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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 2, 2009
Harlem parents say they want their local schools shut down
A group of parents is sharply criticizing the Department of Education for backing away from its decision to shut down struggling neighborhood elementary schools, saying Mayor Bloomberg should "take a hard line" and turn over the buildings to be used as charter schools. The parents, who are zoned to have their children attend two of the schools that would have been closed and replaced with charter schools, said that they want the mayor to shut the schools down because the schools are dirty, dangerous, and filled with teachers who are "just there for a paycheck." "I live across the street from 194," one mother, Melissia Daley, wrote of P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school that would have been closed under the city's original plan. "Although it's a zoned school and very convenient for me and my child, I wouldn't even try to put my child in there because the children are well behind in grade." "If they are closing 241 to put a better school in its place, then they should do that," one parent, Martinique Owens, said, of another Harlem school, P.S. 241, in a similar situation. Their statements came in a press release issued this afternoon by a spokeswoman for the Harlem Success Academy network of charter schools, Jenny Sedlis. Two Harlem Success schools were planning to become the sole occupants of the P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 buildings after those schools closed. Those schools will have to continue sharing space with district elementary schools next year.
March 25, 2009
For 86,000 high school applicants, the waiting is finally over
Eighth graders at many middle schools this afternoon enacted one of the more emotional rituals of New York City public school life: Comparing their high school placement letters. Back in December, each eighth grader submitted an application ranking up to 12 high schools, joined by a handful of high school freshmen hoping to change schools for tenth grade. Then the Department of Education's computer system matched applicants to schools based on their qualifications and preferences. (Check out Insideschools for a more detailed description of the matching process.) Today, students found out what result the computer spat out for them. The DOE announced today that 86 percent of the 86,169 applicants matched with one of their top five high school picks, and that 91 percent matched with a school somewhere on their list. About 6,000 students found out their high school options last month by scoring high enough on the specialized high school exam to win admission to one of those schools, or by winning admission to LaGuardia, the city's elite performing arts school. The DOE delivers match letters to middle schools, and the schools pass them on to their students.
March 18, 2009
Lil Mama and the mayor will rally for charter schools tonight
If you can, make sure to stop by the Harlem Armory tonight for an evening that charter school advocates are billing as the largest gathering of New York City parents ever in one space. The point is to show support for charter schools, which are proliferating in Harlem — to the delight of some parents, but not to the liking of a coterie of teachers and elected officials who have protested the schools' growth. Hosting tonight's event are Harlem Children's Zone C.E.O. Geoffrey Canada and KIPP co-founder David Levin. Similar events have been held recently by Harlem Success Academy, the network of four charter schools founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that has been at the center of the political fight. A Harlem Success official says she expects 6,000 7,000 charter school parents to attend tonight, plus some parochial school and traditional public school parents. Also scheduled to attend are the rapper Lil Mama, whose adoptive mom is a board member of Harlem Success, Mayor Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and school choice advocate Howard Fuller. Among the political currents swirling tonight will be Canada's outspoken support for mayoral control of the public schools, which some Harlem elected officials have indicated they'd like to see curtailed; Levin's ongoing saga with a group of his teachers who are trying to unionize; and Harlem Success's struggle to get space inside a traditional public school.
March 16, 2009
For high school students, school choice is hard to come by
Is there school choice in New York City? It depends whom you ask. Ask in Harlem, and members of Harlem Parents United, a group organized by charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, might tell you that there is: They have all chosen charter schools for their children and are aggressively pushing the neighborhood's families to have even more options. They have allies in Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who count increasing school choice as a cornerstone of their reforms. But ask a high school student who wants to change schools, and you might get another answer entirely. According to an article in the New York Post, ninth grader Kimselle Castanos said she asked the Department of Education for a transfer dozens of times but didn't get one until she was assaulted by students from another school in the building. The DOE thinks the Post got some major facts wrong, such as how many times Kimselle e-mailed the chancellor, officials told me today. But even if it did, the real story remains that in a system that boasts about the choices open to students, Kimselle and her family felt stuck in a school that wasn't right for her. I heard from countless parents, students, and advocates desperately seeking school transfers when I worked at Insideschools, through the hotline run by parent organization Advocates for Children. Callers reported that their transfer requests, particularly at the high school level, had been denied even though they had compelling reasons for seeking them. Those calls continue to pour in, my former colleague Pamela Wheaton, Insideschools' executive director, told me today. "For whatever reason, it has become increasingly difficult, almost impossible, to get a transfer to another regular high school," Wheaton said.
November 19, 2008
A Times Square gathering to tell Obama: Choose charters!
A thousand or more New York City charter school parents are expected to gather in Times Square tonight to urge Barack Obama to send…
November 17, 2008
Turning Sasha and Malia school watch into a political opportunity
First family-elect. (Via Flickr.) Last night on "60 Minutes," during her first interview as First Lady-elect, Michelle Obama was asked how she will decide where to send her daughters to school. "We want that to be a personal process," she said. Democrats for Education Reform, the lobbying group I profiled last week, is looking at the Obamas' choice through a political lens. DFER wants the president-elect and his wife to consider sending their daughters to charter schools — and, barring that, to support charter schools, a top DFER issue. The group is also asking charter school parents to plead with the Obamas, by mailing in a form letter:
November 11, 2008
For a short time yesterday in D.C., my dream world came true
From the Associated Press’s big scoop, revealing that Michelle Obama visited two Washington, D.C., private schools yesterday, is a nugget that is much more…
November 7, 2008
Obama: First Family yet to consider D.C. school options
Where will Malia and Sasha Obama go to school after Inauguration Day? At his first policy address as president-elect, Obama this afternoon said the…
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