highlight reel

Seven things you need to know about the second PEP meeting

Seven takeaways from this week’s second marathon Panel for Educational Policy meeting, for those who don’t have time for 6,000-plus words, minute-to-minute updates:

1. Sometimes a delay is just a delay.

Forty minutes before the panel meeting was set to begin, a DOE spokesman informed reporters by email that the city was withdrawing PS 114 from closure consideration, at least for the moment. Parents and teachers from the school greeted the news with hope that the DOE was reconsidering closing their school, which suffered under the leadership of a notorious principal for years.

From 5:21 p.m.:

Just after receiving the e-mail about P.S. 114, Anna walks by a group of people holding signs that argue for keeping 114 open. “I read them the DOE’s e-mail, and they start cheering,” she reports. “They hadn’t been told they were off the list tonight.”

P.S. 114 parent Jimmy Orr tells Anna: “We’re overwhelmed. If it’s true, we’re elated. It’s a delay, but it gives us hope that we can turn things around.”

But a day later, it’s clear that the DOE doesn’t intend to reconsider closing the school. P.S. 114’s closure has been postponed until the March 1 meeting of the PEP.

A DOE spokesman, Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, said the department delayed the vote because officials needed more time to respond to public comment, which they’re legally required to do.

“We felt like we wanted more time on this particular proposal to offer more responsive answers than we had ready,” he said. “We have a legal responsibility to make sure we’re responding to all the feedback we get.”

Asked if the city was acting out of concern it might be sued by the teachers union, Zarin-Rosenfeld said that wasn’t a consideration. Last year, the union successfully sued to keep 19 schools open after a court found that the city hadn’t followed the laws governing school closure. Though the union has taken a special interest in P.S. 114’s case, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers said it hadn’t threatened to sue.

2. The teachers union and charter school advocates have different ideas about how to get their points across.

On Tuesday night, Success Charter Network sent hundreds of parents to Brooklyn Tech, and many stayed until the wee hours of the morning, with sleepy young children in tow, until they could each comment publicly. Last night, the United Federation of Teachers held a rally outside the hearing and then filled the auditorium with supporters.

But just over an hour into the meeting, most of the union supporters walked out. We haven’t heard from the union with an official explanation for the walkout, but here’s an idea planted by one participant:

Anna reports passing a man walking out. He’s wearing a UFT t-shirt and waving students out of their seats.

“They don’t care about us,” he tells them. “They’re not listening.”

3. People are thinking ahead to next year.

Some of the most vocal attendees last night were a group of students from Samuel Gompers High School, which wasn’t on the chopping block at all.

From 6:14 p.m.:

One of those chanting is Dalcean Prdomo, a senior at Gompers High School, a career and technical high school in the Bronx. The school isn’t on the closure list tonight, but students from Gompers have been actively protesting closures anyway.

Anna reports running into them at a closure hearing at Columbus High School, also in the Bronx. Prdomo tells Anna he has the sense that Gompers could easily end up on the closure list next year, so he feels he should speak out against the process now.

We also heard by email from Megan Hester, a research associate at Annenberg Insitute for School Reform, which provides technical assistance to the Coalition for Educational Justice, a collection of community groups. “Gompers is on this year’s PLA list, so students there see the school as next up for closing … thus their turnout for the hearing tonight,” Hester wrote. PLA refers to the state’s list of persistently low-achieving schools.

4. Cathie Black’s leash isn’t getting any longer.

The new chancellor drew fire after mimicking the boos of some of her detractors late Tuesday night. Last night, she registered nary an emotion and barely opened her mouth.

From 9 p.m.:

The whole night, she’s been almost expressionless: sitting quietly next to a bottle of water.

WNYC’s Beth Fertig says Black did render one hint of emotion. When a woman at the microphone said her name was also Cathy, Black smiled thinly.

And while department officials told Anna at midnight that Black might speak to reporters after the hearing’s conclusion, just 40 minutes later reporters were told that Black would be “unavailable for comment.”

Last year, then-Chancellor Joel Klein huddled with reporters after the school closure Panel for Educational Policy meeting ended — and that was at 4 a.m.

5. Even when they vote for a plan, the mayor’s appointees aren’t always thrilled about it.

Philip Berry, one of the mayor’s appointees to the panel, spoke wistfully about Norman Thomas High School before saying he cast his vote for closure.

From 12:20 a.m.:

“I have watched the quality of that school decrease steadily over the years,” he says. ”On one level it pains me to see that we have to close Norman Thomas. On the other hand, we are finally taking the type of action we should be taking.”

Then, after the closure votes, the panel turned its attention to reviewing a handful of contracts. One of them, for a package of online learning services, drew raised eyebrows from mayoral appointee Lisette Nieves, who said, basically, that schools in the process of phasing out aren’t pushed to offer top-notch educations.

From our 12:51 a.m. dispatch:

“I did vote for the phase out,” Nieves says. “But there’s a difference between saying leadership is committed to providing a basic service versus an advanced servive. I just want to make sure there’s an incentive. I don’t inherently buy into the idea that there’s an incentive.”

6. Long hearings like the two this week come with a price tag.

At the end of the night, Anna snapped a picture of about a dozen School Safety Agents filing for overtime. The city has scheduled two PEP meetings for March (one on March 1, the second March 23), as well, which could mean more long nights and more overtime.

7. The following phase-outs and co-locations were approved:

These schools will be phased out:
P.S. 260
P.S. 332
M.S. 571
Frederick Douglass Academy III’s middle school
John F. Kennedy High School
Christopher Columbus High School
Global Enterprise High School
P.S. 102
Performance Conservatory High School
Norman Thomas High School
Beach Channel High School
Jamaica High School

These co-locations will move forward:
P.S. 325 with P.S. 260
New school P.S. 241 and Leadership Prep Ocean Hill with P.S. 332
Brooklyn East Collegiate with P.S. 9 and M.S. 571
New high school 11X508 in the Christopher Columbus campus
New high school 11X508 in the Christopher Columbus campus
New high school 11X511 in the Performance Conservatory High School building
New high school 27Q351 in the Beach Channel building
New high school 28Q350 in the Jamaica building

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.