head count

DOE likely to increase class size targets, official says

The city’s Department of Education will likely lift the ceiling on class sizes this year, a department official said today.

DOE chief operating officer Photeine Anagnostopoulos told the City Council education committee this morning that it was realistic to expect the city to “adjust” its class size targets. How dramatic the increases will be is still unclear, she said.

“We have to go back and do some more homework,” Anagnostopoulos said.

Anagnostopoulous’ comments came during a hearing on the department’s use of state Contracts for Excellence funding. The funds are given to school districts that prove they will spend the funds in six key areas, one of which is class size reduction.

As part of the legal settlement that established the funds, the city was required to adopt a five-year plan for class size reduction. Under that agreement, which the state approved in 2007, the city planned to reduce class size to around 20 students in kindergarten through third grade, around 23 students in grades four through eight by the 2011-12 school year.

That plan was made under the assumption that the amount of state money would increase each year, Anagnostopolous said. This year, in the face of a severe budget deficit and looming cuts, the state froze the funds and planned to grant the city the same amount it received last year.

“Now we have two years with no new money,” Anagnostopolous said.

Anagnostopoulos said that though the total amount of Contracts for Excellence funding will remain constant this school year, how the money is spent will change.

A growing number of principals have decided to spend their funds not on reducing class size, but in one of the program’s other key areas, Agnostopolous said.

“It’s likely that the combination of budget cuts and rising costs created a situation where principals felt that other strategies would be more effective and achievable than class size reduction,” she said. She later pointed to an increase in funding for programs for English language learners as an example of where principals may be redirecting their spending.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of the non-profit Class Size Matters, disputed this claim in testimony later in the hearing. She pointed to responses to her organization’s survey of principals that suggests many principals believe their large class sizes prevent them from providing a quality education to their students.

Anagnostopoulos spent much of the rest of the hearing defending the department’s handling of the public comment process on how the funds should be spent. While most school districts in the state held their mandatory hearings on the funds over the summer, the city DOE delayed their hearings until after the school year began.

Anagnostopoulos defended the decision to hold the hearings later in the year, saying that it did not make sense to hold hearings on the funds until after the overall city budget was set.

She added that the move was intended to increase public participation in the hearings, though she said the department had not compiled numbers on how many people attended the hearings, which took place at the first meeting of each local district’s Community Education Council.

A representative of the group that brought the lawsuit which resulted in the state funds said that was no excuse for delaying the hearings. “The time line really makes a mockery of the process,” said Helaine Doran, deputy director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

The hearing also resurrected a debate over whether the city is using the state funds to supplement its own budget, or using the state funds instead of allocating city money to areas like class size reduction. Under the state legislation establishing the fund, the city is required to use the funds “supplement, not supplant” its own spending, which Anagnostopolous said the city was doing.

Doran and Eric Weitman, the New York City advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, charged that the city had cut more from the budgets of the highest needs schools. The result, they said, was that the Contracts for Excellence funds are being used to fill in the gaps.

“We think supplanting is still on the table here,” Doran said.

The Alliance for Quality Education made the same argument in a new report on how the city is using its Contracts for Excellence spending, timed to coincide with the hearing. The report is not available on the AQE website, but here it is in full:

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.