charter schools

Charter schools raise questions but draw no sanctions from state policymakers

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The state’s new chancellor’s “serious concerns” about whether one charter school should be allowed to operate didn’t stop her from supporting its second chance.

Chancellor Betty Rosa’s response to two charter schools, one with low student achievement and another that enrolls a few English Language Learners compared to the surrounding district, shows the fine line the chancellor must walk as she promotes high standards while also trying to give struggling schools the support they need. This time her convictions helped result in another chance for both schools, but her words left the door open for sanctions in the future.

“Montessori is a school that I have serious concerns about and that we will need to continue to monitor,” Rosa said.

Rosa discussed two schools: Harriet Tubman Charter School in the Bronx, which enrolls almost 18 percent fewer English Language Learners than its surrounding community school district, and New York City Montessori Charter School, which saw only 5 percent of student pass state English exams last year.

The chancellor only has one vote, but she is influential as the board’s leader. The board renewed both schools, though Harriet Tubman secured a full five-year renewal, while Montessori got the right to remain open only for another three years before its next review.

Rosa acknowledged and addressed each issue head-on. Harriet Tubman still needs to enroll more English language learners, she said, but she also complimented the school’s efforts to enroll more poor students. The school has increased its percentage of poor students by 15 percent in just one year, bringing it within seven points of the district average.

“Overall you see a charter school that has made a commitment,” Rosa said.

The chancellor’s tone towards the Montessori school was more cautionary. Rosa said she had “serious concerns” about the school, which unlike many charter schools prioritizes independent learning over sharp academic gains, and promised to continue to monitor its progress.

Her reaction to each issue is telling. Traditionally, charter schools have been judged primarily based on their test score performance, but increasingly schools have been under pressure to enroll more high-needs students, too.

With each school renewal on Monday there was also a practical concern: Are there other options for families? Regent Lester Young asked whether closing schools with only a few months’ notice is unfair to families. But he also argued the board should ensure that charters honor the bargain they made when they were authorized and keep their academic bar high.

“What I worry about is that here we are saying let’s give them a chance, let’s do this, when they got a chance, right?” Young said. “Their chance was they received a charter.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”