dear readers

Raising our standards and evolving, with your help

While the school system limps toward a new governance structure, we at GothamSchools are shaking things up, too. To mark our first anniversary, we’re adding new staff (have you noticed those shiny new bylines?), excessing old ones, paying the bills in a new way, and changing up our content delivery model. We also plan to throw a party, at which we hope you’ll help us celebrate our continued existence despite the tough times.

Finally — permit one more forced parallel? — this post marks a new era of transparency and reader input, because we are both telling you all about the changes and asking for your help in pulling them off.

Please begin by enjoying our revised design, in which we distinguish between shorter dispatches and full-blown, robustly reported daily news stories. The shorter dispatches are indented and touched off by arrows, as in the post below this one. The stories are in the same maroon-headed format that you’re used to seeing blog posts.

The goal is to hold ourselves to an even higher standard, truth-telling-wise, while still keeping you up to date on the minutiae of school news (who just went wild at a City Council hearing, what article we just read and recommend, a deep thought, a breaking news item). The one unanswered question is what the new, indented dispatches should be called. Our working prospect is “margin notes,” but we want to consider all the possibilities before making that final. Please enter your ideas in the comments or write to [email protected] if it’s too private and/or brilliant to share with the group.

The Community section will also be evolving. We’re keeping our current stable of columnists and adding some new ones. We’ll also be adding a new category of contributor, diarists, who will give firsthand dispatches from inside the school system. Our goal is to have a good mix of parents, teachers, students, and school leaders. We’ll keep publishing “guest perspectives” (what newspapers call op/eds) by submission in the Community section, too. Send an e-mail to [email protected] for consideration in any part of the Community.

On the personnel side, Philissa Cramer, a founding staff member, is leaving full-time reporting to go off to New York University, where she is studying the history of education. Elizabeth Green is also changing her role as she heads off to Columbia University to commence the Spencer Fellowship, a program that gives working journalists sabbaticals at the Journalism School and Teachers College. She won’t be too far away from GothamSchools matters; her fellowship project is about the transformation of the city’s public schools under Michael Bloomberg. And both Philissa and Elizabeth will stay involved at GothamSchools part-time. Philissa will edit the community section, Elizabeth will be overall editor, and both will contribute regularly to the new “margin notes,” or whatever we decide to call it. Meanwhile, we’ve brought two energetic reporters on to keep up the full-time newsgathering, Anna Phillips and Maura Walz. Read more about all of us here.

Penultimately, about the money. We’ve been fortunate through this year to be incubated by a generous nonprofit, The Open Planning Project, which covered all our bills through September 1. We’re still tied to TOPP, but we’re also moving to raise money from more sources. A generous donation from one of our earliest contributors, Ken Hirsh, allowed us to stay afloat this fall. We need more help, though, both to keep up the journalism we do now and to improve the work we do in the future.

Want more video? We need cameras! Want more interactive databases? We need to pay web designers. Want more up-to-the-minute coverage? We need USB modems. We’ll be spending part of this year asking for your support in keeping our site going. Even a small donation could really help. E-mail [email protected] if you’re interested or have questions about the new funding model.

Finally, that party: we’ll share more details as we figure them out, but rest assured it will be both a chance to celebrate the community that’s grown up around our site and an opportunity to hit us with your best shots about how we can improve. We see this reorganization as the first step in an evolution in which we will become, at every step, better at digging up and dispatching the school news. Share ideas about the bigger picture or just the party by e-mailing [email protected].

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.