charter wars

Some Regents ask whether Success video calls for more state oversight

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

A roiling debate about charter school discipline reached New York’s top education officials Monday, as members of the Board of Regents indicated that a video of a Success Academy teacher sharply criticizing a young student calls for greater oversight of the charter sector.

A couple of Regents condemned the video, published by the New York Times, and Regent Judith Chin wondered aloud if it should prompt censure by the state education department. At the end of the discussion, five members abstained from a vote that included the expansion of four New York City charter schools.

“How do we hold SUNY accountable for the well-being of a child?”’ Chin asked, referring to the SUNY Charter Center, which oversees all of Success Academy’s schools. “Is there an obligation on our part as the State Ed. Department to follow up on incidents like this?”

Success Academy officials have called the teacher’s behavior in that video an anomaly. They have also defended their strict discipline policies, which they say helps students stay on task and contribute to impressive academic results. Some other charter schools have moved away from a similar “no excuses” philosophy in recent years, which critics argue can also encourage high-needs students to leave the school.

The charter schools with mergers and expansions before the board on Monday weren’t affiliated with Success Academy. One proposal shifted three Achievement First charter schools from the New York City’s oversight to SUNY’s, and second proposal did the same for one school in the Uncommon Schools network.

Four other New York City expansion proposals were related to independent charter schools.

Though the proposals were all approved, the abstentions by Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, Roger Tilles, Judith Chin, Judith Johnson, and Catherine Collins — four of whom were recently elected — raise questions about whether the board will be tougher on charter schools in the future.

The Regents who abstained said they simply did not have enough information about the schools to OK the expansions and mergers. “I think there were some legitimate questions raised,” said Tilles, “and they didn’t have answers, which sort of surprised me.”

Collins said she wanted more information about the retention policies at the charter schools in question.

“We keep expanding, and I really don’t want kids to start when they’re 11 and then a few years later they’re somewhere else,” she said.

The most recent annual report for The Equity Project Charter School, which won approval to serve 720 more students at an elementary school, says the school beat the state’s targets for retaining high-needs students. DREAM Charter School, which won approval to open a high school, beat the state’s targets for two of the three high-needs groups, including English learners.

But John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island did worse, falling far short of its targets for retaining poor students and students with disabilities. It plans to add an elementary school. Retention information wasn’t available for Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which plans to add middle-school grades.

The Board of Regents has been slow to approve new charter schools this year, but its future treatment of charter schools will be determined by a remade board. Come March, the board will have three new members and a new leader after the departure of Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

Regent Chin, one of the new members, stressed that her abstention did not signal opposition to charter schools.

“It’s not a controversy in the sense of being against any of this happening,” Chin said. “That’s all it is, it’s a lack of information.”

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.