Behind every last-minute school hunt, a wealth of complications

P.S. 47 / The American Sign Language & English Secondary School
P.S. 47 / The American Sign Language & English Secondary School

Every year before students are packed off to school, hundreds of parents and children pass through the city’s dozen registration centers in hopes of finding new schools.

Often, they are recent arrivals to the city, looking to enroll their children before the new school year begins. Others are long-time residents trying to shift a child from private to public school or from a school many subway transfers away to one closer to home.

In the auditorium of the American Sign Language and English Secondary School — one of the three centers in Manhattan — families waited for hours today as DOE officials examined their documents and searched for open slots. We’ll be following their and others’ efforts to find an empty seat before September 9.

  • Maxine Shivers was making her second trip to the center  in two days. Shivers, who is in the Army, has deployment orders that will take her overseas within the month, but before she goes she’s scrambling to transfer her daughter to a high school closer to where they live. Currently, her daughter is slated to begin ninth grade at the Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts (she wants to be a reporter), but that’s a long subway ride from their home in lower Manhattan, and one Shivers doesn’t want her daughter making alone. Distance is one of three reasons (along with safety and health) the DOE finds acceptable for requesting a transfer. Tomorrow her daughter has interviews at two high schools. “It’s up to her now,” Shivers said. If neither of those schools has an open seat, she’ll have to return to the registration center and assess what’s left.
  • Formerly a Toronto resident, Marsha Henry’s job moved her to New York City and then let her go, complicating her daughter’s enrollment process. She has no permanent residence, her 13 year old’s immunization records are in storage, and her daughter doesn’t fly into New York until Tuesday, a day before school begins. Henry learned today, her second visit to the center, that she would have to bring all of these things — child, health records, proof of residence — to the registration center in order to even begin the enrollment process.
  • Matthew, 12, and his twin sister are transferring from a private elementary school to public middle school this year. “It’s mostly for financial reasons, but there are some very good middle schools in our district,” said his mother, Lynn Walker. Though his twin sailed through the enrollment process, Matthew is still waiting for placement. “The process was disorganized and confusing,” Walker said, adding that different DOE officials had given her conflicting advice. Though her daughter was placed months ago, Walker is still trying to find Matthew a seat at School of the Future, a middle school in the Gramercy Park neighborhood.
  • Mohammad Miah and his family were among the last to leave the center as its doors closed at 3 p.m. A tall, thin, 17 year old who just immigrated from Bangladesh, Miah is hoping to enroll at Liberty High School Academy for Newcomers, a school for international students.


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 Spokane, 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.”

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.