Released earlier than usual, Blue Book now counts students in trailers

The city Department of Education released its annual school-space tally on Friday, months earlier than usual and featuring some changes recommended by an advisory group that includes parent representatives and principals.

The most significant revision to the yearly estimate of how much space is available in each school building, known as the Blue Book, is that it will now add students who attend class in trailers outside of school buildings into the main buildings’ enrollment counts. That should highlight how crowded school buildings will become once students are moved from the trailers into the main buildings, which the city has called a priority.

“This is a definite improvement,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a group that has criticized the way the city calculates available school space.

Some of the city’s fiercest school battles, including those centered on school overcrowding and the placement of multiple schools in the same building, revolve around the Blue Book’s numbers. Its calculations will likely come under increased scrutiny as the mayor’s pre-kindergarten expansion and a new state law forcing the city to find space for charter schools add to the city’s school-space crunch.

Critics charge that the Blue Book can underestimate how much space schools need and overestimate how much they have available, making the addition of more students or schools to a building appear less disruptive than they really are. In light of those and other concerns, Mayor Bill de Blasio had promised to temporarily halt new school co-locations, focusing especially on ones involving charter schools.

When his administration announced in February that it would in fact let some new co-locations proceed, as a concession the education department said it would form an advisory group comprised of community education council leaders, advocates, and others to review the Blue Book and suggest changes. Later, City Hall and the education department formed another advisory group to consider school space issues in general.

The head of the School Construction Authority, which helps compile the Blue Book, said at a hearing this month that the guide would be released early to give officials more planning time and would be more “user-friendly” than before. But she added that more substantial changes to the space calculations would not arrive until later editions. At that hearing, City Councilman Mark Levine worried that the changes would reveal more overcrowding and a need for more construction funding than was allotted in the latest budget.

Haimson, the class size advocate, said even with the improvements the Blue Book still contains “many, many flaws.” For example, she said it sets the class-size targets too high and does not allocate schools enough rooms for art and special education, leaving some students with disabilities to receive services in hallways and closets.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.