turf wars

A charter school moves again, reigniting a marathon space fight

Harlem Success Academy supporters, in the orange shirts, at the hearing about their school's proposed new location.
Harlem Success Academy supporters, in the orange shirts, at the hearing about their school's proposed new location

Parents, teachers, and children crowded an East Harlem school auditorium last night for what has become a familiar scene: a shouting match between charter school advocates and defenders of a neighborhood school wary of sharing its space.

The latest showdown took place at PS 30, a neighborhood school near Manhattan’s eastern shore where the Department of Education has proposed moving Harlem Success Academy II. HSA II would vacate its space at PS 123, where opposition to the charter school run by Eva Moskowitz had been fierce. PS 30 will not see an enrollment drop because of the plan, the DOE has said, although a small school located in the building, KAPPA II, is set to start phasing out this fall.

The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the proposal to move HSA II to PS 30 tomorrow.

dsc_0876Last night, the walls of PS 30’s auditorium were plastered with posters opposing the plan, some reading “Harlem Success Academy Go Away.” Teachers and parents made the posters during a series of planning meetings, according to Brian Jones, PS 30’s drama teacher, who with the aid of union activists in the Grassroots Education Movement, has helped lead the organizing effort at the school. Testifying at the meeting, Jones sounded a frequently-heard note, arguing that unlike some schools the DOE has made to share space, PS 30 is doing well academically.

Harlem Success supporters, who included not only parents and students but also siblings, wore bright orange T-shirts and filled about two-thirds of the auditorium.

Tension ran high all evening, with members of each group loudly interrupting speakers representing the other. Emotions peaked during the testimony of Carlton Berkley, a local figure who said he has family members at both HSA II and PS 30. When Berkley’s denunciation of what he called privatization in public schools exceeded his allotted two minutes, another PS 30 supporter ceded his time to Berkley. The resulting outcry stopped proceedings for several minutes. Later, the meeting’s facilitator announced no one else would be permitted to cede time to others.

Some in attendance tried to calm the crowd down. “There is nothing more important to teach our children than the importance of agreeing to disagree,” said Denise Gordon, the DOE’s district family advocate for District 5.

And yet just before the hearing ended, the fight moved to the sidewalk along Lexington Avenue. A mother from HSA II forcefully made her case to a PS 30 teacher who was leaving the school with a large packet of papers in hand. The teacher appeared to consider the mother’s argument. Then she said, “But it’s true that we don’t get the support we need,” and the pair moved toward the subway.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”