school closing season

Jamaica and Columbus High School supporters pack hearings

Parents, teachers and alumni cheer on the testimony of a Jamaica High Schol supporter at a public hearing on the plan to close the school last night.
Parents, teachers and alumni cheer on the testimony of a Jamaica High School supporter at a public hearing on the plan to close the school last night.

From Queens to Brooklyn, hundreds of teachers, students, and alumni poured into auditoriums last night to defend their high schools from closure.

In Queens, supporters of Jamaica High School turned out in droves for the public hearing, a meeting also attended by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and some of the Department of Education’s top brass.

The arguments against phasing out Jamaica and replacing it with several small schools in the same building were similar to those voiced at a question-and-answer session with DOE officials held at the school last month, which also drew an angry crowd.

When one speaker pointed out Walcott’s presence in the back of the auditorium, audience members rose from their seats, turned around to face him, and chanted, “Save Jamaica High School.”

The Queens representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, Dmytro Fedkowski, asked the DOE to postpone the board’s vote on the proposals until the department releases more information about how the closure decisions were made.

“These proposals seem to be moving forward at an alarming rate,” he said.

Fedkowski has one of 13 votes that will determine the fate of the 20 schools slated for closure. He said he is still unsure how he will vote at the panel meeting on January 26.

“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Fedkowski told me after testifying.

The lack of clear criteria for the phase-out decisions has been a common criticism of the plans, one that was also made last week by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

DOE officials cite the school’s low enrollment and stagnant four-year graduation rates, and argue that smaller schools will better serve Queens students.

Critics of closing Jamaica say the school is educating a needier group of students, who frequently need longer than four years to graduate and who some observers argue are often excluded from the city’s small schools.

Robert Klugman, an alumnus of the school who has also taught there for 24 years, said that Jamaica graduates are prepared for the world, no matter how long it takes them to get their diploma. He quoted a remark from Chancellor Joel Klein, who asked what parent would send their student to a school with persistently low graduation rates like Jamaica.

“I’ll tell you who,” Klugman said. “The parent who knows that when their student walks out of this school, they are ready not only for life but also for college.”

In the Bronx, students, teachers, and alumni of Global Enterprise Academy and Christopher Columbus High School also came out to argue against plans to close them. Supporters of Columbus make the same case that Jamaica’s advocates do: in the last several years the school has been deluged with some of the highest-need students in the city and given almost no help in educating them.

“I don’t expect a student who comes to this country in their junior year of high school to graduate at the same time as someone who has been here for 18 years,” said one Columbus student. “If you came to Albania, to my country, I wouldn’t expect that of you either.”

Supporters of Global Enterprise, a small high school that opened in 2003 inside the Columbus building, said the school was too new and had not been given a chance to succeed. Others said it was nonsensical to close the school when the DOE has acknowledged that the school doesn’t meet their criteria for closing.

“What you’re asking is for a school to be phased out that was restructured in January of 2009,” said Global Enterprise principal Michelle Joseph, who has only worked at the school for a year and a half.

“This is an indictment of your procedure. It’s a political maneuver and you’re teaching these students that education and improvement actually do not work.”

Betsy DeVos

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 Bellevue, 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.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

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.