As city revises space-sharing plans, settlement looks possible

A contentious legal battle between the city and the teachers union could be inching toward a settlement as school officials race to re-write plans that are key to the dispute.

In the past month, city officials have revised each of 20 space-sharing plans outlining how charter schools would be housed inside district buildings. The way that previous plans allocated space between charter and district schools is a central criticism of the teachers union’s lawsuit.

The sweeping revision effort is in direct response to the lawsuit, filed May 18, Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged in a statement.

Several of the plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit praised the revisions and indicated that they might lead to an out-of-court settlement.

In a conference call with reporters, Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, a lead plaintiff in the suit, said his organization’s ultimate goal was to place all students in their school of choice. “We are open to all options to settle this suit,” he said.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview today that he was “happy” with the efforts. UFT lawyers, he said, have expressed cautious optimism that the revised plans would satisfy their demands.

The city’s move means that the plans, many of which were already approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, will require new votes by the PEP and new public hearings to solicit community feedback on their terms. The city began holding new hearings this week.

The most significant revisions made to the plans, called Educational Impact Statements and Building Utilization Plans, will allocate more time in common school building space — such as libraries, cafeterias and gymnasiums — to students enrolled in district schools.

Previously, the plans uniformly gave each school equal time in shared spaces, regardless of the school enrollment, an education official said. But now the DOE is dividing up space based on how large each school population is.

City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, also a plaintiff, said that a settlement was possible if it included a commitment to allocating school building space more equitably. “Their move toward equity and fairness is a direction they should have moved toward a long time ago,” Jackson said today.

The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Education has not complied with state education law requiring students to receive an equal allotment of resources. Many of the specific complaints detailed in court documents targeted the shared space inequities.

School officials revised the plans in the last month, beginning even before the union filed its lawsuit. Over the next 19 days, officials will hold joint public hearings for all 20 charter schools targeted for co-location, setting up a June 27 PEP meeting that will have to vote on each plan.

Jealous’ comments came in a conference call with bloggers, which he said was organized to clarify the NAACP’s legal position. Noticeably absent on the call was Hazel Dukes, the president of New York’s NAACP chapter, who was initially listed on invitations as a speaker.

Dukes has been a public presence for the organization since the lawsuit was filed last month, but she sparked controversy with comments she reportedly made to a charter school parent on June 1.

In an email, Dukes said the parent was “doing the business of slave masters,” according to the New York Post.

Jealous described the Post report as a “mischaracterization” but declined to condemn the email.

The suit’s next crossroads is scheduled for June 21, when a state judge will decide whether the city can immediately move forward with its co-location and closure plans.

Meanwhile, the joint public hearings have already begun. Tonight is the co-location hearing for Bronx Academy Success.


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.