The co-location situation

Amid criticism, Moskowitz will introduce new Brooklyn charter

Success Charter Network head Eva Moskowitz is making her first public appearance in Brownstone Brooklyn—and as usual, she will be joined by protesters.

Moskowitz is holding an informational session tomorrow to detail her plans for a new charter school that is likely to open in the affluent Cobble Hill neighborhood next year. Most of tomorrow’s protesters are parents from the neighborhood, who say they are planning to attend the meeting to tell Moskowitz that the Success Charter Network is not wanted there.

Opposition is also starting to rise from another group: School leaders in the Baltic Street building where the city has proposed to house the new school. The principals say they are nervous that the charter school’s presence could derail their attempts to improve their schools.

“We have had monumental success this year, and I’m concerned about how we can sustain that with another school added to the building, with the division of space,” Joseph O’Brien, principal of the School for Global Studies, one of the three schools currently housed in the building, told GothamSchools last week, before the co-location plan was announced. 

His school, which is in its second-year of “transformation,” a federally-funded school improvement program, moved from an F to a B on the annual high school progress reports this year. “I wonder, for a school that’s moved so far, how could they lay that at my feet?”

Another principal inside the building, Fred Walsh of the School for International Studies, said he is also worried the co-location will put a strain on the shared space, which the DOE identified as under-enrolled this year.

“To have four schools in the building, to put 190 more students in here, means huge class sizes, which would really, really impact our programming,” he said. “It would be really, really upsetting to both schools.”

Walsh’s and O’Brien’s schools enroll mostly African-American students, many of whom hail from public housing, in an neighborhood that is predominantly white. Nearby, P.S. 29 is known for its white, middle-class student body, while two other elementary schools, P.S. 261 and P.S. 58 in the neighboring Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens communities, also serve largely middle-class populations.

Success Network officials defended the plans to colocate in other schools, citing the Independent Budget Office’s findings that district schools co-located with charter school are less likely to suffer from overcrowding issues.

“We’ve made the decision, so the goal of meeting is to introduce parents to our school model,” said Jenny Sedlis, Success Academy’s director of external affairs. She said the school will replicate the Success Charter Network schools in Manhattan, the Bronx, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

The parents organizing tomorrow’s protest were originally concerned that the charter would be located in their school, M.S. 447, a selective middle school with many middle-class families and a special program for autistic students. Parents there say they are relieved that their school is off the hook. But they said they would keep protesting Success Charter Network’s move into Brownstone Brooklyn.

“We know that things can always change. We are continuing to mobilize to keep the parents and community involved, until its really done and final decisions are made,” said Valerie Price Ervin, whose son attends M.S. 447.

Protesters from that school, other area schools, and several community organizations are planning to rally outside the Carroll Gardens Library tomorrow during Moskowitz’s presentation.

“If they’re not going to put it in our school, then we are still in opposition—not in 447, not in any public schools,” said Isemene Speliotis, a parent-teacher association member at M.S. 447 who is organizing the protest.

The purpose of Moskowitz’s meeting will be to demystify the charter school network’s academic philosophy for parents who are not familiar with charter schools, Sedlis said.

Though attendees will have an opportunity to provide feedback after hearing from Moskowitz, she said Success Academy leaders have already decided to move forward with their plans.

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.