Space case

Harlem parents protest against Success Academy co-locations

Protesters rally in Harlem against Success Academy, the controversial charter network.

Parents and community activists protested in Harlem yesterday, taking turns to give speeches and heed warnings to schools that will soon share space with a controversial charter network.

But unlike previous protests against the Success Charter network, the rally was significantly smaller. Noticeably missing were the politicians who came out to support a protest against the plan to bring a new Success Academy to the building where Wadleigh Secondary School of Performing Arts operates.

Organizers said they didn’t expect politicians or union to attend because they were busy dealing with last-minute city budget affairs and the close of the state legislative session. Instead, they said the rally was planned specifically with parents in mind – after state exams ended this week.

“This is not a union rally. This is not a special interest rally. This is a parent and a community rally,” said Noah Gotbaum, a vocal education activist and member of Community Education Council 3.

At yesterday’s event, approximately 50 protestors chanted “separate is unequal” and held signs despite in 95 degree weather at 110th Street and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, just a few blocks from Wadleigh. A handful of children attended the event. 

“We’re out here to express frustration over what’s been happening in our schools and say that we’re not going to continue to take it,” said Jonathan Westin, the organizing director for New York Communities for Change, a community-based group that advocates for local issues.

The group organized the rally to bring together parents from P.S. 241, 208, 30, 149, and Wadleigh. They repeatedly shared their message of unfair resources and a divided community to Wadleigh parents and activists.

“It’s not just the rooms that are taken from us, we also have the division between the students,” said Sharon Coggins, a P.S. 241 parent. She said the school’s lack of space forced the principal to close its art program while the co-located Success Academy had access to more and better resources.

Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success, wrote an op-ed this morning that challenged many of the critiques brought up at the rally, which echoed similar complaints that are regularly made by the city’s teachers union. Space-sharing plans, she wrote, are only controversial when it involved schools that aren’t stocked with unionized teachers.

By September, Wadleigh will be one of several schools across the city that will share space with a Success Academy school.

“I have no animosity toward charter schools but the Department of Education has made the decision – against the school leadership team and against the entire community’s wishes – to co-locate Harlem Success Academy into our building,” said Anthony Klug, the union chapter leader at  Wadleigh.

Standing silently among the chanting crowd was Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a pro-charter parent who created the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC to help elect politicians who support charters.

“We need new ideas, we need choice, we need to put the children first – not the teacher’s union,” said Lopez-Pierre, who is quickly emerging into Harlem’s political education scene but is already becoming a controversial figure.

“In charter schools, they don’t put up with that nonsense. There’s discipline, there’s organization, that’s what parents want,” he added.

But for another parent, the rally against Success Academy has little to do with politics.

“I don’t have anything against the charter schools. I feel like what they’re doing is great,” said Lisa Pressley, whose daughter attends the school. “But find your own space. Don’t steal space from the kids in this community.”

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.”