Goodbye & Thanks

Inside Tweed, Klein assures staff he left of his own accord

Amid speculation that he might have been forced to resign, Chancellor Joel Klein walked into the rotunda of Tweed Courthouse today to say goodbye to his staff and assure them that his decision to leave was own.

Klein said that when he agreed to be schools chancellor more than eight years ago, he assumed he would have the job for two terms at the most. But when the City Council ended term limits and Mayor Bloomberg won re-election, the chancellor began to plan his exit.

“I told the mayor that soon in the third term I would move on. That’s been in my head and my heart,” he said.

He acknowledged that the transition to a new chancellor would be rough for the department, and for him.

“I said to the mayor, this is the best job I ever had,” he said. “Ask my wife how long I cried last night.”

Yesterday’s news that Klein will resign and be replaced by Heart Magazines chairwoman Cathleen Black caught most DOE officials, even the highest-ranking ones, by surprise. And at 9 a.m. this morning, employees filed into the building’s rotunda to hear Klein say goodbye. Clutching Blackberrys and briefcases, some peered down over the railing of the second floor, while others packed the ground floor. When Klein appeared, they broke into applause.

The chancellor began his speech formally, with a litany of numbers and statistics that he often pulls out when defending his legacy.

“We transformed a system that was built on power and patronage and politics…to a system built on progress and performance,” he said. “It’s not to say that we haven’t made mistakes…but it is a transformed system.”

Klein is joining the News Corporation as an executive vice president in charge of advising the company on how to invest in digital initiatives in education. Privately, some DOE officials have questioned this step, saying it is far removed from the national political platform Klein has sought, but the chancellor said he doesn’t see it that way.

“This keeps me in the game I care about,” he said. “I think News Corp has the money and the committment to have a big impact on education,” citing technologically innovative programs in the city that could benefit, such as School of One.

Klein said he planned to stay active in education politics through the Education Equality Project, his first political venture, which he co-founded with Rev. Al Sharpton in 2008. Sharpton agreed to the partnership after receiving a large donation to his nonprofit. Though the organization held a rally in D.C. and has raised over a $1 million, it has not had a prominent role in reform politics.

The chancellor briefly ceded the floor to Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott who, in describing his relationship with Klein, began to tear up. But he assured his audience that he had high hopes for their new boss.

“When you sort through all the BS, you’re looking at a trailblazer,” Walcott said of Black. He said that, on meeting Klein eight years ago, he’d felt an instant chemistry. “The same thing happened when I met Cathie Black,” he said.

Both Klein and Walcott have described their eight years of working together as a second marriage, though the chancellor said he was grateful his wife would have the occasional drink with him, while Walcott would not.

“In eight-plus years we’ve been through so much together,” Klein said. After difficult days, he would sometimes turn to Walcott and suggest they get a drink to relax and erase the difficulties of work, if only temporarily. But Walcott always begged off, saying he doesn’t drink, Klein said. But two weeks ago, after a meeting in Chelsea, Walcott was the one to suggest a drink.

“And that’s when I knew I could resign,” the chancellor said.


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.