speech & debate

Thompson and Bloomberg spar over their education records in first mayoral debate

Nothing the candidates said during tonight’s mayoral debate was more surprising than the Rev. Billy Talen’s spirited heckling, but a few choice comments were made about the city’s schools and mayoral control.

Right out of the gate, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched into a list of comparisons between the Department of Education during the last eight years and the Board of Education during the time that Comptroller Bill Thompson was president. He recited graduation statistics, said that schools are safer today than they were in the 1990s, and boasted about test scores increases.

Thompson said it was ironic that Bloomberg was holding him accountable for the city’s schools when the mayor has repeatedly said that no one had control over the Board of Education.

“He pointed out, under the old Board of Education, no one was in charge. The mayor, the board, the chancellor, so many people were in charge, no one was in charge, so it’s ironic that he would try and distort facts and information, try and change the past, to say that I was the person who was in charge of the Board of Education. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“If he believes nobody was in charge, why didn’t he try to get control?” the mayor shot back.

The bottom line is he did help us get mayoral control … we got mayoral control as much because when he ran it [the Board of Education], the schools were terrible, and the public and the legislature said no más. We’re going to finally fix the system and that’s how mayoral control got enacted.

Asked by NY1’s Dominic Carter, who moderated the debate, whether his tenure could be compared to Bloomberg’s, Thompson offered his clearest explanation yet of his BOE days.

“I didn’t run the school system,” he said. When Carter repeated the question, Thompson appeared to change tactics, saying that he “led a reform effort” at the Board of Education.

“I helped to end decentralization, putting someone in charge for the first time in decades. I helped to move math scores up and increase reading scores. Did I do a good job? Is it a record that I am proud of? Yes. … The truth is if it wasn’t for the work that I did, mayoral control wouldn’t have happened.”

“You don’t get a medal for rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic, and that’s exactly what he did,” Bloomberg responded.

The Daily News’ Adam Lisberg asked the mayor about teachers’ salaries. ” In your time in office, teachers salaries have gone up 43 percent, and total education operating expenditures at the DOE have gone up 55 percent. Do you really think most parents would agree that the schools are 43 percent or 55 percent better?”

Bloomberg answered:

“I don’t think that’s the measure because there’s inflation built in there, there’s the competitive factor, we have to pay our teachers what they can make elsewheres. After all, while they’re dedicated people and they want to help our children and they don’t go into public service to make a lot of money, they still have to pay the rent.”

At the precise moment that the debate ended, Bloomberg’s campaign sent out a press release declaring that the mayor had won.

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.