rally reprisal

For a third year in a row, pro-charter groups plan large political rally

Parents and students at a charter school march across the Brooklyn Bridge last year.

The political force that marched across Brooklyn Bridge last fall, and later helped topple Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to stunt New York City charter school growth, is mounting a new battle.

Calling itself the “Coalition for Education Equality,” a group led by the pro-charter Families for Excellent Schools announced they will stage a large education rally on Oct. 2 at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. It’s the fourth such event held by charter school organizers since 2012 and the latest effort by the sector to flex its political muscle.

Organizers of next week’s rally insisted that the message isn’t as much about promoting charter school growth as it is about bringing attention to dozens of schools where few students are meeting reading and math proficiency.

“Our members urgently demand access to excellent schools, district or charter, for all New York City kids,” FES CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said in a statement.

But the rally, estimated to exceed 5,000, is still likely to consist primarily of parents, students and teachers from charter schools that tend to belong to charter management organizations, some of which are awaiting approval to open more schools next year. Two charter networks expected to play a central role at the rallies, Achievement First and Success Academy, helped kickstart a social media campaign that is accompanying next week’s event; both networks are planning to add new schools in the 2015-2016 school year.

FES, which formed in 2011, has emerged as the charter school sector’s major parent-organizing entity. Backed by a well-heeled board and funded with grants from the Walton Foundation, the group last year organized a rally in Albany and mounted a multimillion dollar advertising campaign attacking de Blasio after he blocked three Success schools from opening or expanding. Less than four weeks after the rally took place, lawmakers passed legislation that guaranteed access to facilities for Success and new charters in New York City.

This year’s event and related campaign doesn’t appear to offer any policy prescriptions for how to improve schools. But FES is among the advocates that in recent weeks have criticized the de Blasio administration for its delay in implementing a plan for the city’s struggling schools.

Chalkbeat reported this week that principals of low-performing schools are still unclear on details of the city’s plan, nearly three weeks into the school year. Kittredge said parents at the rally would seize on the issue, noting a report that highlighted hundreds of schools where nine out of ten students were not proficient on state reading and math tests. “Parents are looking for bolder leadership to address the city’s failing schools crisis,” he said.

But it could also be the first step in an effort to raise or eliminate a state limit on charter schools. As few as 17 city charter schools will be permitted to open under a state cap by the end of the year, and next year’s state budget negotiations is likely to include a tense debate over the issue.

Next week’s rally will be the fourth installment in what has been a series of demonstrations by the city’s well-coordinated charter school sector. But many charter schools have sat out of the rallies, revealing deep tensions in the sector between larger networks seeking to expand and smaller, independent schools. Those divisions widened last year after a group of independent charter schools publicly sided with de Blasio by declining to participate in an Albany rally organized by FES and Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz during state budget negotiations.

It’s unclear if the charter sector is any more united this year. A spokesman representing the smaller charter schools declined to comment on the rally, but emphasized their close ties to City Hall in a statement.

“Make no mistake, every child deserves a high-quality, well-rounded education—every serious stakeholder in our City agrees on that,” said the spokesperson, Rafiq Kalad Id-Din, who runs Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “Our members are on the ground working hard to deliver this promise and the mayor continues to seek our input on how to expand great options for kids. Let’s focus on making sure that all public schools—district and charter—have the public support they need to excel.”

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.”