Assembly members vote for mayoral control despite misgivings

ALBANY, N.Y. — After roughly an hour of debate, the State Assembly overwhelmingly voted to extend mayoral control until 2015 today, tossing the bill into the lap of a fractured and fractious Senate.

The bill, which was introduced by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last Sunday, renews the current system of school governance, but with minor changes. It maintains the core of mayoral control, authorizing the mayor to appoint the majority of the 13 members to the citywide school board and giving him latitude to dismiss board members at his pleasure.

The bill does include some checks on the mayor’s power, such as beefed up oversight of the Department of Education’s data, and the requirement that all no-bid contracts over $1 million be approved by the PEP.

Before the vote, Assembly members rose and offered their own opinions on the bill, many of which followed the simple formula of praising mayoral control as a system of school governance, stating they would vote for the bill, and then listing their concerns. Many described the bill as imperfect but said they were satisfied that it addressed issues of transparency and parental involvement.

“Am I completely happy with it? Of course not,” said Assemblyman Peter Rivera. “But I think it’s a great beginning.”

Assemblyman Mark Weprin of New York City said he thought mayoral control “makes a lot of sense,” but that elements of it aren’t working in his district, such as the role of the superintendent and the DOE’s “obsession” with test scores.

“I will not support this bill today because I would hate to leave the impression on people that things are hunky dory in the city of New York schools,” he said.

Other Assembly members said they are concerned that the bill does not support enough parental involvement. Several called for adding in public funds to train parents in political action and advocacy — an idea that two lobbying groups and the president of the teachers union, Randi  Weingarten, broadly endorsed on Monday.

Education committee chair Cathy Nolan responded to the concerns after the bill passed. “Most parent involvement happens at their child’s school. The bill enhances the role of parents by strengthening the School Leadership Team,” Nolan said. She also pointed out that the bill gives parents more say over school closings.

“We want to see bad schools restructured, but we don’t want to see parents crying on the news that their school is being arbitrary closed,” Nolan said.

Some lawmakers who had actively advocated for more checks on the mayor’s power ended the day by voting for Silver’s bill.

Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who voted against the bill in the education committee, voted to approve it this afternoon. Explaining her decision, she said she felt she had little choice.

“If we do nothing and we vote against it, then we have nothing. And this bill will sunset if we do nothing. And then New York City’s school system will be in total chaos.”

Millman said she was lobbying her senators to amend the bill, but was more optimistic that the Assembly would amend the city’s school governance system again before 2015. After the vote, Nolan said that though the law would sunset in 2015, the legislature could still make additional changes to the city’s school governance system before then.

Nolan’s decision to support the bill came despite fierce opposition from some of the groups she had worked closely with earlier this year. It also came despite her own very personal testimony against the Bloomberg administration’s school reforms during hearings she held in all five boroughs.

Nolan did not drop her criticisms today. At one point, she revived a storyline she often told during the hearings, describing her interactions with Chancellor Joel Klein’s department as “frustrating and disappointing.” According to Nolan, the DOE exhibited “dismissive contempt for the legislature” by withholding information.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.