To the rescue

After losing fight for Detroit school oversight, advocate says her side lost on politics, won on policy

(Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat)

A leading advocate for improving Detroit’s schools says she’s down but not defeated after lawmakers last week approved a Detroit Public Schools rescue package that lacked hoped-for reforms.

“They beat us at politics, not on the policy debate,” said Tonya Allen, who heads the Skillman Foundation and is a co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.

The Coalition, along with key allies like Mayor Duggan, spent months fervently lobbying lawmakers to approve reforms they said would promote school quality in the city.

Notably, the group wanted a Detroit Education Commission to control the number of charter schools in Detroit and help steer charter schools to neighborhoods that need them instead of allowing them to congregate in neighborhoods already saturated with schools.

That effort met with strong resistance from charter school lobbyists who successfully got it removed from the final $617 million rescue package. Most of the package passed by razor-thin margins without support from Democrats or Detroiters.

“It didn’t provide us with all of the tools that we feel like we needed,” Allen said.

But she still thinks her side came out on top.

“We’re winning,” she said. “The policy debate that came through the legislative process puts a spotlight on low performing schools … We now have the bully pulpit to try and encourage quality to happen.”

For now, she said, the Coalition will focus on changes they can make to schools that don’t involve the legislature.

That includes addressing chronic student absences and improving teacher training, among other priorities, she said.

“The biggest work and the hardest work is still before us and that is changing what happens in classrooms in Detroit.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”