Challenging charters

Manhattan parent council calls ‘emergency’ meeting to address KIPP’s plan to open a diverse charter school

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Parents in District 3 gathered this summer to learn about the middle school application process. Families in the district, which recently implemented admissions changes in the hopes of greater integration, must apply to middle schools.

A nascent proposal to open a new charter school in 2020 is prompting an emergency meeting of local parent leaders.

The local parent council for District 3, which covers the Upper West Side and Harlem, called the meeting Dec. 17 in response to the announcement by KIPP, one of the largest charter networks in the city, that it wants to open an “intentionally diverse” school in the area.

The meeting of the council’s charter school committee is meant “to address KIPP:NYC’s plans for a District 3 Harlem Middle School and the siphoning of students from Harlem public schools which equates to funds for your children,” according to the council’s press release. KIPP has not identified in which neighborhood in District 3 it hopes to open.

It’s unsurprising that the council is responding with alarm to the charter school proposal, which is only in the planning phases now. The district has long opposed new charter schools that they fear would destabilize enrollment — especially in Harlem, where many charters have already opened.

Still, the meeting underscores how many hurdles KIPP’s proposal is likely to face. The charter network had hoped to join with the parent council in making the district’s schools more diverse. Parents there pushed for admissions changes to help integrate middle schools. The changes go into effect this year.

“Our teacher-leaders have been meeting with families and community leaders about the education needs in the district and we look to forward to continuing to listen and learn in the coming months,” KIPP spokeswoman Vicki Zubovic said in a statement.

The parent council does not have formal authority over charter schools in its geography bounds. But they can play a role in advocating for or against the changes — as they did with the middle school integration plan. (KIPP will also have to contend with a cap on the number of charter schools that can open in the city and a legislature that is now less friendly to charter school interests.)

“We will be absolutely 100 percent against it,” Kim Watkins, president of the District 3 parent council, told Chalkbeat this week, referring to the KIPP school. “We will use any means at our disposal to oppose it.”

The council’s emergency meeting is scheduled for Dec.17 at 9 a.m. at 154 W. 93rd St., room 204.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting. 


New report shows Indianapolis students lag on test improvement, but innovation schools may be a bright spot

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

A new study finds mixed results for Indianapolis Public Schools dramatic shake-up in recent years: Students in schools within the district boundaries are below the state average when it comes to improvement on tests, but students at charter and innovation schools appear to be doing better.

Indianapolis Public Schools students are making smaller gains on math and reading tests than their peers across the state, according to a study released Thursday by the Stanford-based group CREDO, which looked at data from 2014-15 through 2016-17. It is the first in a series of studies examining 10 cities. In Indianapolis charter schools, students are about on par with peers across the state, researchers found.

“Indianapolis students persistently posted weaker learning gains in math compared to the state average gains in the 2014 through 2017 school years,” said Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University in a press release.

The most highly anticipated part of the study, however, is the first major look at the results for innovation schools, a new kind of district-charter partnership. Results from innovation schools show some positive signs but still left unanswered questions.

The study found that students at innovation schools, which were created in 2015-16 and have been rapidly expanding, made gains in math and reading in 2016-2017 that were similar to the state average. But the gains are not to a statistically significant degree.

If the innovation schools are able to maintain the pace of student improvement, it would be a remarkable boon for the district. The study is also further evidence that at least some of the innovation schools are helping students make big gains on state tests. When 2016-17 state test scores were released, several innovation schools had jumps in passing rates. But the inconclusive nature of the results also highlights how hard it is to judge a program that is still in its infancy.

Since the district began creating innovation schools in 2015, their ranks have rapidly swelled. There are now 20 innovation schools, which enroll about one in four of Indianapolis Public Schools’ students.

Innovation schools have drawn national attention from advocates for collaboration between traditional districts and charter schools. They are under the Indianapolis Public Schools umbrella, and the district gets credit for their test results from the state. But the schools are run by outside charter or nonprofit managers. The network includes a variety of schools, including failing campuses that were overhauled with charter partners, new schools, and previously independent charters.

Time crunch

Specialized high schools lawsuit could delay admissions decisions, New York City says in court filings

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Asian-American parents and community leaders gathered in Brooklyn to learn about a lawsuit against part of the city's plan to integrate specialized high schools.

New York City students may have to wait longer than usual to learn where they’ve been accepted to high school as the city prepares for a ruling in a lawsuit challenging integration efforts, according to court records filed Wednesday.

The city asked Judge Edgardo Ramos to rule by Feb. 25 on a preliminary injunction to block admissions changes aimed at enrolling more black and Hispanic students in the city’s prestigious but segregated specialized high schools.

A decision would be needed by then in order to meet the “latest feasible date to mail offer letters,” which the city says would be March 18 given the tight timeline around the admissions process.  The delay would apply to all students, not just those vying for a seat at a specialized high school. 

“DOE is mindful that a delay in the mailing of high school offers will increase anxiety for students and families, cause complications for those students considering private school offers, and require specialized high schools and non-specialized high schools to reschedule and restaff open houses,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the education department said the city will “communicate with families when a final offer date has been determined.” Letters were originally scheduled to be sent by March 4.

Filed in December, the lawsuit against the city seeks to halt an expansion of the Discovery program, which offers admission to students who scored just below the cutoff on the exam that is the sole entrance criteria for specialized high schools. The Discovery expansion, slated to begin this year, is one piece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to diversify the elite high schools.

Asian-American parents and community organizations say the expansion unfairly excludes their children. Asian students make up 62 percent of enrollment at specialized high schools, but comprise only 16 percent of the student body citywide.

The suit calls for a preliminary injunction, which would put the Discovery expansion on hold while the case winds its way through the courts — and would disrupt the admissions cycle already underway for eighth-graders enrolling in high school next year. The process of matching students to specialized high schools was scheduled to begin this week, the city’s letter states.

The plaintiffs wrote a letter supporting the city’s timeline for a decision on the preliminary injunction, saying their aim is to stop the proposed admissions changes “before they can have the anticipated discriminatory effect.”

Hitting pause on the Discovery program expansion would mean the education department has to recalculate the cutoff score for admission to specialized high schools, consult with principals, work with the test vendor to verify scores, and generate offer letters to send to students, city attorney Marilyn Richter wrote in a letter to the judge.

The education department “has never made such a significant course adjustment midstream in the process before,” she wrote.