charter politics

De Blasio takes heat from politicians, parents at charter school rally

On the steps of City Hall following Wednesday’s charter school rally, the Bronx borough president had strong words for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“The public school system is your system. Charter schools are a part of that system,” Ruben Diaz Jr. said. “All we want from you, Mr. Mayor, is to treat them equitably.”

Diaz was the highest profile member to criticize de Blasio at a massive rally held Wednesday in Brooklyn and in front of City Hall, but was far from the only one. He was among thousands of parents and students who co-opted the mayor’s signature goal of reducing inequality by calling on the city to offer more support to charter schools and improve education for black and Hispanic students, holding up signs that read, “Hey Mayor! End Inequality NOW!”

The rally, organized by the well-funded advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, was similar in tone to last year’s event. It came on the heels of a series of education policy announcements from de Blasio and as the city’s charter movement continues its rapid growth.

De Blasio has been cooler to charter schools than former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has been criticized by advocates for not offering charters enough support. Families for Excellent Schools and Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz have circulated letters recently accusing de Blasio of hurting the city’s needy students by not offering charter schools space in public school buildings — though the city is expected to spend over $30 million on rent in private space for charter schools by next summer.

But if parents at the rally last year were focused on what the newly elected de Blasio might do as mayor, this year’s crowd was already buzzing about his re-election campaign in 2017.

Parents, most of whom had students at Success Academy schools, were generally warm to the idea of a Moskowitz bid for mayor. Moskowitz has said she is interested in the position, and a representative told reporters that will make a political announcement on the steps of City Hall Thursday morning.

“Oh definitely. Oh yes of course,” said Hawa Magass, the parent of a fourth grader at Harlem Success Academy 3, when asked if she would support a Moskowitz run.

Some, like Natasha Venning, the parent of two children who attend different Success Academy schools in Harlem, said the mayor’s attitude toward charter schools persuaded her not to vote for him.

“No, I didn’t and I told everybody not to,” Venning said about voting for de Blasio. “I think he’s full of crap.”

Elected officials in the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough and home to a large share of the city’s persistently struggling schools, have long been split on whether the city should encourage the rapid growth of charter schools, which already occupy parts of many Bronx school buildings. The borough president’s father, State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., has been a longtime charter supporter. Still, the criticism Diaz Jr. offered Wednesday was notable for coming from a fellow Democrat typically allied with de Blasio, and has added to speculation that Diaz might be considering his own mayoral run.

In response, the mayor’s office pointed to the mayor’s education initiatives including pre-K for all, and plans to offer new reading support for second graders and Advanced Placement classes for all students and argued that they are designed to improve all of the city’s public schools. And even before Moskowitz announced that she will speak at City Hall on Thursday, the rally was criticized by the mayor’s allies as a political stunt.

“We believe that’s the path to raising achievement — not just for some students — but for all students,” City Hall spokesman Wiley Norvell said.

The Alliance for Quality Education advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari was incredulous that Diaz would speak against the mayor.

“If we’re really about equity, why wouldn’t you want someone who’s really focused on the majority of the system?” she asked.

But Diaz held that the mayor could do more to find suitable locations for charter schools and to support them financially.

“We want to work with the mayor,” Diaz said after the press conference, but charter schools are now, “a permanent part of the tapestry in the city of New York.”

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.