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May 28, 2009
New York could be boxed out of Duncan's Race to the Top funds
There's another round of federal stimulus dollars that local school districts can hope for, but it may be out of reach for New York schools. That's because the state has a law Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says could jeopardize applications for the funds: a cap on the number of charter schools educators are allowed to create. Duncan told Congress last week that, in awarding a new pot of stimulus funds meant to encourage innovation, he will give preference to states without charter school caps. He said he would also give preference to states with caps that agree to lift them. The pot includes $5 billion to be given through a competitive grant process known as the "Race to The Top." Chancellor Joel Klein has indicated that he wants to apply for Race to the Top funds to expand innovations such as the citywide data system and the bonus program for schools whose students show improvement on test scores.
May 20, 2009
Report: Many city charter schools lack hardest-to-educate kids
A frequent criticism of charter schools is that they succeed by "creaming" children. A new analysis by Insideschools finds that many city charter schools do have significantly fewer needy students than other public schools. Vanessa Witenko, a former colleague of mine, analyzed data from city charter schools (although she had trouble obtaining some data) and found that most do not enroll homeless students, offer special programs for students still learning how to speak English, or provide special education services that are legally required for some children with special needs. Here are a few key excerpts. On why charter schools enroll just 111 of the city's 51,000 homeless students: "The application period is February and March and the lottery is held in April," said [Jeff] Litt [of the Carl C. Icahn charter schools]. "A mother who comes [to the shelter] in June is too late, so their kids go to the neighborhood school." Homeless families may have priorities other than seeking alternatives to their neighborhood schools, he said. "They have daily survival needs. I don't know if they have the time to research who we are, what we are, how to get in." On some charter schools' use of Collaborative Team Teaching classes, intended for some children with special needs, to educate children who are learning English:
May 15, 2009
Highly anticipated UFT, Green Dot contract is on the way
The highly anticipated teachers' contract for the Green Dot charter school in the South Bronx, which has been heralded as an innovative collaboration between a Los Angeles-based charter school operator and the union president Randi Weingarten, is expected to be finalized as soon as today. The contract is being closely watched for signs of just how flexibly Weingarten is willing to negotiate a teachers' contract — eagerly by supporters of looser protections for teachers, and with gritted teeth by veterans who believe strong job security is crucial. The original Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles raised many veterans' eyebrows here because the schools' contracts do not include the concept of "tenure" for more senior teachers. The contracts do guarantee teachers protections against unfair dismissal. Steve Barr, the charismatic leader who founded Green Dot, told me Wednesday that he expects a contract by the end of the week. "It should be finalized this week; I would be very surprised if it's not," Barr said. Barr has said in the past that he expects the New York contract to be similar to the one negotiated in Los Angeles.
May 12, 2009
Board of Regents could grab more charter control from SUNY
A bill introduced in Albany last week could limit The State University of New York’s (SUNY) power to certify charter schools, empowering the Board of Regents to veto the university’s recommendations for which schools should be allowed to open. New Board of Regents head Merryl Tisch is leading the charge for the change, and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told GothamSchools today she supports the bill. "SUNY as an entity is not sensitive to issues in the communities here," Tisch told the Daily News. (A call to Tisch's office has not yet been returned). Currently, the state's Board of Regents, which is one of three boards that can authorize city charter schools, reviews SUNY’s authorizations but cannot prevent the SUNY-approved schools from opening. The Board has disagreed with SUNY's charters two thirds of the time since 2007. While the Regents can't block those schools from opening, they do have the power to revoke the charters of SUNY schools that drop below their standards. The bill was introduced by Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan last week and is described as a way to standardize and streamline the chartering process. Critics of the bill argue that SUNY's charter schools outperform other charters and that consolidating the power to authorize charters would mean fewer charter schools in the city. It's unclear how much of a chance the bill has to pass, though charter advocates say they plan to work vigilantly to prevent it from becoming law. United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten defended Nolan's and the Regents' stance, even though SUNY is the UFT's charter authorizer. "If you really want to have top to bottom and bottom to top accountability you should have one statewide entity authorizing charters, not two," she said. "We are always looking for ways to save money and be more efficient and having one statewide authorizer is probably best."
May 11, 2009
Queens charter schools enter the fray with information campaign
Spurred by a series of meetings held by Queens' borough president, charter school administrators, parents and students are gathering at The Renaissance Charter School in Queens to dispel “misinformation” about their schools in a discussion on Wednesday night. Queens is far from the center of the city’s charter school debate, which has been raging in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but with the opening of two new charters in as many years, and increased attention to the issue city-wide, some parents and elected officials have voiced their opposition to the schools. Nicholas Tishuk, the Director of Programs and Accountability at Renaissance and the organizer of the event, said that the discussion is the beginning of an “information campaign” targeted at charter school critics. Principals of two other Queens' charter schools, VOICE and OWN, will participate in the panel. Tishuk has been attending Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s monthly Advisory Board meetings, where he said charter schools dominate the conversation. (Marshall said in February she has " fought against charter schools.”) He invited some of the most outspoken critics at Marshall’s meetings to Wednesday’s discussion, hoping to show them that charter schools aren’t “this big bad thing.” “We're all mom and pop schools here,” Tishuk said. “We're all single-standing schools that are not ‘invading’ communities.” Tishuk wants to address complaints that charter schools take away funding from regular schools, aren’t connected to communities, and counsel out “problem kids”—none of which apply to Queens’ schools, he says. Queens will have six charter schools next fall, including the city’s biggest, Our World Neighborhood Charter School. VOICE charter school started in 2008, and Growing Up Green, in Long Island City, opens this fall. VOICE is using a Department of Education school location for now, while the borough’s other charter schools occupy their own space. In Brooklyn and Manhattan, charter schools taking over public school space is a hot-button issue, one that has mostly been avoided in Queens.
April 29, 2009
In KIPP annual report, school performance data is laid bare
Test results from Harlem's KIPP STAR College Prep Charter School, where students on average outperformed their district but not always the state. Graph from 2008…
April 28, 2009
Principals in Harlem are adapting to heightened competition
Harlem's school choice wars reached a new height this spring when the Department of Education moved to replace PS 194 and PS 241, zoned elementary schools, with charter schools, saying that local families were electing not to enroll at the zoned schools anyway. A lawsuit stymied that change, but the battle raged on — and is set to continue on Thursday night with a televised showdown between charter school operator Eva Moskowitz and union president Randi Weingarten. Now, principals on the sidelines are learning from watching the fight, according to a report by a Columbia University journalism student. Kyla Calvert, one of the students behind the Web site about the Department of Education's no-bid contracts, just published a report on a class Web site about how principals and parents are responding to increased competition among schools. From Calvert's article: ”I agree with the philosophy that competition breeds excellence,” said Charles DeBerry, principal of P.S. 76, a school with about 370 students in Kindergarten through sixth grade. “But color copies are expensive. One of these costs me $.25,” DeBerry said, holding up a simple brochure created by some of his staff members. “I look at the things the charter schools are sending out and there’s just no way I can compete with them.” The number of kindergartners at PS 76 is down by a third this year, DeBerry told Calvert.
April 27, 2009
Rivals Moskowitz and Weingarten will debate this week on NY1
Eva Moskowitz and Randi Weingarten will debate this week on NY1's evening news talk show. (GothamSchools' Flickr.) Two education leaders who have been dueling via press releases, bristling statements to reporters, and dueling events in Harlem will come face-to-face this week, in a debate broadcast on NY1, the local TV news channel, spokespeople for both leaders have confirmed. The debate is scheduled for this Thursday night. Randi Weingarten, the leader of the politically powerful teachers union, is preparing to debate Eva Moskowitz, the former City Council member-turned-charter school operator, on Dominic Carter's evening talk show, "The Road to City Hall." The teachers union spokesman, Brian Gibbons, said that NY1 contacted Weingarten and asked her to appear on the show with Moskowitz. Weingarten said yes.
April 24, 2009
Political, parenting strategies align at Harlem Success lottery
A line of parents that wrapped around the block, blue and orange balloons, and a carefully choreographed program greetged hopeful families and political supporters last night at the admission event for the four Harlem Success Network charter schools. In addition to the main event, the naming of admitted students, the evening featured a barnstorming speech by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (in the video above), a surprise announcement about charter school funding from State Sen. Malcolm Smith, and political exhortations from Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success's lightning rod CEO. "I wish we could open them faster and have spots for absolutely everyone," Moskowitz said about her schools to the thousands of assembled parents. But she said, "There are special interests and even elected officials who don't support the growth of charter schools." Moskowitz has sparred for years with the teachers union over her aggressive school reform strategies. For the thousands of parents in attendance, politics took a distant second to anxiety about whether their children would be among the 475 selected from the 3,500 entered into the lottery.
April 24, 2009
That $30M relief fund to charter schools could get smaller
We reported yesterday that charter schools, which were disappointed by an unexpected freeze in their budgets for next year, are going to be getting some…
April 23, 2009
Charter schools will get $30M in one-shot plan to counter freeze
PHOTO: Alan PetersimeA Queens charter school encouraged parents and students to call Governor David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith after it learned charter schools could see their funding frozen. Paterson and Smith are now sending the schools $30 million. (##http://picasaweb.google.com/teach11372/RenaissanceCharterRallyAndMarchAgainstCharterCuts#5319497282636828866##Nicholas##) Governor David Paterson and Malcolm Smith, the state Senate majority leader, are back in good favor with their long-lost charter school friends. Smith has just announced a plan to counteract a budget freeze that took the schools by surprise earlier this year, by sending the schools a one-time $30 million grant. The grant is less than the $51 million that charter schools were slated to lose after legislators axed planned funding increases in their recent budget deal. And it will expire at the end of next year, leaving supporters to wage a new fight over funds then. But a source familiar with the plan who is a supporter of charter schools said that $30 million will be enough to help schools that had been imagining slashing after-school programs and turning down extra staff they'd already hired for next year. Smith announced the planned injection just now at a charter school lottery in Harlem, which Philissa is covering. The lottery is the annual event for the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Charter Network in Harlem. Harlem Success is expecting more than 5,000 parents at the lottery, which will determine which children are selected to attend the schools.
April 23, 2009
With union decision imminent, KIPP is ready to start bargaining
A KIPP charter school in the Bronx. (By ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlleleela/##Leila Haddouche##, via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlleleela/2711133829/##Flickr Creative Commons##) The next front in the tug of war between teachers unions and charter schools is about to commence, and this development will occur at the bargaining table. The game: UFT vs. KIPP. There's been no official word yet, but everyone involved in the saga between the politically powerful teachers union and the prominent charter school network is expecting that 16 KIPP teachers in Brooklyn will become official members of the city teachers union today. UPDATE: It's now official, confirmed by both the union and KIPP. Press releases from both parties are below. And here is the PERB decision. David Levin, KIPP's co-founder and the superintendent of New York City KIPP schools, told me this afternoon that he hopes negotiations will begin as soon as next week. Teachers at the charter school, KIPP AMP, petitioned to form a union in January, but their pitch has to be accepted by the Public Employee Relations Board before the union becomes official. Reports had said a final decision would come yesterday, but both the union and KIPP officials were still waiting for word this morning. Now, all signs point to PERB sending the green light to the union today.
April 9, 2009
Two efforts to improve a school, with two different sets of tools
I have a story in this week's Village Voice about the fight over how to improve struggling public schools. Should the schools be rescued from the inside or replaced? I focus on P.S. 194 in Harlem, which school officials favor replacing with the fledgling Harlem Success Academy 2. Both the principal at HSA 2, Jim Manly, and the principal at P.S. 194, Charyn Koppelson Cleary, are trying to give Harlem's children a radically different experience of school. Yet they have very different tools to work with. Cleary's world: Before the school year began, staffers recall, she gathered her whole faculty, from the teachers to the security officer to the secretary, in what she called a "circle of change." Each person talked about what needed changing at the school. "The good news," Cleary told them, according to people who were there, "is that 94 or 95 percent of the stuff you guys are talking about, we can change." In some ways, Cleary was constrained in her efforts. She could not hire a staff of her own, since the bulk of the teachers were inherited from the school's previous years. She could not ask the custodian to repaint the entire building, since his contract only permitted a certain percentage. But she did the best she could, asking for the neediest rooms to get fresh paint and finagling a handful of other educators she trusted onto the payroll. She also only had last three months to prepare for her turnaround: She began the job last July. Now, here's Manly's world:
April 8, 2009
As the tabloids go wild over our story, looking for the take-away
Today's New York Post includes two stories about the story GothamSchools first broke on the UFT's lobbying of City Council members. The story I broke yesterday morning about the United Federation of Teachers sending City Council members pre-scripted questions on charter schools is now filling the pages of the New York Post and the Daily News. As Philissa pointed out in the morning roundup today, each paper (A) covered the story and (B) editorialized about the shameless things it says about the teachers union. They both also (C) did not give credit to GothamSchools for breaking the story, despite happily quoting the card text that only I obtained. C'est la vie. The important thing, of course, is to keep our eyes on the ball. One take-away here is pretty obvious. The teachers union peddles its influence in pretty clever ways! Equally important, I think, is another point that shouldn't get lost in this tangle. That's the fact that, on the question of charter schools, the union is walking an astoundingly precarious tightrope.
April 7, 2009
Principal: State charter law creates rare zoned high schools
Charter school principal Eddie Calderon-Melendez, right, speaking to parents and students at his schools' admission lottery. (<em>GothamSchools</em>, Flickr) The conventional wisdom about charter schools is that they allow families a way out of their zoned schools. But for soon-to-be high school students, charter schools actually provide the nearest alternative to a zoned option, according to one school operator. The high school admissions program run by the Department of Education is citywide, meaning that students can apply to any school in the city. But the state law governing charter schools treats high schools just like schools serving younger students: They are required to give priority in admissions to students living in their school district. Because many charter schools have more applicants than seats, charter high schools necessarily end up with mostly students from their district. For that reason, "we're actually a throwback to the zoned school," Eddie Calderon-Melendez, the principal of Williamsburg Charter High School, told me last week at the lottery for the three schools in his Believe Network.
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