fighting the flood

Harlem lawmakers push for neighborhood-focused charter cap

Protestors at P.S. 123 yesterday applauded lawmakers' push to limit charter schools in Harlem.
Protestors at P.S. 123 yesterday applauded lawmakers pushing for limits on charter schools in Harlem. Eva Moskowitz, the C.E.O. of the Success Charter Network, was a particular target. (Photo screenshot from video below.)

The next front for the Harlem school wars could be Albany.

City Council member Inez Dickens yesterday proposed changing the state law to cap the number of charter schools that a single operator can open in a given school district.

She was speaking at a protest against the Success charter school network’s expansion into a traditional Harlem public school, P.S. 123.

Dickens said she had the support of state Sen. Bill Perkins, and Keith Wright, an Assemblyman representing Harlem, said he would introduce legislation to make that change on his side of the legislature.

A neighborhood- and operator-specific cap would add to what exists now, a cap on the number of charter schools across New York state at 200. There are 1,500 public schools in the city.

Such a cap would also squarely challenge the strategy the Success Charter Network has pursued of opening a large number of charter schools in a designated area; Eva Moskowitz, the network’s CEO, has said her goal is to open 40 Harlem charter schools in the next 10 years. A paper published last year by Democrats for Education Reform explains the strategy, which combines political and educational efforts with a goal of building public support for charter schools.

Charter schools now make up about 25% of public schools in Harlem, and that’s not counting schools opening in the fall. Debate about them reignited most recently after Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News reported that Moskowitz’s network had surprised P.S. 123 officials by moving into additional classrooms without warning. Moskowitz said in a statement that the Department of Education had turned over the rooms to her on July 1, but the DOE says she had not been given the go-ahead to actually move into them.

Joining the lawmakers at their protest yesterday were organizers from the group ACORN, which is an ally of the city teachers union and one of the community groups to which the union provides financial support. The union has opened two charter schools and represents some charter school teachers, but it supports capping the number of charter schools allowed to operate.

The executive director of the New York City Charter School Center, James Merriman, said he would oppose such a push in Albany. “It’s always a mistake to limit the growth of high performing schools whether charter or otherwise,” Merriman said. He also pointed out that Harlem has a “diversity” of charter school operators — not just the Success Network.

Update: “That seem clearly the wrong way to go,” Moskowitz said of Dickens’ proposal. “I find it odd that while president Obama has specifically come out against artificial limitations on high performing charters, local officials would be trying to limit them.”

Here’s a video from yesterday’s protest:

The video is courtesy of Ken Hirsh, who blogs for GothamSchools’ Community section and is a financial supporter of Harlem Success.

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.