race to the race to the top

Assembly lifts charter cap; Senate still divided over for-profits

The State Assembly passed a bill this morning to more than double the number of charter schools allowed in New York State.

The deal, hammered out in negotiations that lasted into the early morning, raises the cap on charters from 200 to 460. But charter operators hoping to open new schools will have to jump through a new hurdle, a new Request for Proposals process managed by the Regents and the State University of New York charter authorizers.

The bill includes several measures dear to charter school critics. It bans for-profit charter operators from managing schools, allows the state controller to audit the schools, and creates new regulations around how the schools serve special education students and English language learners. And the bill sets up new rules that govern how New York City charters share building space with district schools.

The bill includes one change from the version of the bill that was being circulated this morning. The Assembly passed a chapter amendment that clarifies that SUNY can act as an authorizer independently from the Regents.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where sources tell us that Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson is ready to vote the bill up. But Republicans are holding up the bill because they oppose its prohibition of for-profit charter operators.

Many of the key players in the debate, including authorizers, are just seeing the legislation in detail for the first time this morning. Lots of questions, including exactly how the RFP process will work and how the bill will affect where charters will be able to open, should become clearer over the course of the day.

The full press release from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office is below. The full text of the bill that just passed is here.

ASSEMBLY APPROVES SWEEPING EDUCATION REFORMS TO SUPPORT NEW YORK STATE’S APPLICATION FOR RACE TO THE TOP FUNDING

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan today announced the passage of legislation to reform the state’s charter school system.

The legislation (A.11310) would raise the cap on charter schools from 200 to 460, helping to ensure that New York State will have one of the nation’s most competitive applications for federal funding under the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program in time for the June 1 deadline. This measure, in conjunction with a strong teacher evaluation system authorized earlier in the week and funding for long-term assessment of student achievement, will help ensure that New York State receives maximum RTTT funding.

“These sweeping reforms will help put an end to divisive fighting over school space and give a meaningful voice in the process to traditional public school parents,” said Silver (D-Manhattan). “The legislation also increases transparency by giving the State Comptroller auditing power over charter schools, while ensuring that they enroll and retain children with special needs. This measure will undoubtedly encourage the creation of more successful charter schools in New York State.”

“This bill will allow New York State to submit a competitive application for federal Race to the Top funding and increase our chances at receiving up to $700 million for our schools,” said Nolan (D-Queens). “I would like to thank New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Senior Deputy Commissioner John King for their leadership, cooperation and hard work.”

The legislation creates a new request for proposals process for the creation of 260 new charter schools. The new system favors applications which best respond to certain Race to the Top objectives such as increasing high school graduation rates and addressing student achievement gaps in reading/language arts and mathematics. Requests for proposals for new charter schools would be issued by the Board of Regents and SUNY trustees after undergoing a public review process.

In addition, the legislation would:

  • Institute a four-year period over which the 260 new charter schools would be created;
  • Prohibit for-profit organizations from operating or managing any new charter schools;
  • Ensure that charter schools serve more children with disabilities, English language learners and free- and reduced-price lunch program participants;
  • Require the chancellor to develop building usage plans for fair allocation and usage of space;
  • Require matching capital improvements to the traditional public school portion of a building when such an improvement is made in excess of $5,000 to the co-located charter school;
  • Authorize the State Comptroller to audit charter schools at his or her discretion; and
  • Increase accountability by new disclosure and ethics provisions.

The Assembly also passed legislation today that would provide financial support for a state longitudinal data system to measure long-term student achievement (A.11309). Earlier this week, the Assembly passed legislation enhancing the statewide evaluation system for teachers and principals (A.11171).

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.”