Big City Schools News and Big Grant for School Vouchers

Parents, Teachers Celebrate Fariña as New York City Schools Chancellor

On Monday, Bill de Blasio, newly elected mayor of New York City, announced his choice for schools chancellor. Carmen Fariña is an educator with decades of experience as a teacher, principal and advocate for early-childhood education. De Blasio, whose children attended public schools, called the decision “one of the most important decisions I’ll ever make as mayor and one of the most personal.”

Many teacher and parent organizations, including the local United Federation of Teachers, celebrated the appointment. In the union’s statement, president Michael Mulgrew called Fariña “a real educator.” He added: “She has a deep knowledge of schools and our system, and is on record criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s focus on high stakes testing. We look forward to working with her to help make sure every child has access to an excellent education.” In contrast, two recent chancellors – Cathie Black, who served only three months, and Fariña’s immediate predecessor, Dennis Walcott – required waivers from the New York Department of Education due to their lack of experience in the field.

The Associated Press reported that charter organizations showed less enthusiasm toward Fariña and the tasks with which she has been charged. During the campaign, de Blasio spoke about the need for community input on schools issues. He called for a moratorium on school closings and on co-location of charter schools within NYC public school buildings. New York City schools have been under mayoral control since 2002.

Newark City Schools

To the South, Newark (NJ) schools have been under state control for nearly 20 years, and State Superintendent Cami Anderson is preparing to increase the role of charter organizations in the city. Her “One Newark” plan was released just as schools were letting out for winter break. It announces charter launches, as well as “renewing,” “redesigning,” “repurposing,” and “resiting” schools. “Resiting” – spelled with an “s” – means, apparently, “the move of a school to a different facility” with a promise of “better school buildings.” A “charter launch,” the plan helpfully explains to families, will “transform previously district operated schools into charter-operated schools.”

The slightly more detailed version of the “One Newark” plan – four pages in place of two – simply declares:

This means that as of 2014, Newark Public Schools will no longer run Madison, Bragaw, Hawthorne, Alexander, and Newton. With One Newark Enrolls, students currently attending these schools will receive priority to continue at their schools. Students may also seek to change schools using the One Newark Enrolls application.

This enrollment program is another innovation Anderson recently announced, providing a single application for traditional and charter schools.

“This is a dismantling of public education,” said Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, while Anibal Ramos, Jr., another candidate, said “absent community engagement, the plan lacks legitimacy.”

Anderson maintains, however: “Newark Public Schools must be able to compete with charter schools. This should not lead us to slow the growth of high performing charter schools – it should lead us to advocate for the very conditions that help them succeed.”

Doubling Private School Vouchers

Finally, another school-related development made public just as many educators — and the Education Town Hall — were preparing for winter break: The Walton Family Foundation announced its intention to double the number of publicly-funded spots in private schools by 2017. The Foundation donated $6 million to the Alliance for School Choice to promote private school voucher programs, like the one imposed on the District of Columbia by the U.S. Congress nearly 10 years ago. Similar programs now exist in 18 states as well as DC. Across the nation, 300,000 K-12 students use public dollars to attend private schools. The Washington Post recently investigated and found students using vouchers at schools with “few quality controls and widely disparate academic experiences.” The GAO also found finance and school compliance issues with the DC program. (see also Education Week’s story.)

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