new world order (updatedx2)

Boro presidents demand stronger Board of Ed and a meeting

The Manhattan and Brooklyn borough presidents are turning back on a tacit alliance with Mayor Bloomberg on school governance, demanding that the newly reconstituted Board of Education become emboldened and that the city reconstitute community school boards.

The presidents made the request in a letter to Deputy Mayor and Board of Education President Dennis Walcott today, asking for a Board of Education meeting as early as this August. They wrote:

The political situation in Albany remains unsettled, and while the Senate may return in the fall, experience has sadly shown us that even weeks of negotiation can prove fruitless. We must prepare for the possibility that the stalemate will continue and the Board as presently constituted will be the governing authority of the system and its more than one million children for some months.

The acknowledgment comes 22 days after the Board of Education first met in a scripted eight-minute session during which a majority vote called for the board not to meet again until September.

A third borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr. of the Bronx, endorsed the letter today in a statement, saying he wants to take the challenge a step further:

I would be willing to take their recommendations a step further and demand that the Board of Education meet as soon as possible to vote on each of the issues they have raised.

The three borough presidents alone cannot dictate what the Board of Education does, as they have only 3 of 7 votes. A meeting “as soon as possible” might also be hampered by the fact that Diaz’s appointee, Dolores Fernandez, is on vacation through Aug. 9, according to an e-mail she wrote to GothamSchools. Two other board members were appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, and the other two, appointees of the Staten Island and Queens borough presidents, include Walcott, a deputy mayor, and an ally of the mayor’s.

The full letter from Markowitz and Stringer is here, including a seven-point plan for how to reconstitute the pre-2002 school governance law.

UPDATE: I just spoke to Stringer, who disputed my characterization that he ever had an alliance with Bloomberg. “We never had an alliance,” he said. “We agreed on an approach, and we may all agree with this approach in 24 hours.”

Stringer, a former Assembly member, also predicted that the pre-2002 governance structure could last for “at least a year.” Lawmakers are not scheduled to return to session until January 1, 2010, but major bills like New York City school governance often take an entire session to negotiate.

Stringer said that the political reality means that elected officials must plan to follow the pre-2002 law, even if they support mayoral control, as Stringer and Markowitz both said they do in the letter to Walcott.

“When you quickly have to reconstitute a board, obviously you reconstitute a board so that you keep the system running, we don’t face lawsuits and dysfunction and political gamesmanship,” he said. “Now, going forward, we have to look at ways to make things better.”

Stringer said he is optimistic that Walcott will support his recommendations, noting that Stringer made the first suggestion to reconvene the Board of Education and the Bloomberg administration signed on.

UPDATE 2: The mayor’s office is signaling no interest in holding such a meeting. “We expect the governance debate in Albany to be resolved before the Board would need to meet,” Dawn Walker, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg.

7 Point Report Markowitz Stringer

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.