accountability movement

Brooklyn charter school with checkered past put on probation

The Department of Education is giving a Brooklyn charter school with a history of trouble just weeks to fix its most flagrant violations.

We wrote in April that Williamsburg Charter High School had failed to make rent after a sharp enrollment decline.

Now, the city has placed the school on a one-year probation, saying it is “in material and substantial violation of its charter, and in serious violation of applicable laws and regulations.”

Those laws and regulations include ones governing management, finances, and the school’s relationship with the Believe High Schools Network — a relationship that the city says the school entered into illegally and must terminate within six weeks.

At least three of WCHS’s six board members are employed by the Believe network or one of the other two schools it operates, according to the letter, sent by Recy Dunn, head of the DOE’s Charter Schools Office, to the chair of WCHS’s board. “Any decisions made by the Board in regards to WCHS’s relationship with the Network would not be valid as those three members would have to recuse themselves; with only three voting Board members remaining, a majority vote decision would not be possible,” the letter states.

Whether the board actually voted on the Believe relationship is not clear: The board met only four times last year, instead of the required 12.

The letter also raises red flags about the school’s budgeting, pointing out that the school’s own reporting put current assets at about $509,000 and current liabilities — the amount for which it’s on the hook — at nearly $5 million. Last year, the school spent more than $15.5 million but only got $13.5 million in public funds. And it only raised about $200,000 in private funds to cover the difference.

The school’s precarious financial state became clear last year when the owner of the building that it had been renting put the space back on the market, saying that Williamsburg Charter High School had not been paying its bills. Previously, we reported that Believe Charter Schools was illicitly sending students to a building that was not permitted for school use.

The school has until the end of the month to supply financial documents from last year and the end of next month to break ties with Believe. Its board must put together a comprehensive improvement plan by Sept. 30. If the school does not follow those recommendations and others outlined in the letter, it could be closed.

WCHS Probation Letter

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.”