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As primary day nears, Thompson hones in on the city's schools

Comptroller Bill Thompson released his overcrowding report outside of P.S. 290, a school that is over capacity.

One day before the Democratic primary, mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson is making Mayor Bloomberg’s oversight of the city’s public schools his campaign’s defining issue.

Thompson, the city’s comptroller, issued a report yesterday rehashing arguments made by the mayor’s critics throughout his time in office. It criticized the mayor for not spending enough money on school construction, despite evidence that the city’s school-age population had swelled in certain districts.

The report, called “Unprepared for Overcrowding,” looks at the 2010-2014 capital plan the City Council approved this summer and singles out roughly two dozen school districts, the majority of them in the Bronx and Queens, where it predicts schools will remain overcrowded after 2014.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who was part of a gaggle of local elected officials who stood next to Thompson during the announcement, thanked the comptroller “for stating the obvious.”

During the press conference, which was held outside of the Manhattan New School (P.S. 290) on the Upper East Side, Thompson accused Bloomberg of making trailers permanent fixtures in low-income neighborhoods rather than fixing overcrowding.

“Of the 18,000 primary and middle school students being taught in temporary facilities, the vast majority are lower income and increasingly from immigrant neighborhoods,” he said, in what seemed a deliberate move to counter the mayor’s efforts to depict himself as a champion of eduction for minority students.

Workers from Bloomberg’s campaign staff attended the press release and distributed leaflets attacking Thompson’s record as president of the Board of Education.

Asked where he would find the money to increase school construction, Thompson cited $900 million that is slated to be spent on prison construction, and that he believes should be redirected to education.

Along with Krueger were Assemblyman Micah Kellner, Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, and Councilman Robert Jackson, all of whom gave statements roundly condemning the city’s capital plan as inadequate.

“When you’re talking about any issue like this, overcrowding and planning of schools, you have to be looking at minimum 5-10 years out,” Krueger said. “And yet, in the eight years I’ve been in the Senate trying to represent this district, my frustration has been that it appears that DOE doesn’t even look in front of its own face,” she said.

Asked why the report hadn’t been released in time to influence the City Council’s  debate over the capital plan, Glenn von Nostitz, director of policy for the comptroller’s office of policy management, said it wasn’t completed in time.

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.