Headlines

Rise & Shine: State education policies under attack in hearing

  • In the first of four  hearings, Long Island speakers took aim at new ed policies. (LoHud)
  • Dads at more than 100 schools ceremoniously brought their kids to school yesterday. (NY1)
  • Arne Duncan isn’t following the mayoral race, and downplayed its effect on education. (WSJ)
  • One of the new career and technical schools is focused on preventing tragedies. (Daily News)
  • Marc Sternberg, the top official in charge of school closures, is leaving. (GothamSchoolsWSJ)
  • School visits should be atop the agendas for newly elected officials, a voting advocate argues.
  • Educators expressed concerns over Common Core implementation to state officials.(GothamSchools)
  • As expected, the state relaxed extra help requirements for many struggling students. (Post-Standard)
  • Perhaps nothing divides Gov. Cuomo and Bill de Blasio more than their views on schools. (Post)

Fixing Special Education

Parents finally get an update about special education reform at Chicago schools

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools

Six months after enumerating how Chicago Public Schools has mishandled the education of special-needs students, the Illinois State Board of Education has issued a letter to parents detailing shortcomings in the program and how parents may seek redress.

The school district will mail the state board’s letter to parents, and hand it out next week during report card pickup, state education board spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said. The letter is posted in Spanish and English on both the district and state websites. You can also read it at the end of this post.

The state probe, launched last fall, found Chicago schools violated students’ rights by routinely delaying and denying services, such as  speech and occupational therapy, busing, classroom aides, and placement in specialized outside schools.

The letter encourages parents with questions to contact an independent monitor the state appointed to oversee reforms for three years.

It’s not clear why the state took so long to inform parents about the investigation’s findings or their options. Parents have been complaining they hadn’t heard from school officials about improvements.

In early October, Matthews said that the state was finalizing its letter to parents.

Now the state is working with the district and parent advocacy groups to identify students whose rights were violated and may be eligible for measures “to make these students whole,” as the letter puts it.

It advises parents, “if you believe that your child was harmed by the systemic violations identified in the public inquiry, you may have the right to file for due process or file a complaint with ISBE’s special education division.”

To improve special education services, the letter notes, the state has been training district employees about the investigation, how procedures will change, and their roles and responsibilities in special education.

The state and district are training parents about their rights, including a list of low-cost legal providers who can help parents navigate the legal process.

Read the letter below.

 

Charter Dispute

As León pushes for changes, some charters consider leaving Newark’s unified enrollment system

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark students arriving at a district school on the first day of class.

Newark families could have a harder time applying to certain schools this year if changes sought by the district’s new superintendent spur some charter schools to pull out of the city’s common enrollment system, charter advocates say.

Superintendent Roger León is pushing for the system to no longer assign schools extra students to offset attrition over the summer, according to people briefed on negotiations over the enrollment system. The practice, known as “overmatching,” helps both district and charter schools plan for the coming year, but it also ensures that charter schools fill their seats — something León appears less willing to help with than his charter-friendly predecessors.

The dispute means that district and charter leaders are still hashing out rules for the five-year-old common enrollment system just weeks before applications are due to open. Now, some charter schools are considering withdrawing entirely — potentially triggering a return to the fragmented application process families faced before universal enrollment launched in 2013, charter proponents say.

“Realistically, it’s possible that could happen,” said one of the people briefed on the talks who, like the others, asked to remain anonymous while negotiations continue. “We’re really late in the game right now.”

The dustup marks another instance where León appears eager to roll back his predecessors’ policies — even if it means moving quickly, before all the potential consequences are known.

On the first day of classes, he told principals he was eliminating extra hours for struggling schools, forcing them to scramble to reset their schedules. And before even taking office on July 1, he pushed out dozens of top officials — a move the school board, which was not consulted in advance, partially blocked.

One of those officials was the district’s head of enrollment, Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon. She oversaw the universal enrollment system, called “Newark Enrolls,” which lets families apply to most of the city’s traditional, magnet, and charter schools using a single application. After a chaotic launch that outraged many parents, the system today gets high marks on user surveys. Yet it remains controversial among critics of charter schools who view it little more than a ploy to funnel students into the privately managed schools.

One feature of the system is that it assigns schools — both charter and district — more students than they have space for. This “overmatching” is done to account for the attrition that occurs each year as some students leave the city or decamp to private or county schools. A former district official estimated that most schools lose between 5 to 20 percent of their assigned students that way.

Now, overmatching has become a sticking point in the negotiations, according to those with knowledge of the talks, as León has proposed ending the practice.

It is unclear why, and the district did not make León available for an interview. One possibility is that doing so might appease critics without dismantling common enrollment, which León has said he wants to keep.

But some people in the charter sector believe the superintendent, wanting to retain as many students as possible in the district, is loath to send charters extra students. That prospect has alarmed some charter school operators who fear they could end up with unfilled seats and reduced budgets, as school funding is based on enrollment.

To illustrate how overmatching works, a person connected to the charter-school sector gave an example of a high school with 100 available ninth-grade seats. In the past, the enrollment system might assign the school 115 students based on the assumption that roughly 15 students would not end up attending. If the system only matched 100 students to the school, then it could be left with 15 open seats.

“At an independent charter school, when those 15 students don’t show up, there’s no money coming from anywhere else to adjust their budget,” the person said. “That could put them out of business.”

If the district stops sending charter schools extra students, those schools are likely to start admitting more students from their waitlists. If that happens, district schools may suddenly lose students who were on their rosters. They would then have openings that are likely to be filled by students who arrive midyear, who are often some of the most challenging students to serve.

“District principals hate losing kids to charter waitlists,” the former district official said. “It creates a lot of instability.”

León met with charter-school representatives Thursday, but no final agreement was reached. Even if the two sides work out a compromise, the district’s board of education and each of the boards overseeing the participating charter schools must still vote on the plan.

They have limited time to do that without disrupting the normal admissions cycle. Typically, families can start applying to schools for the following year in the first week of December.

Newark Public Schools spokeswoman Tracy Munford said enrollment would start at the same time this year even though the district-charter enrollment agreement has not been finalized.

“This is in progress and we look forward to it being completed soon,” she said in an email.

Meanwhile, some charter school leaders have discussed the possibility of forming a separate charter-only enrollment system if they decide to withdraw from Newark Enrolls. The heads of smaller charter-school organizations are most concerned about the proposed changes, according to a person familiar with their thinking.

Last school year, 13 of the city’s 19 charter school operators participated in the joint enrollment system. (The others each handled their own admissions.) Most families who used Newark Enrolls were matched with one of the top three choices on their applications — 94 percent who applied to kindergarten got a top pick, as did 70 percent who applied to ninth-grade.

Assigning schools more students than they have space for allows additional students to be matched with high-demand schools, said Jesse Margolis, an education researcher who has studied Newark’s enrollment system. The schools end up with roughly the right number of students because some of those on their rosters never show up. And students who would have been assigned to a less popular school if the system hadn’t overmatched instead get to attend one at the top of their list.

“Overmatching is a way of helping kids get their preferences,” said Margolis, who co-wrote a favorable report about Newark Enrolls commissioned by the district’s previous superintendent, Christopher Cerf. “And it helps schools have stable, predictable enrollments.”

Correction: This story has been updated to remove an inaccurate explanation for why some charter schools are more wary of a change to enrollment rules than others.