moving on up

City's online guide to schools joins up with The New School

The website InsideSchools, which for years has provided independent information about schools for parents and teachers, has found a new home at The New School.

Founded in 2002 by Pamela Wheaton and Clara Hemphill, the site and its staff will be based out of the Center for New York City Affairs at the university, where Hemphill currently works. And as part of the move, the co-founders are retooling the site — updating its look and writing reviews that cater to parents who don’t have perfect English.

“The idea is that we want to make the site more accessible to people who don’t read very well and who might not speak English, so we’re going to try to have videos and pictures and try to have less text,” said Hemphill, the site’s senior editor, in a phone interview today.

“Of the schools the chancellor has opened, most of them are really geared for at-risk kids, so we wanted to make it easier for kids who have kind of limited reading levels to navigate,” she said.

The site’s design has already changed slightly — some of the profiles for newer schools are shorter and there’s a short video explaining how students can use the site to help them decide where to apply for high school.

With a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Wheaton and Hemphill have been able to hire freelancers to review schools, but now they’ll also have the help of the Center for New York City Affairs staff.

Originally, InsideSchools was housed within Advocates for Children of New York. When the group’s funding ran out last year its founders had a difficult time finding new support as philanthropists and foundations cut back on giving. Hemphill said the organization is still working to raise money.


Center for New York City Affairs Seeks to Expand Site’s Audience, Accessibility

NEW YORK, November 1,, the independent guide to New York City public schools, is moving to the Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA) at The New School, the university announced today.  The move reunites the original staff of, Clara Hemphill and Pamela Wheaton, who helped found the site in 2002.

Building on’s status as New York City’s leading independent, online public school guides, CNYCA seeks to broaden the site’s already large network of parents, principals and young people who rely on as an essential information source in a city where school choice is now a fundamental component of public education policy.  Central to this effort will be making the site more accessible to parents with limited English literacy.

“Since its founding, has stood as a model for the highest quality service journalism and grassroots community education,” said Andrew White, Director, CNYCA. “With our shared commitment to driving real and effective policy reform and parent involvement in New York, CNYCA and The New School are an ideal home for to fulfill its mission.” was founded as a project of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), a non-profit education advocacy organization focusing on the city’s public schools.  AFC launched the site in 2002 to provide an independent source of information on the public school system, with expert, qualitative reviews on every public and charter school. Since that time, project staff and volunteers have reviewed more than 1500 schools and provided information to nearly 900,000 visitors a year.

“We are incredibly proud of what has accomplished here at AFC,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director, AFC.  “We look forward to seeing the website thrive and grow in new and exciting ways, now that it will have a prominent research university behind it.”

Clara Hemphill has been senior editor at the Center since 2008, editing policy reports on education, including one on Chancellor Joel Klein’s small school initiative entitled “The New Marketplace” and one on the city’s controversial accountability system entitled “Managing by the Numbers.”  Pamela Wheaton has been project director of since December 2006.

The transfer from Advocates for Children to The New School was made possible by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the department's FY2019 budget. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.