in the details

Parents press for transparency on inchoate turnaround plan

Monique Lindsay, a member of the Citywide Council on High Schools and a Grady High School parent discusses the city's turnaround plan.

With the first round of school closures that the city proposed now approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, the Department of Education’s attention is turning to another set of 33 low-performing schools that it has said it would “turn around.”

The controversial plan, announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month in his State of the City address, requires that the city abruptly close and then reopen each school with a new name and many new teachers. The city is set to submit its formal proposal for the turnarounds — and their accompanying federal funding — to the state today.

City officials have explained the plan at each of the schools on the list and heard concerns at a slew of recent hearings and meetings with the schools’ superintendents, who are required to hold meetings at any school proposed to be closed.

But when the Citywide Council on High Schools devoted its monthly meeting to a question-and-answer session about the model on Wednesday, parents from several high schools that would undergo turnaround said they still felt uninformed about the plan.

About 30 parents, teachers, and community members attended the meeting and several pressed Elaine Gorman, the DOE official overseeing turnaround, about the plan.

Karen Marreao, whose daughter is a senior at John Dewey High School but not on track to graduate this year, said she viewed the turnaround as the latest status update tacked onto an ever-growing list of school reform measures that have been applied to Dewey in recent years.

“My daughter’s been there for four years now, what makes you think it’s going to improve the school?” she asked. “Two or three years ago you threatened to phase us out. That turned out to be just a threat. Now you’re scaring the kids with this, you’re scaring the parents. Is this reality, or are you scaring us again?”

Marreao said the school’s administrative problems and lack of student disciplinary systems won’t be solved by the turnaround, and that an effective intervention would address those issues first.

Joe Doyle, a history teacher at Newtown High School, said turnaround would do little to address what he views as his school’s biggest impediment to scoring well on city progress measures: its open enrollment policy, which has attracted several hundred English language learners in recent years.

“Open admissions has been the kiss of death for our school,” he said. “Schools that prosper are the ones that reject students.”

Vanessa Sparks, a former member of the Community Education Council for District 28, said she felt compelled to attend the meeting after several parents from August Martin High School in Queens complained to her that turnaround would be harmful to the students. She said some parents were also concerned that eighth-graders who applied to August Martin through the high school admissions process before the turnaround was announced had been “cheated” out of the opportunity to attend a school at the top of their list. Though the turnaround schools will remain in the same building and retain 50 percent of their current staff, the city will give each school a new name and numerical code.

“We play by the rules,” Sparks said. “But the DOE changed the rules of the game midstream. There are students who are saying, ‘I don’t want to go here, this is not what I signed up for.'”

Monique Lindsay, a member of the Citywide Council on High Schools and a parent at William Grady CTE High School, which also would turnaround, echoed those concerns after department officials delivered a presentation detailing the turnaround model.

“My son is a guinea pig,” she said. “This does not give me any answers, Ms. Gorman, it really doesn’t. I want to see data that’s going to tell me if this is going to be successful.”

Gorman said the DOE would ensure that the turnaround process preserves each school’s best attributes and builds on the reform work already underway. Twenty-seven of the schools had already begun implementing two different federally prescribed overhaul strategies, known as transformation and restart.

“We’re not going to throw out the things that are actually working here,” Gorman said. “It is absolutely not true that things that were taking root and working have to be thrown away.”

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.”