Bully pulpit

Walcott: Charter schools shouldn't need to pay to fill their seats

Chancellor Dennis Walcott criticized a charter network’s brief campaign to boost enrollment using cash incentives, arguing that charter schools shouldn’t have to do much recruitment at all.

“[I] think it was unnecessary,” said Walcott, referring to a $200 incentive offered by Girls Prep to families that referred new students to some of the network’s schools. Hours after GothamSchools reported about the offer last week, the schools’ management network, Public Prep, canceled the program and yanked a notice about the offer from its website.

“Charters, quite frankly, if they’re worth their salt, have people knocking down their door,” Walcott told reporters after he appeared on a panel of leaders in public education at NBC’s Education Nation summit. “So there’s no need for them to do that.”

Of course, it’s not unusual for charter schools to spend money on marketing to recruit students, and most schools allocate at least a small sum in their budget to the effort. Success Academy, for instance, spent close to $1 million in 2011 on subway advertisements and glossy mailers in areas where new schools were opening. Even district schools — high schools, in particular — have been known to hire marketing and public relations consultants to elevate their profile to parents and students during their intense search for a high school.

At Girls Prep on the Lower East Side, which was looking to fill eight vacancies between its elementary and middle schools, there were additional enrollment challenges, school officials said. Being an all-girls school, it has a smaller pool of students to recruit from. And it’s especially hard to attract families in a fluid marketplace of a district where parents can select which elementary schools to send their children to. Most districts assign students to schools based on where they live.

But the incentivized nature of Girls Prep’s short-lived strategy seemed to strike a nerve, in part because critics suggested that it challenged the notion that the growth of the city’s charter schools are largely based on demand for more seats. (Officials noted that the vacancies were concentrated in certain grades, and that 182-student wait list were for grades at capacity. They said that the wait list for its Bronx charter school hovered around 300).

The concern extended to Walcott’s Department of Education, which reached out to Public Prep after learning about the recruiting strategy on Friday. Walcott said that although his authority over how charter schools operate is limited, he can still wield some influence over the sector’s practices.

“I guess the bully pulpit of what I just said is sending a signal out that that shouldn’t be done at all,” Walcott said.

On Monday, Public Prep CEO Ian Rowe acknowledged Walcott’s comments about the program. “We agree,” he said, “which is why we took it down.”

Walcott’s comments come on the day before Public Prep schools join other charter schools for a rally being organized by several large charter management organizations. The rally, which organizers said they hope will exceed 10,000, is meant to send a message to mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio, who has criticized the salaries of people running the CMOs and threatened to charge rents to some schools in city-owned buildings.

But the rally has also turned off many in the charter sector who see it as being the wrong approach to seeking influence with de Blasio, who leads in the polls by as many as 50 points against Republican Joe Lhota. Few independent charter schools are participating and the the city’s main charter school advocacy organization, the New York City Charter Center, is not participating in it.

Last week, Walcott defended the role that the city’s largest charter school network, Success Academies, was playing in the rally. The 20-school network is closing schools for the duration of the rally to encourage its parents and students to attend.

“Success has done a masterful job at educating their students,” Walcott said last week, citing top results by the network’s schools on the 2013 state tests. “I have confidence that they balance both the educational needs of their students as well as the role of civic engagement.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”