blacked out

An open letter to the DOE from NYC's education reporters

Although chancellor-appointee Cathleen Black’s transition from private citizen to public servant has officially begun, the Department of Education is still keeping her activities a secret.

Black’s school visits have drawn particular interest because she is starting her new job with very little experience in public education under her belt. Black has also given no formal interviews so far and little is known about her stances on policy questions.

Historically, the schools the chancellor visits also tend to signal what characteristics and practices the DOE is promoting.

In response to requests from several reporters, DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said that she would release the name of schools the chancellor visits only after the school day ended. Today, Black visited two schools, P.S. 111 and P.S. 78 in Queens, Ravitz said this afternoon.

“Part of being chancellor is visiting schools and talking with principals, teachers and parents openly and candidly about what is happening in their school community,” Ravitz said. “Having TV cameras and reporters over your shoulder is often not conducive to such an open exchange. So there will be public visits and private visits.”

It’s an interesting stance for the city to take, given that part of the city’s legal argument for releasing teacher effectiveness scores is that public employees do not have an expectation of privacy.

A group of the city’s education beat reporters from four news outlets, including GothamSchools, are sending the following letter to Black, asking that the city not wait until after she has left a school to let reporters know she visited.

We’ll update when the city responds. In the meantime, if you hear that the incoming chancellor is visiting your school, send us an e-mail or let us know on Twitter.

Dear Chancellor-designate Black:

We, the education beat reporters of the New York City press corps, are writing to make a formal request that you allow the city to release a schedule of your school visits publicly in advance of those visits.

Our position is that your school visits are a matter of public record. Previously, the city denied interview requests because you were not yet the chancellor. Now that the transition has begun, you are a public official.

Today, DOE Press Secretary Natalie Ravitz refused to share the names of the schools you were set to visit. She later said that she would release the names of the schools, but only at the end of the day. Ms. Ravitz has told reporters that the visits need to be kept secret so that you may speak candidly with principals, teachers and parents.

We believe that having honest conversations with parents and teachers, and publicly sharing where you are visiting or who you are speaking with before those conversations take place, are not mutually exclusive.

When outgoing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was appointed in 2002, reporters were allowed to follow him on his visits to schools. We see no reason why you would not do the same.

We look forward to working with you in the future.


The New York City education press corps

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.