public affairs (updated. a lot)

Live-blogging the PEP: Bad weather not stopping closure foes

Attendees lined up outside Brooklyn Tech for tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting.
Attendees lined up outside Brooklyn Tech for tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

We’re stationed right now at Brooklyn Technical High School, where the Panel for Educational policy is meeting to vote on the fates of 11 schools the city wants to close. The panel will also vote on whether to allow half a dozen new schools to open.

For an overview of the schools under debate at tonight’s meeting, listen to this WNYC appearance by our own Maura Walz. Maura discussed what the schools slated for closure are saying in their own defense and how the city has responded to their argument for remaining open.

2:06 a.m. End scene.

1:30 a.m. Anna sends more notes. We learn that when Sullivan asked Black about space at Brandeis, a question that elicited shouts from the crowd, the new chancellor had several responses.

“She first asked people to quiet down,” Anna reports. “Then they booed her.” Finally, Black mimicked the protestors, saying, “OOOOOOH.”

Also: “Mulgrew joined the UFT hecklers at the end,” Anna reports. As voting began, audience members hurled shouts at the stage. A NY1 Noticias reporter tells Anna that Mulgrew was one of the first to yell. “Puppets!” he shouted.

1:26 a.m. Who voted no? Some phase outs passed with support from non-mayoral appointees. The gradual closures of the School for Community Research and Learning and Monroe Academy for Business/Law High School both found support from representatives from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. Panel members from Queens and Brooklyn also voted to support the closure of the Academy for Collaborative Education, which will not phase out over time but will close for good at the end of this year.

That was not the case for the Success Charter Network schools. All three proposals related to the schools (including two co-locations and a proposal to expand the K-5 school to include sixth grade) received support only from mayoral appointees, Anna reports.

Phase-out votes that were more controversial also fell along these lines. Only the panel’s eight mayoral appointees supported closing the Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship for Young Men, which had a large turnout of teachers and students in its defense.

1:19 a.m. Every single proposal passes. The panel has voted to phase out or close 10 schools next year. Union activists stand up and yell, “fraud!” The meeting adjourns.

1:12 a.m. More than seven hours after doors opened at Brooklyn Tech, the panel members are voting on the proposed school closures, co-locations, and changes in the grade levels two schools serve.

1:10 a.m. A mayoral appointee asks about the research behind co-locating an elementary school with multiple high schools.

Sternberg responds: “This is a school of choice, so to attend this Success Academy parents will make an affirmative choice to apply and accept a placement. They will do that with full knowledge that this is a K-12 campus and we think that’s a powerful answer to the criticism of a K-12 campus.”

He adds:

In terms of precedent, and our experience with the K-12 campus, there are certainly plenty of examples of private schools that do this. The Julia Richman campus on the Upper East Side, that is a K-12 organization. It is a very high-performing campus, it is a model campus, and one frankly that we would love for Brandeis to emulate. The presence of elementary school students has a calming effect on the campus.

1:07 a.m. Housekeeping: Philissa has gone to sleep (it’s dawn in Israel), I’ve been posting Anna’s updates since about 11 (hi! it’s Elizabeth), and Maura is combing through city reports on available space at Brandeis. We haven’t verified Sullivan’s 112 percent figure, which does not appear in the educational impact statement for the proposed co-location.

Rather, the statement puts the campus’s capacity at 2,148 students. By Maura’s count, the number of students who would be enrolled at the site next year if Success joins is 1,627.

12:52 a.m. Patrick Sullivan, the panel appointee of the Manhattan borough president, takes his turn. He dives into the Upper West Side issue of the night, asking why the Success charter school network can move into Louis D. Brandeis High School if the move will push the school’s utilization rate to 112 percent. (We’re checking if we can verify that figure.)

“Utilization rate” refers to the percentage of available student spots a school is using.

Sullivan specifies that he wants Chancellor Cathie Black to answer his question. But Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, who handles colocations, says he will respond instead. The crowd “goes nuts,” Anna reports. “Let her speak! Let her speak!” people chant.

Visibly agitated, Black says, “I cannot speak if you are shouting. We have studied these very difficult proposals for the better part of two years. It has been an extremely difficult process. You’ve heard this over and over this evening. We believe this is a fine school to move in. The success rate of her schools is beyond doubt. And we will work very closely to make sure the co-locations work effectively for all of the students in that building.”

“Her” refers to Success Charter Network CEO Eva Moskowitz.

12:33 a.m. The Bronx borough president’s appointee to the panel, Monica Major, is taking her turn at the microphone. She says the Bronx still has quite a few large high schools, and she’s worried the closing schools will dump their struggling students into other schools. “We can only assume that you are going to shuffle those kids somewhere else, and we’ll be sitting here again next year talking about another set of schools,” Major says.

The Department of Education’s response comes, appropriately, from a man who opened a small high school in one of these big closing Bronx schools: Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky. There are many more, better options for Bronx students now, Polakow-Suransky says, noting that graduation rates are much higher.

12:17 a.m. In a late-night twist, we learn that the student member of the Panel for Educational Policy, Lizabeth Cooper, attends … Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn. Yes, that is one of the schools slated for a closure vote tonight.

“Because of everything I’ve been through, I don’t agree with the phase out,” Cooper says. “Due to the phase out, I notice that freshmen and sophomores haven’t been given the same opportunities I had. They say it’s boring. I feel that the phase out has done a truly horrible thing to my school.”

The student member of the PEP does not have voting rights.

12:11 a.m. Before voting, the panel member appointed by Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, Gbubemi Okotieuro, has some questions about the two Brooklyn schools slated for closure votes tonight — Paul Robeson High School and the Metropolitan Corporate Academy. What schools will move into Robeson? Okotieuro asks. Answer: The Academy of Health Careers and the new career and technical education school that is a partnership between CUNY and IBM.

Note to panel members: You are always welcome to send questions to us.

12:01 a.m. Brooklyn Tech has turned into a pumpkin. Somehow, a 400th speaker has spoken (especially mysterious because we understood the list to be 354 people long). Then came the magical words: “That concludes public comment.”

11:47 p.m. Lots of people went home. We’re nearly at speaker 300.

11:31 p.m. Speaker 200 of 354 people signed up has taken the microphone.

11:29 p.m. The teachers union activists continue to cat-call speakers. After a parent introduces herself as in favor of Harlem Success Academy, the group groans in unison. Anna identifies the activists as union administrators. “There are definitely teachers here, but they weren’t doing the cat calling,” Anna reports.

A Queens UFT representative describes the union’s approach to tonight’s meeting as not calculating, just organic. Anna suggests that Thursday, when the union is planning a rally featuring JumboTrons, will be the union’s calculated day. “True,” the representative says.

11:17 p.m. “I’m here at some risk…to oppose the colocation of Harlem Success 1,” the principal of Wadleigh Secondary School, Herma Hall, says. Harlem Success 1 is slated to move into a Harlem building that Wadleigh shares with another district school, Frederick Douglass Academy II, for the 2012-13 school year.

“I’d pit my teachers against any others,” Hall says. “Knowing I don’t have one penny to pay them, they stay during lunch, they stay after school until 7 or 8 in the evening.” Her voice is shaking as she talks to the panel. “Please vote against this colocation,” she says.

T-shirts created by the city teachers union for tonight's PEP meeting.
T-shirts created by the city teachers union for tonight's PEP meeting.

11:15 p.m. Speaking of the union: The UFT made t-shirts tonight. They refer to the Independent Budget Office and Parthenon Group reports that president Michael Mulgrew referred to in his testimony, the ones that indicate that schools slated for closure have needier students and that the schools have shown signs of trouble for several years. The t-shirt slogan is: “Chancellor Black: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.”

11:07 p.m. Teachers union activists haven’t left, either. After a mother says, “My local school is pathetic,” she gets a round of boos. “Jerk!” somebody from the UFT group says.

11:05 p.m. “We’re now up to speaker 130, and the 10 numbers before that went unresponded to,” Anna reports. Many of the speakers who have stuck around are Upper West Side parents — white and upper middle class — talking about how badly they want Upper West Success charter school to open.

10:58 p.m. Anna reports that the Success Academy parents who were sitting behind her and planned to stay until the end (“It’s very important!”) just left to catch the last Success bus of the evening. City officials are calling out numbers of speakers, but no one is answering because they’ve gone home.

10:45 p.m. A Bronx Success Academy teacher who describes herself as a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, one of the city’s specialized schools, points out that tonight’s meeting is taking place at a selective school. Many of the people speaking tonight are comparing charter schools to traditional public schools, she says, but people almost never wonder why it’s acceptable for Brooklyn Tech to have a pool in the basement when other public schools don’t. (She could say the same about many of Tech’s special offerings.)

Note: This post originally misstated the teacher’s affiliation. She is a teacher at Bronx Success Academy and a graduate of Bronx Science.

10:38 p.m. The second Middle East reference tonight compares New York City’s school system to the West Bank, Anna reports.

10:28 p.m. A mother from the Upper West Side makes the case against Upper West Success. “You have choice, we need space,” she says. She also points out that children living in the neighborhood already receive priority in the admissions lottery for Harlem Success Academy 1, located further north in District 3, so Upper West Side parents can apply there instead of demanding a new school.

Late into the night, the crowd at Brooklyn Tech thins and yawns.
Late into the night, the crowd at Brooklyn Tech thins and yawns.

10:19 p.m. Anna reports that the auditorium continues to empty out, with about 150 people still in their seats. Many are slouched down and look very tired. Chancellor Cathie Black is fidgeting and pursing her lips a lot.

10:12 p.m. Anna finally got a break from the action to ask the mothers behind her, who traveled to Brooklyn with Harlem Success, why they haven’t gone home since they have very small children.

“It’s very important!” one mom says, adding that she’s got a high number and has a long wait before she will be allowed to speak. She’s incredulous that the panel doesn’t really seem to be listening.

10 p.m. “Choice is not real choice if somebody else’s child is being squeezed into hallways, closets, or basement bathrooms,” says Leonie Haimson, a parent activist and critic of the Bloomberg administration, in her testimony before the panel. “Choice is not real choice if you are closing schools against their will. … You are undermining choices for all parents and imposing your own will on a community.”

9:53 p.m. There was just a skirmish on the stage. Anna reports that Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan PEP member who has been most vocal in opposing the mayor’s policies, nearly got into a fight with fellow panel member Tomas Morales, the president of the College of Staten Island who the mayor appointed to the panel.

Audience members told Anna that they saw Sullivan push Morales from behind. Then Tino Hernandez, the panel’s chair, and Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras got between them and escorted Sullivan back to his seat. Sullivan then told the audience that one of the mayoral appointees on the panel had approached him to “taunt” him, kicking off the clash. He proposed that the panel postpone their votes to another day on account of the bad weather, but this motion failed.

When the parents behind Anna saw the tussle begin, they started yelling: “Security! Where is security?” A few security guards did edge onto the stage but then backed away, Anna reports.

9:40 p.m. The 2-minute speeches continue, but the auditorium is nearly half empty by now. Anna is sitting in front of a little boy in a white shirt and red tie who can’t be more than 3 years old — he is completely asleep.

9:20 p.m. Anna just obtained a copy of the script Harlem Success “bus captains” read aloud during the ride down to Brooklyn this evening. Portions of it are posted below, but a few important notes about it: Charter advocates don’t sound at all confident that their status is assured under Chancellor Black. The district-charter battleground is shifting from space to broader issues in education. And Harlem Success parents really do receive significant media training.

Here’s what Harlem Success parents heard during their bus ride:

Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein have been VERY supportive of parent choice and charter schools. They have been very supportive of our schools in particular. However, right now, Chancellor Black does not have a plan for how to improve public education. We need to demand that she make a plan that takes YOU into account. She needs to hear you and what you want.

Tonight there will be hundreds of teachers union representatives and others protesting school closures. Those protests will send the message that the public doesn’t want change. They want things to stay as they are.

Well, we don’t think that the way things are is good enough for our city’s children. We can’t keep waiting for the school system to improve.

We’re not coming tonight to talk about space for our schools. We’re coming tonight to have our voices heard on what we want in public education. We need to all stay on message so that our voices really come through. In this world of 30 second sound bites, we need to all say the same thing so that we’re heard.

People who sign up to speak get 2 minutes. In your first minute: tell your story. In your second minute: tell the Chancellor you want BOLDER, FASTER CHANGE

So, in your first minute, talk about your experiences with your zone schools. Talk about your hopes and dreams for your child. Talk about the kind of education your child is getting here and how more children deserve that.

In your second minute, talk about why we need BOLDER, FASTER CHANGE. Talk about why we can’t wait another 20 years for the zone schools to get better. Parents need great options NOW. Children need excellenct schools now. Our children will only go through kindergarten once.

(PASS OUT HANDOUTS)

I’m now passing back handouts. Please review them.

Now, WE NEED AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO SIGN UP TO SPEAK. I WANT TO SEE A SHOW OF HANDS. HOW MANY PEOPLE HERE WILL SIGN UP TO SPEAK. (PAUSE) THAT’S IT?! WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT!!!

Parents must have the right to choose their child’s school. See below for a story of a parent who was denied her right to choose. Parent choice is under attack in NYC as well. We must fight to protest our right to choose. Parents deserve access to choice and opportunity.

9:12 p.m. From Anna: “So when I said the atmosphere is weird … some MCA kids are rapping about racism and school closure. The charter school kids and parents are clapping the beat.” Could this evening signal a new detente in the city’s education politics?

9:08 p.m. The evening is on speaker number 39, according to DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. That number sounds impossible, but the speaker list (which grew to 354 names by the start of the hearing) didn’t include elected officials, all of whom spoke first. The auditorium is steadily growing emptier, Anna reports.

9:03 p.m. The murmur among the Harlem Success parents sitting behind Anna is that Chancellor Cathie Black isn’t paying enough attention. Some are complaining that Black appears to be sending text messages.

When a teacher from Paul Robeson High School takes the microphone, Black gets up to speak with Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott. Their conversation can’t be heard, but then she says, “Oh, I’ll wait,” and retakes her seat on the panel, then raises her hands as if to signal, “Look, I’m here.” (Side note: At last year’s hearing, Joel Klein took his first bathroom break at 9:40 p.m.)

The parents behind Anna don’t appear to be placated. They call out, “Listen to her! Listen to her!” about the Robeson teacher.

8:57 p.m. The second musical act of the evening just concluded. A group of students from Metropolitan Corporate Academy, which could be closed tonight, performed an original step routine to Michael Jackson’s song, “They Don’t Care About Us.”

“All I wanna say is DOE don’t care about us,” they sing. Then a girl pauses for effect: “Wait, wait. We mean, doesn’t care, to be politically correct,” she says.

The song continues: “Overcrowded, no support, no gym, no resources, hear me, hear what I say.”

8:45 p.m. An Upper West Side parent who is hoping to be in Upper West Success’s first class had this to say about her experience touring neighborhood schools for her child:

“Children were throwing things across the rooms, the teachers were not engaged, and frankly the teachers looked embarrassed. So I researched a bunch of nearby schools but guess what? When I called [highly regarded] PS 87, they said I can’t tour because of where I live. Then I heard about the Success Academies.”

Then, taking aim at a central criticism opponents of the charter school have levied, the parent said, “I’ve heard a lot noise from parents on the Upper West Side … I went to school with high schoolers, I don’t see the problem.”

8:42 p.m. A second parent from East New York, this one with a child in an Achievement First charter school, is talking about the lack of high-quality school options there. East New York lost a charter school choice last year when the city shut down East New York Prep, which it said was being grossly mismanaged.

The balcony is basically empty now.

Chancellor Cathie Black at the PEP meeting.
Chancellor Cathie Black at the PEP meeting.

8:34 p.m. Chancellor Cathie Black hasn’t displayed much reaction to tonight’s proceedings, according to Anna. Black has been flipping through papers in a folder in front of her, but unlike her predecessor, Joel Klein, she doesn’t appear to be checking a mobile device.

8:30 p.m. A teacher from Bronx Success Academy 2, one of the schools in Eva Moskowitz’s network, is comparing her school to where she used to work, as a fifth-grade teacher in a district school.

The district school, she says, “was given an A over and over and over again. And what I saw there was not an A. I work at Bronx Success Academy 2 and my school only has the highest standards for students that have been said that they can’t achieve, I’m seeing my first-graders do things that my fifth-graders in the zoned school never did because they were not given high expectations. Chancellor Black, I challenge you to go to as many DOE schools as possible and sit in the lunchrooms. There is a lack of accountability, a lack of safety.”

8:20 p.m. Anna reports that the auditorium is starting to empty out, mostly because Harlem Success supporters appear to be taking their (often drowsy and sometimes sleeping) children home. The balcony is emptying and attendees are also leaving the main seating area. But about three-quarters of the original crowd remains, Anna says.

8:10 p.m. A late addition to the GothamSchools Community section from New York Urban League’s president, Arva Rice, argues that school closures make for a misguided school improvement strategy. Rice says Chancellor Cathie Black, who Anna says has been nursing a soda on Brooklyn Tech’s stage tonight, must engage communities if she wants to get buy-in from her constituents.

8:03 p.m. A student from the Urban Assembly school that’s on the chopping block draws attention to Harlem Success’s strategy of having children, some too young to read, speak out on behalf of charter schools.

“What is wrong with you guys?” the teenager asks. “There are little 5- and 6-year olds. They don’t understand what’s going on.”

It’s clear that many of the charter school parents in the auditorium have empathy for the students from schools that could be closed. When students from Robeson and the Urban Assembly school speak up for educational equality, many charter school parents are cheering.

8 p.m. Who says kids these days don’t pay attention to current events? The first Cairo reference of the night goes to a student from Paul Robeson High School.

7:51 p.m. A parent supporting Frank McCourt High School, a screened high school that opened this year in the Brandeis HS building, says the city pulled a bait-and-switch on the school.

“We opened our doors in September with our first ninth-grade with plans to grow. We believed we had the support of the DOE. Today it’s five months later, what happened to that talk of support?” the parent is asking. “Why is the DOE so willing to take away our space, our amenities, our resources? Why would the DOE be willing to waste the millions spent on our building to redesign the building to fit the needs of an elementary school? All this in the middle of a major economic downturn?”

7:46 p.m. Brian Davis, a member of the Community Education Council for District 6, is speaking out on behalf of school choice. When he was a child, he says, his mother entered his name into a lottery for a magnet school in Columbus, Ohio. “My life was changed forever because of school choice,” he says. “Parents of New York City don’t ask the unions and special interests to tell us where we should go to the bathroom, so why should they decide where parents are allowed to send their kids to school?” Davis says his daughter attends a District 6 school while his son attends a charter school in Inwood. His wife is a special education teacher.

Davis continues his attack on the teachers union: “Not only do the UFT and special interests not care about students, they could care less about the great teachers of New York City,” he says. “I would love [the UFT’s Michael] Mulgrew to explain to my kids why their great junior teacher should be fired while the not-great senior teachers keeps their jobs.”

7:36 p.m. Reprising her theatrics from last year, when she performed a puppet show, parent activist Lisa Donlan has just sung her own lyrics to the tune of Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” — better known perhaps as the song that starts, “Don’t know much about history.”

Here are some of Donlan’s lyrics, updated to oppose school closures (and other things):

They don’t know how to teach history,
they don’t know how to teach biology,
They don’t know much about science books,
they don’t know much about the cuts we took,
but they do know how to close down schools,
we’re fighting back you know that we’re not fools,
What wonderful schools they could be.

They know a lot about charter schools,
and that they think that merit pay is cool,
they think that kids are just (inaudible)
and they don’t care about all the rest.
Parents, teachers, students know there’s more
They know there’s more than just test scores
What wonderful schools these could be.

Donlan is wearing a red cape emblazoned with the letters “RR” — for “real reformers.”

7:30 p.m. Here’s another speech from a Harlem Success student

I’m on my way to college because of some of the best teachers my school has to offer. She [my teacher] pushes me every day to try harder and lets me know I can be whatever I want to be. Harlem Success Academy school rocks. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up so I can continue to fight for an education for all the young girls and boys.

The speech basically follows the script being used by her classmates, who are still lined up to speak, Anna reports.

img_1291
Faith Rodriguez, a fifth grader at Harlem Success Academy 1, testifies in favor of the school's expansion.

7:25 p.m. Faith Rodriguez, a fifth-grader at Harlem Success’s first school, is reading a statement calling for “bolder, faster change.” That’s the catchphrase HSA supporters have been using all evening.

7:17 p.m. Another child brought to the hearing by the Harlem Success organization has taken the mic. This one is too young to read, so a person standing nearby had her repeat line by line a request to open a new Success Academy charter school — “so I can get a good education.”

7:14 p.m. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is bringing the conversation back to charter school siting on the Upper West Side.

“Requiring two schools to share space — that doen’t work if it’s done in a vacuum,” he says. “When the DOE colocates schools while ignoring parent input, students and their parents suffer. As this panel prepares to vote, the voice of parents is still not being taken seriously enough.” He says parents at Brandeis High School are worried about students having to each lunch at 9:45 a.m.

De Blasio also raised broader concerns about overcrowding in District 3, where the Brandeis building is located. “Even the DOE recognized today the need for District 3 students to have priority in the lottery,” he said.

7:07 p.m. A young woman describing herself as a Throgs Neck college student stands up to say that her educational options were limited, so her sister encouraged her to go to a private high school. “Let’s make it all charter schools and be done with it,” she says, quite seriously.

7:03 p.m. “Where were you when our graduation rate was 36 percent?” asks Daykwon Hughes, a lanky student from Paul Robeson High School. Most of the students who are speaking are from Robeson and the Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship for Young Men.

7 p.m. The first student to speak in favor of a charter school is a kindergartner. “Don’t take the money away,” he says. “Charter schools are good.”

6:55 p.m. Even though the teachers union’s protest was postponed, Michael Mulgrew made the trip. Citing the last week’s report from the Independent Budget Office that shows that schools at risk of closure have more needy students, and a newly leaked internal report from 2006 showing that the city knew which schools were at risk of failing, he says, “Now it seems [the DOE] allowed those conditions to be created in those schools so they did fail. We will be calling on an official investigation on educational neglect.”

Mulgrew continues: “The job of the DOE is to make sure that every child is supplied with a good education so they can have a meaningful life. So if this information existed and it at best sat back and at worst willfully pushed it to happen then it is clear that educational malfeasance has taken place. And once again we have followed each part of the hearing process and I assure you if there has been a problem with a single one of them, we will see you in court.”

Last year, of course, the union took the city to court over its closure proceedings. The result was that all 19 closures approved by the PEP were voided. The city is trying to close 16 of those schools for a second time this year.

6:50 p.m. The next speakers, from the offices of Inez Dickens and Jerry Nadler, are also in opposition to the Upper West Success charter school plan, which seems to have overshadowed the 11 school closures under debate tonight.

6:49 p.m. According to department officials, 350 people have signed up to speak tonight, and the once-empty balcony is now half-full, Anna reports. The number of people signed up to speak is actually higher than last year. But all that can be seen are orange t-shirts, the uniform of Harlem Success supporters.

6:45 p.m. Tino Hernandez, the chair of the panel since late last year, is reading the list of schools up for closure tonight (which you can see here). Behind Anna, a Harlem Success parent shouts, “We’re going to shut you down!”

6:43 p.m. City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who has earned the ire of charter school advocates by opposing the Success Academy proposed for the Upper West Side, is up next. Brewer is speaking out against the plan tonight, and members of the Harlem Success contingent immediately boo her.

“The collocation of charter schools is often controversial, but the proposed [placement] at Brandeis has aroused exceptional opposition,” Brewer says, noting that 500 parents came out to oppose that plan. “We do not want this charter school in a high school.” Huge boos. “Every PTA in CB3 is opposed to it. Every elected official and their community board are all opposed to putting the charter school in a high school. There are five very good high schools on this campus and they need to grow and we want to be sure they grow.”

6:40 p.m. City Councilman Charles Barron starts with a threat. “If you try to turn off my mike, I’m going to come and take yours so don’t even think about it,” he said to cheers from the audience. He went on: “Not a single school should be closed. The Department of Education has failed these schools. You didn’t give them the support they needed.”

DOE officials are signaling the end of Barron’s two-minute comment period, but he’s refusing to cede the mike. “No, I’m not finished. I’m going to wrap it up with this,” he says. “We know what’s going on here. We’re going to scream at them all night and then they’re going to vote on every proposal there.” Then a bit of a non-sequitur: “If this system can hire Cathie Black, who’s not even qualified to teach in the classroom, then we should not allow them to shut our schools down.”

6:35 p.m. The meeting has gotten underway, and the panel has chosen to start with public comment. First up: City Council members Albert Vann and Charles Barron, both outspoken opponents of school closures. Barron was among two dozen protestors arrested yesterday for forming a human chain across Chambers Street during a school closure rally.

6:26 p.m. Anna just spoke to a mother from Achievement First Bushwick Charter School who speaks only Spanish but came to tonight’s meeting on behalf of her two sons, whose shirts say, “Charter Schools are Public Schools.”

Seth Andrew, the head of the Democracy Prep network of charter schools, is also in attendance. None of his schools are being voted on tonight, but an internal Department of Education document that the New York Times obtained last month suggests that Democracy Prep is under consideration for the space that would become available if Harlem’s IS 195 is closed. The panel is set to vote on IS 195’s fate tonight.

UPDATE: Thanks to an eagle-eyed commenter and Maura for clarifying: The early plan to site Democracy Prep inside IS 195 isn’t still live, and in fact seems never to have been a plan at all. Instead, a KIPP charter school could be headed to that building. Democracy Prep is instead slated to take over the struggling Harlem Day Charter School.

6:21 p.m. Rumor has it that Paul Robeson High School, the troubled Brooklyn school that is fighting closure for the second time, has a delegation in the auditorium. But Anna can’t find them. “The place is just a sea of orange t-shirts and elementary school kids,” she reports.

6:10 p.m. Tonight’s bad weather has definitely kept many people away. The United Federation of Teachers postponed its “Support Our Schools” rally planned for tonight until Thursday, when the PEP will reconvene to vote on the remaining 14 school closure proposals.

Union president Michael Mulgrew sent this message to supporters late this afternoon: “Parents, teachers, community members will be at the Feb. 3 united with the message: Closing struggling schools rather than working with them and offering them the support they need to serve ALL their students is not educational “reform” — it’s educational neglect.”

6:05 p.m. People have mostly stopped coming in to the auditorium, Anna reports. The lower part of the auditorium is full but the balcony is entirely empty, which wasn’t the case last year. A reporter asked DOE officials to speculate on how long tonight’s meeting will last, and most are guessing somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m. But that seems unrealistic, based on the size and makeup of the crowd.

6 p.m. Once again, it’s clear that the supporters of the Upper West Success charter school, most of whom appear to be parents organized from the four existing Success Academy schools, make up most of the crowd. But it’s not clear how many will speak. Anna just overheard a teacher say that no one from her bus wanted to speak.

5:49 p.m. The auditorium, which is reported to be the third-largest in the city, is half full. A woman in a blue Harlem Success t-shirt labeled “teacher” is walking around with a tray of turkey sandwiches for the parents her organization brought. (Editor’s note: Anna sounds hungry.) The organization has also brought coloring books to keep children occupied.

5:45 p.m. Here’s an entry from the department of ironic affairs: Members of the Honor Society at Brooklyn Tech, one of the city’s most selective high schools, have set up a bake sale in the school’s lobby, hawking bags of chips to people attending the meeting. This is an enterprising move, Anna reports, because last year there was no food on hand and some groups took to ordering pizza.

Last year, the city set new rules limiting when students could have bake sales and what types of goods they could offer in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

5:42 p.m. The crowd is quieting down now that doors to Brooklyn Tech have opened. But HSA supporters are revving people up. “You can’t get quiet,” they’re saying. “You’re about to walk in!”

5:38 p.m. About 30 students from Metropolitan Corporate Academy, which the panel voted to close last year, have joined the end of the line. “Why MCA?” they sing. “They’re trying to shut us down.” But they can barely be heard over the din produced by supporters of the Success Academy charter school, who came down in buses organized by the school’s founder, Eva Moskowitz.

5:35 p.m. People are being weirdly cagey, Anna reports. As an example: “I stopped a woman in a shirt that says ‘Chancellor do your homework’ to ask what school she’s from. ‘I’m from public school 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,’ she says. But which school? I ask. ‘Charter school kids get on the bus at 6 a.m. and get home at 6 p.m.,’ she responds. What school are you from? I ask a last time. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she says and walks away.”

5:24 p.m. Just received our first dispatch from Anna, who is among the growing crowds of people who braved the bad weather to weigh in on school closures. Anna met Tracy Ocampo-Gaskins from the Urban Assembly School for Young Men, which opened in 2004 and could be closed tonight. Ocampo-Gaskins said the school was set up to fail.

“We went from a C to an F because Urban Assembly mandated that we dumb down our curriculum,” she said. “We had to go with learning targets and independent conferences with students. It works for boys who are ready to be independent learners, but that’s not many of our students. We’re still 15 percent better than the city with 51 percent [graduation rate]. The city is 28 for black and Latino men. … Almost a third of the school has special needs. It creates a poor learning environment with 6 schools in the building.”

Anna reports that the line to get into the meeting stretches around Brooklyn Tech’s mammoth building. The vast majority of people, she reports, came by bus to support the proposal to site a new charter school, Upper West Success, in Brandeis High School building, and they’re chanting, “Bolder, faster change.” But sandwiched among the charter school supporters are a strong contingent from the Urban Assembly school.

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.