unchartered territory

Ignoring violations, parents want to keep a charter school open

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Parents of East New York Prep students said the city should help the school correct its governance problems rather than close it.

Parents and students at an East New York charter school are pleading with the Department of Education to keep their school open after an investigation found that the school had violated its charter and its principal was expelling high-needs students.

Charter schools are rarely closed in New York City, but when they are it can inspire as much anger and confusion as the shuttering of a traditional public school. At a hearing at East New York Preparatory on Wednesday night, about 100 parents filled the auditorium to ask questions of DOE officials and speak out against the school’s proposed closure. Its embattled principal Sheila Joseph might have broken a few rules, they said, but in a high-crime, high-poverty neighborhood, a seat in her school was the only way out.

“In this community there aren’t many options for these kids,” said Leon Smillie, the father of a second grader. “This is a good option.”

ENYP has a monopoly on hope in a desperate section of Brooklyn, making its problems seem insignificant to parents who said they felt inspired by classrooms named after universities and by their childrens’ high test scores. Some parents noted that the DOE hadn’t called the school’s academics into question. Others charged that ENYP had only become a target for investigation because of the population it serves.

“They [the DOE] don’t care about children in the ghetto,” more than one parent said.

“We do care,” Michael Duffy, director of the office of charter schools, told the crowd. “The number one question is if East New York is better served by this school or another school.”

dsc_0813ENYP’s board has until March 5 to submit a response to the DOE’s allegations, at which point the decision about whether to keep the school open will fall to Chancellor Joel Klein.

Latisha Lane, the mother of a 9-year-old student, said there had been rumors of mismanagement for years and calls for more parental involvement had gone ignored. Still, she wants the school to remain open, she said, as the chances her child will get into another nearby charter school are slim.

Garnette Gibson was one of few parents at the hearing who wanted to see ENYP closed. Gibson said she moved her son to another charter school after he fell off a desk, hit his head, and was allowed to sleep off the injury in class.

ENYP’s board of trustees and Joseph have been accused by the state and city of going rogue with the school’s finances. The city’s notice of intent to revoke the school’s charter states that the school made questionable payments to Mercer Givhan, a board member and the father of Joseph’s child. It also accuses Joseph of increasing her salary from $120,000 to $180,000, changing her title to superintendent so she could sit on the board, and revising the school’s charter without the DOE’s consent.

Joseph denied that she had increased her salary.

“We’re going to look back on this and think ok, that was a hiccup,” Joseph said after the meeting. “Maybe it was a big hiccup, but it was a hiccup that we had to go through to become stronger.”

President of the New York Charter Parents Association, Mona Davids, said the violations at ENYP are evidence that New York needs more oversight of charter schools and charter parents need to become more aware of what constitutes a violation.

“This could happen at any school, and it is happening at other schools,” Davids said.

Betsy DeVos

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 Bellevue, 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.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

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.