive campaign to expand into middle class neighborhoods, including the Upper West Side, Williamsburg and Cobble Hill. Median household income in the neighborhoods that make up District 17 hovers around $40,000, according to 2010 census data, about half that of the Upper West Side and Cobble Hill.

In her letter, Moskowitz wrote that she hopes to retain her vision for racially and socioeconomically integrated schools, as she is doing at Upper West Success. She said the schools would also place an emphasis on serving special education students and English language learners.

“The aim would be to educate all students at the same high level, irrespective of socioeconomic, racial, ethic and/or other status,” the letter reads. “We deeply believe that economically and racially integrated school settings provide important benefits to both students and the community.”

The Panel for Educational Policy voted last month to close two schools each in District 13 (Satellite 3 and the Academy of Business and Community Development) and District 17 (P.S. 22 and P.S. 161’s middle school). Only one of the buildings — P.S. 161 — does not yet have plans for a new school to replace it.

Moskowitz’s letter to local officials is below:

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.