let's talk

Black sits down for questions, and we pose some of our own

For her first sit-down interview today, Cathie Black enjoyed a friendly softball toss with WABC 7’s Art McFarland.

In the first excerpt of the interview to air, Black defended her qualifications as a manager against critics who charge that she lacks the education credentials necessary to do a good job.

“We’re all human beings,” she said. “It is about people. After all, it is about people. They can be little people as young students or teachers or principals or any of the other organizations that surrounds it.”

McFarland then asked if Black expected the public outrage over her appointment.

“First of all, I’m not taking it personally,” she said. “They don’t know me. If they knew me and said this, that’s something different. But they don’t know me. So they’re venting their anger. I have three words: let’s go forward. None of this is going to change the outcome. So let’s go forward, together.”

This clip, the first excerpt of McFarland’s long interview with Black, did not include more details about how Black intends to move the school system forward. McFarland said that other sections will discuss Black’s plans.

GothamSchools has formally requested an interview with Black through the Department of Education. We don’t usually release our interview questions in advance, but we thought in this case we’d make an exception. Add your own questions for her in the comments.

  • What is your theory of change for public education? Do you favor incremental change, as Randi Weingarten has, or do you endorse Michelle Rhee’s idea of radical change? What are the pros and cons of each?
  • Can you be more specific about what you mean by good management? And who are the people that the chancellor is responsible for managing, in your mind?
  • What factors will you consider when you decide whether to close a school?
  • You have said that you are willing to make “hard decisions.” One hard decision will be determining how to distribute looming budget cuts between classroom expenses and the administrative costs of officials at Tweed Courthouse and the rest of the Department of Education bureaucracy. What distribution do you think is appropriate?
  • You have said repeatedly that children should come first, and your predecessor and the mayor frequently argued that children did not come first in the past. Can you give some examples of how adults have come first in education previously and explain how you plan to change those practices?
  • What is your position on teacher evaluation? How should principals decide whehter to give teachers tenure?
  • Are teachers born or made? How much investment do you plan to make in professional development opportunities for teachers?
  • Can you give us examples, from the schools you’ve seen so far or from your own education, of teaching you consider to be good and teaching you consider to be bad?
  • How do you plan to reach out to parents? How do you think parents should best be involved in their children’s education and the school system at large?
  • Have you read the city’s contract with the United Federation of Teachers? Your predecessor and the mayor sometimes disagreed about how to negotiate with the union. Do you favor working together to make compromises with the union or taking a hard line in negotiations?
  • Researchers and reporters have uncovered cases of perverse incentives for accountability. How will you ensure that teachers and principals and school officials don’t succumb to the temptation to cheat or teach to the test?
  • Do you support housing charter schools inside district school buildings? Given space limitations, how will you decide which charter schools are granted access to district space – if any?
  • Do you favor private school vouchers?
  • Do you have any interest in pursuing elected office? Would you rule out a run for New York City mayor?


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.