hear hear

City touts compliance on ELL issues amid calls for more action

A year after the State Education Department chided the city for failing to meet the needs of English language learners, city Department of Education officials say they have made important progress toward their goals.

That’s what Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi told members of the City Council today during a hearing about the city’s progress toward fixing shortcomings in its ELL services. She reported that the city is on track to fulfill all of the promises it outlined in an ambitious remediation plan submitted to the state last year.

It was the first time the city had provided a public update about the Corrective Action Plan, which the state requested because of persistently low test scores and graduation outcomes for ELLs in city schools.

Today, Rello-Anselmi said the Department of Education has made significant strides, most significantly launching half of the 125 bilingual programs it promised to open by next year. One challenge facing the expansion of bilingual programs is a shortage of teachers certified to work in them, officials said. But they said the city was on track to staff the new programs because it is exempting the positions from hiring restrictions and offering to pay for training for current teachers who want to become certified in bilingual education or English as a second language instruction.

Department officials said the city was on track to hit the rest of the targets in its Corrective Action Plan, which include testing students’ language proficiency soon after they enroll and giving principals principals and staff more training about issues facing ELLs.

But the plan focused only on technical compliance issues, and council members had broader questions about the status of English language learners in city schools. How many immigrant parents are going to parent teacher conferences? they asked. How are they getting information in their native languages? How are schools helping immigrant students adjust to the new culture? Are they partnering with community groups? Why must new immigrants take state tests in English as soon as they have been in the country for a year? How are services different for immigrants originating from different countries?

City officials offered brief responses but declined to make those questions the focus of their appearance before the council’s education and immigration committees.

The hearing offered a rare view into ELL issues. Elsa Cruz Pearson, a staff attorney for Advocates for Children of New York, said the main way advocates get data is through an annual report that the Office of English Language Learners submits to the state. But the city was supposed to have submitted a report in the spring, and it so far hasn’t done that, she said.

And somewhat uncharacteristically, city officials did not bring along a PowerPoint presentation to highlight positive department data during their testimony. Councilman David Greenfield called attention to the omission.

“The automatic question is, why aren’t we trumpeting the stats of how great things are?” Greenfield said. “And the answer must be because things aren’t that great for ELLs.”

Angélica Infante, CEO of the Office of Language Learners, said the city still has plenty of room for growth, later noting that the state cited all but one of the city’s 32 school districts as needing improvement.

“The big corrective action plan we have is about compliance and we have made a lot of gains in that area,” Infante said. “That’s all we’re talking about.”

Newsroom

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 Spokane, 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.”

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.