frontiers of choice

Cobble Hill parents say they would consider a charter school

Parents in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood say they’re happy with their children’s schools but wouldn’t mind seeing a charter school move in.

Charter school operator Eva Moskowitz yesterday announced plans to open a new school in the Success Charter Network in Cobble Hill, an affluent, tree-lined neighborhood whose public schools are flush with parent involvement and, in some cases, parent donations. It would be Moskowitz’s second foray into a middle-class neighborhood after pushing through a contentious plan to open a school on the Upper West Side this year.

In District 15, Cobble Hill’s district, 1,500 parents signed a petition supporting the charter school’s bid to open, according to a press release from Success Charter Network.

But parents I spoke to today at a coffee shop and housing project in the neighborhood said they hadn’t heard of Moskowitz and weren’t aware that space-sharing was a likely scenario — or that co-location fights can turn ugly.

Still, they said that the neighborhood could use more school options, no matter what they are.

“If there’s a good school set up in the neighborhood and has a program my kid would like, I’d consider it,” said Madely Rodriguez, a P.S. 29 parent who was sipping coffee outside Cafe Pedlar, a magnet for neighborhood parents after morning drop-off.

Rodriguez said she thought that some of the neighborhood’s middle-class families would be attracted to a school that draws children from a variety of backgrounds. State law indicates that charter schools should serve needy students.

“At the end of the day it might be all talk, but I think there a lot of families that value diversity,” she said.

Moskowitz’s Upper West Side school gives admissions preference to students zoned for the district’s lowest-scoring elementary schools. But for that school, Moskowitz also made a point of cultivating affluent families, with sushi and wine information sessions and fliers targeting parents who expect to pay college tuition. The former city councilwoman’s motivation seems to be to prove that demand for choices beyond the district offerings extends beyond poor communities — and, perhaps, to grow political support for charter schools.

P.S. 29, the only public school that is technically located in Cobble Hill, has mostly white students and is famous for soliciting sizable donations from parents. Just over the border in Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens, two other elementary schools, P.S. 261 and P.S. 58, also serve largely middle-class populations. But District 15, which includes much of Brownstone Brooklyn, also includes several struggling schools that often serve students living in public housing — including in the Gowanus Houses, just over the neighborhood border from Cobble Hill.

Of the district’s three existing charter schools, two share space in Red Hook and mostly enroll residents of the housing projects there. A third, Brooklyn Prospect, is building its own space in Gowanus.

A school crossing guard working at the Gowanus Houses said she knew parents there were already looking for charter schools because PAVE Academy, which opened in 2010 after a protracted battle in Red Hook, picks up students from the housing project daily.

Blanca and Carmen Soltero, two sisters who grew up in the Gowanus Houses and still send their children to schools in the area, said families living in public housing would have to be educated about the new option and how to enroll. The new school could promote itself at resident meetings and would have to appeal to Spanish-speakers and elderly grandparents, they agreed.

If those efforts aren’t made, Carmen Soltero warned, there is a chance that the new school will serve mostly middle-class families, just like the other schools in the neighborhood increasingly do.

But the bigger question for parents I spoke to was not whether a charter school should move in but where it should go.

Parents at Cafe Pedlar and the Gowanus Houses both said they would not be likely to consider a new school if it opened in the Baltic Street building with a reputation for roughness that houses two secondary schools — one so weak that it is undergoing federally-funded “transformation.” The principals of both of those schools, the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, have both been working to boost enrollment to head off the possibility of seeing a third school move in to the building.

Mitchima Ramos, a Gowanus Houses resident whose children have finished elementary school, noted that Brooklyn Prospect was briefly slated to move into space currently occupied by two preschools that the city tried to close. That space could become available again, she said.

Rodriguez suggested an Amity Street building vacated by Long Island College Hospital. And Blanca Soltero said the new building under construction for P.S. 133 could fit a charter school onto one floor.

Carmen Soltero had a different idea altogether. “They should go to District 13,” she said, referring to the neighboring district where she now lives, where schools are seen as more troubled. “The parents there just take their kids to school and don’t even think about it.”

“This neighborhood isn’t so bad,” Blanca Soltero said. “It has pretty decent schools compared to other neighborhoods.”

calendar quandary

Detroit district and union hammer out last-second agreement on school calendar before vote at tonight’s board meeting

A screenshot of the proposed academic calendar that has caused concern among union officials.

Detroit’s main school district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement Tuesday afternoon after tensions arose over the seemingly routine approval of this year’s academic calendar.

The proposed calendar includes some changes to the one spelled out in the teachers’ contract. It was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the union, and the same calendar was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

With just three weeks until the first day of school, parents and teachers are relying on the calendar to make travel plans and childcare arrangements.

No details were available about the agreement.

Ken Coleman, a spokesman for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the agreement was resolved before the meeting started, but couldn’t provide further details. District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said she expected the calendar to go to a vote without opposition from the union.

Coleman said earlier on Tuesday that a vote to approve the calendar could violate the teachers’ contract.

Union leaders were surprised last week when Chalkbeat reported that the board was considering a calendar that was different from the one approved in their contract.

The proposed calendar would eliminate one-hour-early releases on Wednesday and move the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also would move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT, according to school board documents.

Union officials have said that they had no major objections to the contents of the calendar, only to the way in which it was approved.

Correction: Aug. 14, 2018 This story has been corrected to show that the union and district have reached an agreement about the academic calendar.  A previous version of the story, under the headline “An 11th-hour disagreement over an academic calendar could be settled at tonight’s school board meeting,” referenced a pending agreement when an agreement had in fact been reached.


New data show how few black and Hispanic students benefit from New York City’s specialized high school diversity program

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of the city's specialized high schools.

A program intended to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools continues to help far more white and Asian students than black and Hispanic ones, according to new data released Tuesday.

The initiative, known as the Discovery program, aims to promote diversity at the eight elite high schools by offering admission to students from high-need families who score just below the entrance exam cutoff if they successfully complete summer coursework.

This year, Asian students represented 64 percent of students admitted through Discovery, (despite being 16 percent of the city’s students), while black and Hispanic students combined make up just 22 percent (a group that represents nearly 70 percent of the city’s students). Last year, 67 percent of students admitted through Discovery were Asian and 18-20 percent were black or Hispanic.

And while black and Hispanic students get more offers through Discovery than they do in the typical admissions process — where just 10.4 percent of offers went to black and Hispanic students this year — the program does not make a big difference because such a small share students actually get admitted through Discovery. This year, 6 percent of ninth graders were admitted through the program.

Discovery has expanded under Mayor Bill de Blasio, from 58 students in 2014 to an expected 250 this coming school year. But despite the program’s growth, it has had little effect on making the city’s elite high schools more racially representative of the city’s overall student population.

The preliminary numbers released Tuesday help show why the city is changing the program.

After years of these meager results, the city is expanding the program even further and tweaking its rules to include more black and Hispanic students — a key pillar of de Blasio’s controversial plan to make the schools more racially representative of the city’s students.

Read more: Fair and objective or useless and biased? A Chalkbeat guide to the case for and against New York City’s specialized high school test

By 2020, each of the specialized schools that determine admission based solely on a single exam will be required to reserve 20 percent of their seats for students in the Discovery program. (Stuyvesant High School, which is participating in the program for the first time this year, admitted 23 students through Discovery. Under the mayor’s plan, the school will have to increase that number sevenfold.)

To ensure it helps more black and Hispanic students than it does right now, the program will be restricted to students at high-poverty schools, which tend to enroll more black and Hispanic students. (Currently, the program is only restricted to high-need students from any middle school in the city.)

By itself, that change is expected to have only a modest effect, increasing black and Hispanic student enrollment to 16 percent, up from about 9 percent today. But unlike the mayor’s plan to get rid of the entrance exam entirely, which would have a more dramatic effect on diversifying the schools, expanding the Discovery program is something de Blasio can do without approval from the state legislature.

“By changing the Discovery eligibility criteria starting next year, we’ll support greater geographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity at our specialized high schools,” education department spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email.