unchartered territory

City tells charter applicants to file again with the state

The city has told nearly 20 prospective charter school leaders who originally asked the city for charters that they need to start the process over with the state.

The move begins to fill in the hazy picture of how the city’s role in granting and overseeing charters is changing as a result of charter school legislation passed in May. It suggests that the city might be losing some of its autonomy in authorizing charters, but still plans to stay involved in the chartering process.

The new law doubled the number of charters allowed in the state. It also created some confusion over just who gets to authorize new charters. Under the old law, the city was one of three authorizers. But the new legislation names only the Board of Regents and the State University of New York as authorizers. Yet it also mentions the chancellor as a “charter entity,” without making clear what that means.

Caught in the middle of the confusion were 19 charter school applicants who submitted their applications to the city in early May, just weeks before Albany overhauled the law and after the city had already hit its charter cap.

For months, nothing appeared to change for them. Patricia Soussloff, who is applying to open the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem, said city officials interviewed her team and passed the school on to subsequent rounds of review.

But this week, she and other applicants learned about one big change: that they would have to re-do their applications. The chief academic officer of the city charter schools office, Aaron Listhaus, told applicants in an email that they must submit their applications to the Board of Regents using the Regents’ new application system.

“The amendments to the charter law are clear that the support of the local district must be a strong factor in the Regents’ authorizing decisions and with the Chancellor’s backing, your application will receive favorable consideration from the Regents,” Listhaus told the applicants in the email.

The city submitted a letter of intent (pdf) to the state saying it would apply for charters for 15 of the 19 applicant schools on their behalf.

Applicants must now submit an initial document for their application by Monday; the full applications are due three weeks later. Because the applicants had already completed an original charter application for the city, much of their last-minute work is a matter of reformatting.

But because the state’s new application, a Request for Proposals, emphasizes on different characteristics of schools than the city’s had — notably schools’ plans for building community support and for serving special education students and those learning English — it is likely to prompt some changes.

“There are parts of the RFP that make you want to reframe your application and emphasize different things,” Soussloff said.

Another side effect: the confusion has complicated the timing of the public hearings that prospective charter schools are required to have in the neighborhood where they want to open schools. Soussloff said that her hearing was originally supposed to be in July, and then August; now she isn’t sure when the hearing will be scheduled.

One big question mark that remains about the city’s evolving role is who would have main oversight of the schools if they’re approved. Under the old system, the city monitored schools it recommended and shut schools down if they didn’t perform well. But the law is silent on whether that would continue as it had in the past.

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.”