Charter growth

These 5 New York City charter networks are getting $23M from the feds to expand

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Ascend charter school network CEO Steve Wilson observes students in a fourth-grade English class.

New York City schools are getting almost half of the money that the U.S. Education Department is handing out this year to help charter schools grow.

Five of the 17 charter operators receiving this year’s “Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools” grants are based in New York City, and they will take home more than $23 million over the next five years. All together, the 17 operators were awarded $52.4 million.

The five New York City operators are Ascend Learning, East Harlem Tutorial Program, Family Life Academy Charter Schools, Great Oaks Foundation, and Success Academy Charter Schools.

Ascend Learning ($9,484,885) currently operates 10 schools in Brooklyn. In its grant application, the network said it wants to double its student enrollment to 8,000 by 2021. The network got high marks for improving students’ test scores, but one reviewer noted that the schools serve fewer students with disabilities and English language learners than other local schools. “This is a concern because over time the applicant does not seem to have been able to remedy this situation,” the reviewer wrote. One change the network has made over time: shedding the “no-excuses” approach to discipline, which its CEO said was producing “too many unhappy children.”

East Harlem Tutorial Program ($2,781,280) currently operates two schools and plans to add a high school for students who complete the middle school programs. Its application notes that teachers are trained through a residency program run at Hunter College which is undergoing an independent evaluation. (Research is mixed on whether the training programs, which are increasingly popular, yield better teachers, especially given their high cost.)

Family Life Academy Charter School ($900,000): The grantee with the smallest award, this network calls itself an “emerging … ‘community grown’ charter school network” in its application, using language that reflects a deep divide within New York City’s charter sector between major networks and ones with a more mom-and-pop origin story. It is planning to add a middle school for its three Bronx elementary schools to feed into.

Great Oaks Foundation ($3,834,000) has one school in New York City and others in Newark; Wilmington, Delaware; and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Its founder and president once ran the city’s charter schools office under then-Chancellor Joel Klein, a charter advocate. The network has hired hundreds of tutors to give each student two hours of extra help every day, and its application outlines a plan to create a teacher residency program and improve summer teacher training. The application reviewers wrote that they were impressed by students’ test scores but questioned why the network had offered up only one year of results.

Success Academy ($6,130,200): The winner of the largest award is also New York City’s largest charter network, with 41 schools serving 14,000 students and a lightning rod CEO, Eva Moskowitz, whose expansion ambitions are no secret. The network wants to use the federal funds to add grades to 20 of its existing schools. (Other expansion plans bring the network’s projected number of schools to 77 in 2021, with more than 31,000 students, according to its grant application.) Its unclear how much the network needs the federal government’s support: Its grant application says it expected to net $43.5 million last year “from foundations, individuals, and fundraising events.”

Nationwide, the schools are getting a portion of their grants this year; future funds are dependent on Congress agreeing to pay out the pledged amount in each year’s education budget. The education department also awarded $145 million to nine states — New York was not included — that pledged to help charter schools open.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.