word of the day

At a city school, Stephen Colbert earnestly reports on new grant

Stephen Colbert appeared at Manhattan Bridges High School this morning to announce a $4 million grant that will help teachers buy supplies.
Stephen Colbert appeared at Manhattan Bridges High School this morning to announce a $4 million grant that will help teachers buy supplies.

The comedian Stephen Colbert took time out from his regular ranting to conduct a polite, earnest interview at a Manhattan high school this morning, in an appearance meant to announce a new “citizen philanthropy” project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is giving $4.1 million to a Web site that connects private donors with classroom teachers who need extra supplies, DonorsChoose.org, .

Colbert, who sits on the site’s board, made the announcement in the style of his televised interviews, before an audience of students at Manhattan Bridges High School, but without any of his usual mean comments. (He did draw laughs with an awkward attempt to use Spanish, the native language of many Bridges students, to explain that he was a “perdedor gigante,” or giant loser, when he was in high school.) The panel he interviewed included Vicki Phillips, the head of Gates’ education division; DonorsChoose founder Charles Best; and a Manhattan Bridges English teacher.

The Gates money will be disbursed to teachers who apply for small grants through DonorsChoose’s existing “Double Your Impact” program, which allows foundations and companies to earmark donations for specific kinds of projects. When a DonorsChoose user views projects that fall into that category, they appear as already being 50 percent funded. The Gates Foundation money will go to support as many as 17,000 projects that are identified by DonorsChoose as boosting students’ readiness for college, one of the new goals the foundation adopted after it re-considered its mission last year.

Phillips suggested that SAT prep classes and trips to visit colleges listed by teachers on DonorsChoose would be eligible for Gates “Double Your Impact” funding. Elizabeth Smith, the tenth-grade English teacher on the panel, said DonorsChoose helped her pay for a $200 set of workbooks to help students in a Saturday “College Bound” program learn how to write college application essays. In the future, such a purchase would qualify for Gates funding.

But the topic of college readiness didn’t come up often during the event, even after Phillips asked Colbert to make “college-ready” the word of the day, in a nod to a recurring feature on the comedian’s “Colbert Report” television show. Asked to name the most memorable projects DonorsChoose has helped fund, Best listed a hunting safety classes in Texas and a garden in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park that a teacher maintains to memorialize a student who was killed while walking to school.

When a student asked Colbert what resources would have improved the schools that he attended in South Carolina, the comedian said that art supplies and more books would have made a difference. (The comedian graduated from a private Christian school.) But it’s not yet clear whether requests for those resources could be eligible for the Gates matching funds.

Arts programs “might be a little bit of a stretch,” Best said, adding that if a teacher “clearly explained” how an arts initiative helped prepare students for college, it might be eligible for the matching funds. Then he looked to Phillips on his left and said with a smile, “We’d like it to be eligible.”

Colbert said that his involvement with DonorsChoose began on a tip from Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist. When Colbert announced his presidential candidacy in South Carolina in October 2007, he had his fans donate to DonorsChoose instead of to his “campaign,” which was a comedy stunt. He raised $68,000 for the organization.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.