the new guy

Weiner enters race with education platform a big question mark

Anthony Weiner points to a public school in the video he released today to announce his mayoral campaign.
Anthony Weiner points to a public school in the video he released today to announce his mayoral campaign.

New Yorkers know a lot of things about the latest entrant to the mayoral race — but not where he stands on hot-button education policy issues.

Anthony Weiner, who resigned from Congress in 2011 after a sexting scandal, launched his campaign with an video posted – apparently prematurely — early this morning. He becomes the sixth major Democratic candidate, landing in second place to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a poll released today.

Though his candidacy is seen as a long shot, Weiner is assured of media attention and is in a position to influence campaign trail conversation. In the campaign kickoff video, he cites high housing costs and a scarcity of jobs that offer benefits to paint a picture of himself as a champion of the middle class.

He also mentions education, saying, “Our schools aren’t what they should be.”

But Weiner’s vision for the city’s schools is not at all clear. He barely broached the topic of education in 2005, when he ran for mayor, and 2009, when he briefly considered running again.

A booklet of policy ideas that Weiner released last month and cites in the video released today skirts the major issues that are dividing candidates this year on education, including charter schools, school governance, and the role of testing. Weiner’s top priority, according to the book, which was a refreshed version of a similar document from 2009, is to “streamline the process for removing troublesome students from the classroom.”

That position could score points with families and educators who see school discipline as a major issue. But it also drew a protest outside of Weiner’s Park Avenue apartment building last month by students who said the approach to discipline would unfairly penalize students of color. The rally was organized in part by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, the coalition that formed to oppose the Bloomberg administration’s school policies in the election.

Billy Easton, who heads one of the main groups in the coalition, said the group had invited Weiner to participate in its mayoral debate next week but that he had not yet responded. “The big question we have for him on education is that his top priority is to increase suspensions and that is problematic,” Easton said.

Weiner’s extended time in the public eye has left a few other inklings of his education policy outlook. In 2008, just before legislators were set to revisit New York City’s school governance, he repeatedly expressed strong support for mayoral control, saying he wanted to see “unfettered” mayoral control continue. That puts him at odds with some of his Democratic competitors, who have said recently that they would cede some control of the city school board in order to place checks and balances against the mayor’s power.

But he did say that he thought Bloomberg had misused his power. At a forum in 2009, Weiner called then-Chancellor Joel Klein a “non-educator” and said his mother, a 31-year teacher, had left the system out of frustration. He also criticized Klein for failing to make the school system transparent.

He also turned up to a major event in 2008 at the Brooklyn Museum that was thrown by the charter sector, signaling that he might be interested in trying to wrestle the “reform” mantle from Mayor Bloomberg, who at the time had only recently begun to discuss the possibility of a third term. At the time, Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, said Weiner had been a supporter of charter schools for a while and favored lifting the state cap on the number of charter schools, which happened the following year.

Weiner’s nascent campaign does have some school ties: His press secretary is Barbara Morgan, who was a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education for until a year ago. Most recently, she was the press secretary for New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Here’s what Weiner said when he turned up at a Queens forum on mayoral control in 2009:

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.