School Segregation Persists Across the States: Public Schools and Charter Schools, North and South

It is hard for me to write about school integration. As white parents, my husband and I made the choice to educate our own children in a racially integrated, majority African American public school district, and we believe the setting where they went to school was a valuable and essential part of their education. But I know that for personal reasons, many white and African American parents make a different decision, and it’s been clear to me for a long time that our decision was, quite simply, our own decision.

It is a little easier to think about racial and economic integration of schools from a public policy point of view. Sean Reardon, the Stanford University sociologist, has been showing for years now (here and here) that our society is resegregating economically, and that that segregation is hurting the educational opportunities of students who are increasingly concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods of our big cities. Much of the educational inequality that accompanies racial and economic segregation directly results from the unequal funding associated with wealth and power. Racial and economic segregation are wound together in most places, and when local, state, and federal funding are combined, our society spends far more on the education of our nation’s highest-income children. The money buys smaller classes, more counselors, more music programs, and an enriched curriculum.

In their new report on the privatization of public schools, the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the Network for Public Education present a profound endorsement of racially, ethnically and economically integrated public education: “The required inclusivity of the public school setting provides more opportunity for students to learn in culturally, racially, and socioeconomically integrated classrooms and schools, and that promotes a variety of social-emotional and civic benefits for students.  At a time when there seems to be more emphasis on community divisions in our social and political settings, attending a public school can provide students with more opportunities to encourage relationships and friendships across group lines, thus eliminating false barriers of separation. And yet our nation has embarked on a troubling course that steers us toward school privatization, exclusivity and division.”

The contribution of school privatization to the racial segregation of children at school is the subject of Emmanuel Felton’s profound report for the Hechinger Report and NBC News. Felton describes the mostly white Lake Oconee Academy charter school in Greene County, Georgia: “At Lake Oconee Academy, 73 percent of students are white. Down the road at Greene Country’s other public schools, 12 percent of students are white and 68 percent are black…. In all, there are at least 747 public charter schools around the country that enroll a higher percentage of white students than any of the traditional public schools in the school districts where they are located.  The differences between the charters and the whitest nearby public schools ranged from less than 1 percent to 78 percent.”

So, how did Lake Oconee Academy charter school make itself into a publicly funded segregation academy? “In its early years, Lake Oconee Academy created a priority attendance zone for the gated communities that surround it. This is legal in several states, allowing charters to pick the neighborhoods they want to serve. While these schools usually hold randomized admissions lotteries open to everyone in their school districts, families in preferred attendance zones get first dibs… The case of Lake Oconee Academy doesn’t just illustrate how charter schools can segregate a community, it also underscores how charters can give well-connected individuals outsize influence on local schools. The charter was the creation of a real estate development company that is also the county’s largest employer, Reynolds Lake Oconee. Company officials and their allies sit on many of the county’s most important boards.”  While the school does set aside some places for children who don’t live in its economically exclusive attendance zone, at Lake Oconee, there are other disincentives for families without resources to invest in their children. The school requires uniforms purchased from Land’s End.  And it does not offer any kind of transportation to school; parents have to drive their children—a burden for parents whose work schedules make it difficult to provide school transportation.

Felton concludes: “The proliferation of racially identifiable white charters in some states but not others can be attributed in part to differences in state laws. In addition to allowing charters to draw their own attendance zones, Georgia doesn’t require charter schools to provide school bus transportation. The four states with the most racially identifiable white charters—Michigan, Arizona, Texas and California—also don’t require charters to offer transportation or to address the issue in their charter applications. And in North Carolina, which had six such charter schools in 2015, lawmakers have discussed allowing charters to give priority to children whose parents work at corporations that have contributed at least $50,000 to the school.  In June, lawmakers passed a bill that lets four mostly white and affluent Charlotte suburbs open up charter schools that would give preference to their residents.”

School segregation is not by any means limited to charter schools. Nor is segregation limited to the South or to Republican all-Red states like Michigan and Arizona. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a report identifying New York as the state with the most racially segregated schools in the United States: “New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.”

The news has been filled this month with stories about racial segregation in New York’s exclusive specialized high schools. Mayor Bill de Blasio has now pledged to address the problem, but even in New York, doing something about racial segregation is a tough problem. The New York Times addressed the shortage of black and Latino students in New York City’s elite high schools in an editorial on Monday: “Opposition has been swift and fierce, much of it from alumni of the specialized schools, who have said the mayor’s plan would somehow lower the quality of education or ‘set kids up for failure.’ The very intensity of the response underscores how formative an experience it is to attend a specialized high school—an experience that for years has been unfairly denied so many black and Latino New Yorkers.”

Here are the stunning and deplorable statistics: “Black and Latino students make up nearly two-thirds of the city’s 1.1 million school children. Yet, of the 5,067 offers of admission to specialized schools this year, 51.7 percent went to Asian students and 26.5 percent to white students.  Latino and black students received 6.3 and 4.1 percent of the offers respectively. At Stuyvesant, the most sought-after of the schools, just 10 of the 902 students offered admission were black.”  The Times Editorial Board continues: “New York’s elementary and middle schools do not prepare children for the test, all but ensuring that students seek out extensive test preparation.  Many Asian and white students have done so for thousands of dollars apiece. Black and Latino students are likely to walk in with little or no test preparation.”

In 1971, the state legislature established in a state law known as Hecht-Calandra that students would be chosen for New York City’s specialized high schools based on scores on a single test, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Even now as Mayor de Blasio has proposed expanding the admissions criteria: “Perhaps the biggest challenge to the mayor’s full plan is political, since it will require overturning Hecht-Calandra. That would take forceful lobbying from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has so far signaled only lukewarm support.”

Mayor de Blasio has suggested a plan clearly based on academic merit. It is hard to believe his idea would be controversial: “Mayor de Blasio has vowed to replace the test with a system, to be phased in over three years, that would eventually admit the top 7 percent of students from every middle school, based on a combination of grades and performance on state exams. City officials say that if the plan is implemented, the specialized high schools would be about 45 percent black and Latino.”

Dante de Blasio, the mayor’s biracial son and a graduate of one of New York’s specialized high schools, Brooklyn Tech, just had an opinion piece published in the New York Daily News on the subject of racial segregation in New York’s elite high schools. Now a rising senior at Yale University, Dante de Blasio writes about his experience as a black student in a school where he was in the minority: “When I went to Tech, it was clear that people were missing. Fort Greene, the neighborhood that houses the school, is majority black and Latino, and I remember the constant discontinuity of walking through this neighborhood of black faces in order to enter a school where hardly anyone looked like me… Let me tell you what I appreciated most about Brooklyn Tech. The school takes people from all across the city—many of them from immigrant backgrounds and who will be the first in their families to go to college—and offers them a quality of education that many public schools can’t. But the way these schools choose students is offering them another education: a distorted lesson in who belongs in the upper reaches of education in this nation, and who does not.”

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NYC Public Schools Serve 111,500 Homeless Students. What Does This Mean?

When Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, spoke in Cleveland last month, he began his address with these words that introduce one of the book’s final chapters: “The home is the center of life. It is a refuge from the grind of work, the pressure of school, and the menace of the streets. We say that at home, we can ‘be ourselves.’…  At home, we remove our masks. The home is the wellspring of personhood. It is where our identity takes root and blossoms, where as children, we imagine, play, and question, and as adolescents, we retreat and try. As we grow older, we hope to settle into a place to raise a family or pursue work… In languages spoken all over the world, the word for ‘home’ encompasses not just shelter but warmth, safety, family—the womb.  The ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘home’ was often used in place of ‘mother.’  The Chinese word jia can mean both family and home. ‘Shelter’ comes from two Old English words: scield (shield) and truma (troop), together forming the image of a family gathering itself within a protective shell.” (Evicted, p. 293)

When children lack a permanent home, the upheaval in their personal lives affects their schools. Some of the details emerge in new reporting from New York City’s public schools. New York City’s 1,800 public schools serve 1.1 million students. Last week the NY TimesElizabeth Harris reported: “More than 111,500 New York City students were homeless at some point last year, whether they were staying in a shelter, in a hotel or with family and friends… The upheaval of homelessness means those children are often anxious and traumatized, and that their parents are as well. Many of them travel long distances from where they sleep to school in the morning, leaving them exhausted before the day begins.  Drained and frightened, they bring all of that with them to school… The (city’s education) department said that during the 2016-17 school year, homeless students accounted for 13 percent of all suspensions….”

A report last month from Advocates for Children of New York on homelessness among the school district’s students puts the size, scope, and meaning of the challenges for children and for the school district in perspective: “If these students made up their own school district, it would be one of the thirty largest districts in the nation, with twice the number of students as the entire Boston public school system. In New York City, students in temporary housing have worse educational outcomes than their permanently housed peers…. Outcomes are particularly bleak for students living in New York City shelters—38,000 students during the 2016-2017 school year.  For example, during the 2015-2016 school year:  53% of NYC students living in shelters were absent on 20 or more school days—missing the equivalent of one month of school. Only 15% of third through eighth grade students living in shelters scored proficiently in reading. Only 12%… in math.”

Advocates for Children explains: “Homelessness can create a chaotic living environment where students are exposed to high levels of stress. In addition to the trauma of housing loss, children may have been exposed to other traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, which is now the primary driver of homelessness in New York City. Homelessness uproots children from their systems of support and care, which may include relatives, friends, teachers, service providers, medical providers, and mental health providers.  Families who are homeless must balance competing priorities including juggling multiple social services appointments and the search for permanent housing. These stressors exacerbate the challenges that children living in poverty already face. While school can serve as a key source of stability for students, the City places most families in shelters far outside their neighborhood. Last year, only 50% of families were placed in the same borough… where their youngest child had been attending school prior to the family entering shelter.  As a result, families must decide between long commutes to school and transferring schools.”

Everyone wants better services for homeless children, to reduce their trauma, reduce chronic absence and cut the number of disciplinary problems and suspensions. Coordination between the school district and the city’s enormous social service bureaucracy is chronically difficult. And the needs of homeless children compete for budget dollars with the needs of all kinds of other students. What is clear is that the magnitude and rapid growth of homelessness in NYC have complicated the district’s capacity to respond. In mid-March, the NY Times’ Elizabeth Harris reported: “After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students in New York City public schools jumped up in the 2015-16 school year to the somber threshold of 100,000 students. Then it took another leap: More than 111,500 students were homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year… The education department has rules and employees in place, both in schools and in shelters, to try to minimize student absences. But the comptroller’s office found that in many cases, protocols weren’t followed, seemingly because those charged with trying to keep children in schools were overwhelmed.  During the 2015-16 school year, there were 110 family assistance workers responsible for helping the 32,243 students in city shelters—giving them an average caseload of 293 children each.”

In addition to placing education staff in the shelters to help support children’s placement in and adjustment to school, staff at school provide targeted services. Harris describes some of these efforts at Frederick Douglass II middle school, which has been trying to reduce suspensions among homeless students: “Frederick Douglass II has had an additional full-time social worker since last year, and the parent coordinator has attended training on how to better support homeless families. The school has had a mental health clinic on site since the 2015-16 school year.”

This month, Richard A. Carranza replaced recently retired Carmen Farina as the new Chancellor of NYC’s public schools. Advocates for Children urges Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase staffing significantly—appointing a deputy chancellor to address the growing needs of homeless students. Advocates for Children also recommends doubling the number of school social workers and installing at least 50 new school social workers in the city’s shelters to coordinate with school staff to meet children’s needs. NYC’s Comptroller Scott Stringer adds that improvements are needed in the school district’s electronic data system to ensure that school staff can better track students who are chronically absent from school.

It is important for blogs like this one to report on the magnitude of poverty and homelessness in school districts like New York City’s. The No Child Left Behind Act mandated annual achievement testing for all children in grades 3-8 and once in high school.  The law also established sanctions—punishments—for public schools unable quickly to raise scores.  So-called failing schools were subjected to a range of turnarounds—fire the principal and teachers—close the school—charterize the school.

None of these so-called “solutions” has addressed the kind of challenge posed by massive homelessness in New York City and across America’s cities. What’s clear in New York City is that many students in the public schools face overwhelming obstacles from social conditions the schools cannot themselves control.  Extreme poverty and homeless among students, in turn, pose enormous challenges for teachers, counselors and social workers. How can our society set a universal standard of public school “success” or “failure” when schools in wealthy suburbs and schools in impoverished communities face such disparate circumstances?  Our society owes impoverished and homeless students, their families, and their schools far greater support.

Community Schools: Steady Improvement for Students and Support for Families

A test-score-yardstick and a short time line—those are the tools we use these days to evaluate school improvement. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top gave us four approved plans for school “turnaround,” and if the school wasn’t turned around quick enough, the most stringent of the four was imposed—closure.

Policy makers have assumed that school turnaround could be neat, quick, and cheap only to discover that the solution too often made things worse for the students and their communities. Rachel Cohen, writing for The American Prospect, describes the impact of school closures on neighborhoods—specifically in Chicago where 50 schools were closed at the end of the 2012-2013 school year: “While black students were 40 percent of Chicago’s school district population in 2013, they made up 88 percent of those affected by the closures.”  “(T)hree years later, Chicago residents are still reeling from the devastating closures—a policy decision that has not only failed to bring about notable academic gains, but has also destabilized communities, crippled small businesses, and weakened local property values. With the city struggling to sell or repurpose most of the closed schools, dozens of large buildings remain vacant, becoming targets of crime and vandalism throughout poor neighborhoods.” “In Chicago… 87.5 percent of students affected by closures did not move to significantly higher-performing schools.”

A mass of social science research demonstrates the correlation between students’ standardized test scores and their families’ economic circumstances. Recognizing the futility of the school turnaround plans that pretend it is easy to raise test scores, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has instead been turning schools in the poorest neighborhoods into full-service, wraparound Community Schools with health and dental clinics and services for parents located right in the school building. Here is how the Children’s Aid Society, the huge social service agency in NYC that has been supporting the development of Community Schools, describes these education-social service hybrids: “A Community School is a strategy for organizing the resources of the school and the community around student success. It is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, services, supports and opportunities leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone —all day, evenings and Saturdays, year round.”

Supporters of Mayor de Blasio’s plan worry, however, that in New York, politicians will hold Community Schools accountable for impossibly quick test score turnarounds. Earlier this week a reporter for Chalkbeat New York interviewed Mark House, principal of a Community School in Manhattan’s Washington Heights that serves students in grades 6-12. The school, Community Health Academy of the Heights, part of the Community School network sponsored by New York City United Federation of Teachers, “is 92 percent Hispanic and roughly 90 percent poor.”  Test scores have slowly crept upward, and the state has only recently removed this school from its list of struggling schools.

House, the school’s principal, describes the school’s resource coordinator who recently helped a desperate mother: “finding money to get the power back on, connecting the family to a food pantry, and helping to find… affordable housing.”  “To House, these are the moments that demonstrate the power of community schools—and their pitfalls. Though the Washington Heights principal firmly believes in the idea that students can only learn if their basic needs outside the building are met—a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to struggling schools—he is also wary of the argument that infusing schools with social services will immediately lead to academic payoffs.”

House explains: “Turning a kid’s lights back on doesn’t make their test scores go up. It’s the precondition for learning.”  He continues: “We do a lot of adult education, a lot of ESL programming for adults, we do two different exercise classes. And the building is open until 9:30 with a lot of people in it and again on Saturdays…. The students and their families have major medical needs, they’ve neglected things.  We’re discovering kids in eleventh grade that need glasses, we’re discovering kids in tenth grade who haven’t seen a dentist in four years… So opening a school-based clinic has been fairly remarkable because normally the state indicates you have to have over a thousand students to open one. We found a workaround to do it with only 640 students that works for all the critics, but it’s taken a while.”

The complexity of meshing social service and health programs with educational programming is complicated and expensive. The school has connected with four different agencies to provide glasses for students in need, but the expense has shut down three of these partnerships. “That’s what we’re struggling with, and doing it again and again. So while it makes sense that everybody should see the board and have glasses on their face, the actually accomplishment of that takes endless numbers of hours and is a really frustrating process.”

House worries about the state’s reliance on rising test scores for evaluation: “The thing I’m nervous about is the speed at which they’re going to expect to see results. We’ve been doing this work for a decade, and are now starting to see the fruits of our labor… We’ve held fast to this idea for long enough to actually watch it grow and bloom. And it looks like it’s finally paying off… People would come and visit our school… they came from the state, they came from the city. We had quality reviews, folks coming in and really picking it apart… People from the Department of Education would come in concerned about our results and they would say, ‘We don’t think that what we see here matches your results.’ And each time I’ve had to argue, it will come. It will come and it’s going to take time.”

What has this school accomplished? Here is House’s estimate: “If you said: Plunk a school down in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States, take anybody who walks in the door after all of the top performing students in the neighborhood have been siphoned off by specialized schools or selective schools, so you’re working with the most at-risk population in one of the most at-risk neighborhoods—and achieve close to an 80 percent graduation rate, that’s statistically not possible.  And yet we’re doing it.”

New York City Has Created a Model Pre-K Program—Affordable, Accessible, High Quality

A new report from Padres & Jovenes Unidos in Denver, Colorado names the classic problems that block families’ ability to enroll their children in preschool.  First there are not enough high-quality pre-K programs in the poorest parts of Denver to provide universal access to pre-Kindergarten.  Second is the matter of affordability: “In Denver, the average annual cost of pre-K in a center, for just one child is $11,477… While there are several sources of funds that can assist Denver parents in covering the cost of pre-K, each has significant gaps that prevent it from coming close to meeting the financial needs of all the families….”  And finally there is the uneven quality of the programs: “In particular, parents are experiencing difficulties around inadequate language instruction… and the overuse of harsh disciplinary measures such as suspensions and expulsions….”  The authors conclude: “(I)n Denver, while virtually every child in predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods attends pre-K, only a small fraction of children in predominantly Latino, lower-income neighborhoods of Southwest Denver are enrolled in pre-K.”

And in Ohio, Policy Matters explains:  “(J)ust 4 percent of 4-year-olds from low-income families are enrolled in preschool, compared with 29 percent nationally.  Not only is Ohio behind most of the nation in preschool and childcare support, differing eligibility standards between the two programs means many kids miss out on the opportunities.  Some parents can’t send their kids to half-day preschool because they don’t qualify for childcare assistance for the other half day.  Between underinvestment and misalignment, Ohio is falling behind in developing the workforce of the future…..”  “In this budget (2016-17), Ohio will spend almost what we did during the recession (2008-2009) and less than we did during the budget for 2010 (in inflation-adjusted dollars).”

While these stories represent examples of states and localities struggling to fund and provide pre-school education, David Kirp’s piece in Sunday’s NY Times tells a very different story in New York City:  “In 2013, Bill de Blasio campaigned for mayor on a promise of universal pre-K.  Two years later, New York City enrolls more children in full-day pre-K than any state except Georgia, and its preschool enrollment exceeds the total number of students in San Francisco or Boston.”  Today preschools provide publicly funded programs—with no charge to families—for 68,547 of New York City’s children.  Kirp continues: “In New York, the percentage of 4-year-olds in prekindergarten is essentially the same in every neighborhood, in part because the city made an effort to attract families across the demographic spectrum.”  The city sent recruiters door-to-door.  To set up a program that is accessible in every neighborhood,  the city recruited 2,000 teachers, opened 3,000 classrooms, and vetted 300 community providers as partners.

What about quality in a program that folds in public and non-profit providers?  “The teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree.  They receive in-class tutoring, and help from social workers.  The curriculum has been well vetted and the classrooms are well stocked.  There’s a spot in a full-day class for every 4-year-old.  The city is spending $10,200 for each child….”  Effective coaching, writes Kirp, is driving quality and ensuring that the curriculum is shaped around the way young children learn: through play.

Here is how Kirp describes a lesson on apples at Ira’s, a daycare in Briarwood, Queens: “A lesson on apples at Ira’s incorporates everything from art to arithmetic.  The children draw apples, copy the names of the different varieties, peel and slice them, determine whether the weight of an apple changes when it’s boiled, build an orchard with blocks, ‘sell’ apple pies at the classroom bakery and examine slices under a microscope.  The youngsters work in small groups, and the teacher moves among them, asking questions and listening closely to determine who needs help.”  While teachers are being taught to incorporate play everywhere, the particular focus of the day is up to the providers.  Kirp describes one preschool that incorporates Mandarin Chinese every day.

New York City’s pre-Kindergarten programs are affordable; they do not charge families tuition.  They are accessible (and well attended) in neighborhoods across the city’s five boroughs. And the city demonstrates a commitment to improving quality.

New York City has shown what can accomplished through public investment, intense effort, and planning.  States like Ohio, where Governor John Kasich and the legislature have continued to reduce state taxes, can see the impact on pre-K and on state-subsidized childcare.  Policy Matters elaborates: “Funding for early care and education jumped in the 2016-2017 budget, providing a significant increase in pre-K slots from a very low starting point.  Yet funding across the system, which dropped in the years following the recession, is not yet restored to previous peaks.  Pre-K enrollment has plunged since 2000.  Public childcare (a different program in Ohio than Pre-K) serves more kids, but with less money, meaning quality has dropped.  It’s much harder to qualify for help in Ohio than in other states.”

Wraparound Community Schools Are Long Term Investment, Not Quick Turnaround

A little more than a year ago, New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a massive program of support for 94 public Renew Schools, identified as those where children’s test scores have been chronically low. All of the Renew Schools are neighborhood schools required to accept all the children who arrive at their doors. One of the strategies is to add extra time for children in school and provide additional training and support for parents. Another central part of the strategy is to turn these 94 schools into full-service Community Schools through formal contractual partnerships with a number of NYC social service, medical and child enrichment agencies. This week Elizabeth Harris in the NY Times offers an analysis one-year into this transformation. She notes that test scores haven’t yet significantly risen.

While I commend Harris for her attention to NYC’s effort to support its struggling schools, her story demonstrates what’s wrong with the way we judge schools—what’s wrong with the metric we use and what’s wrong with the time line.

To be fair, Harris examines more than the test scores at Urban Scholars, the Bronx public school she profiles: “Last year, a third of Urban Scholars students were chronically absent, showing up to school less than 90 percent of the time.  This school year, students who regularly miss school have been paired with an adult in the building who makes home visits and daily phone calls to encourage families to get their children to school, and to follow up when they do not.”

But Harris seems to assume that change will come, if not quickly at least in a steady and visible upward trajectory. She also seems to imagine it ought somehow to be visible in the students’ standardized test scores.

Part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the Community School model.  Here is how New York’s Children’s Aid Society (one of the partners de Blasio has tapped as part of his transformation of NYC’s 94 Renew Schools) and its National Center for Community Schools defines a Community School: “A Community School is… both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, services, supports and opportunities leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone…. Most Children’s Aid Society schools are open all day and well into the evening, six days per week, year-round.”

In her NY Times piece earlier this week, Harris focuses on the problem of chronic absence.  Over the past decade, The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, in two major reports here and here, has identified chronic absence as among the most serious barriers to learning in NYC.  In a recent column The Children’s Aid Society also examines this challenge: “Most transient students tend to be chronically absent, or chronically late, due to the challenges inherent in their condition: health issues such as asthma and allergies, often a result of stress or the poor sanitary conditions of the shelters; or because of the numerous, inflexible appointments required by the Department of Homeless Services in order for the families to keep their space at the shelter.”

Community School staff work in a parallel and collaborative way with the academic staff at a public school.  The role of the Community School Director who coordinates the school’s collaboration with community services parallels the principal’s role as the school’s academic leader.  In its recent column, the Children’s Aid Society describes Jeanette Then, the Director of the Community School partnership in a public school in East Harlem, where chronic absence has been a persistent problem.  Then explains additional reasons why homeless or “doubled up” children miss school: “At times children are absent because they don’t have the resources to get basic needs met, such as clean clothes or food.  Families often keep information from the school until they feel they can trust us.”

Jeanette Then’s job includes the expectation that she will coordinate formally with the Department of Education’s liaison at each of the East Harlem shelters in the neighborhood served by the school every time a family with children arrives at the shelter. “Based on these findings, my team and I (the Community School team at the school) devise a plan for how best to address and prioritize, as well as identify what available or additional resources can help the student get acclimated to the school.  Services may range from uniforms, school supplies, guidance, parent support, clothing, nutrition, health care….” It is also the responsibility of the Community School staff to identify and support students who are “doubled up”—homeless but living with relatives or friends instead of a shelter.

In her NY Times piece this week, Harris explains how the Community School she visited is working to break the cycle of chronic absence.  The Children’s Aid Society elaborates on this strategy: “To ensure attendance, the Community School partnership provides students with a success mentor, whose job is to promote attendance and discourage tardiness. Mentors develop a trusting relationship with the students and their families by doing daily in-person or phone check-ins and by greeting students as they arrive in school.  They also set goals with the students. Parents are part of the goal-setting process in order for adults to be aware and accountable for their children’s academic social, and emotional well being.  Each mentor is responsible for 15 children.”

Whether or not it will quickly raise test scores, the Community School model—when it is carefully and strategically implemented—is very likely to assist desperate families and coordinate medical and dental health services along with after-school enrichment for a wide range of children and families.  But such a strategy is a big gamble, because it isn’t guaranteed to raise test scores according to the quick “turnaround” time line our society has come to expect. And because it involves hiring staff to coordinate services and support families, it is very expensive.

Here is how the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs described the investment by the Children’s Aid Society in its original Community Schools back in 2014, before the mayor launched the rapid expansion of Community Schools in New York City: “Building a network of Community Schools requires significant money and manpower. The Children’s Aid Society spends between $1.2 and $2.7 million per year at each of its 16 schools in New York City. As much as 95 percent of these resources come from various pools of existing federal, state, and local funds, but raising the money and administering the programs comes at a cost. Children’s Aid employs more than a dozen people in its central office to do the grant writing, budgeting and contract management required to keep their Community Schools program afloat.”

Politico NY Sells Ads to Pro-Charter Advocacy Group but Fails to Label Them As Paid Ads

Even though I live in Ohio, every morning in my e-mail in-box, I receive and scan an update on news about education from Politico New York. I read it as a summary of public education issues surfacing in the state of New York and because its authors—Eliza Shapiro, Keshia Clukey and Conor Skelding—select and recommend a list of national stories about education.  As a blogger, I use a lot of tools to find current news.

Imagine my surprise when in yesterday’s morning e-mail newsletter from Politico NY, I found the following in a section called “TRACKING EDUCATION” as the second of several blurbs :

** A message from Families for Excellent Schools: New York City’s schools are divided into two separate and unequal systems – one for white, affluent children, and another for low-income children of color. But we can change that. Visit DontStealPossible.org today to take a stand for school equality. **

Then at the end of the newsletter, I discovered a similar message:

** A message from Families for Excellent Schools: 478,000 New York City children — almost all black and Hispanic — are stuck in a network of failing public schools. That’s more children than the entire Chicago Public Schools, and they’re trapped in a separate and unequal education system. Our leaders must do better – especially Mayor de Blasio. It’s time for bold action, not more of the same.

That’s why New Yorkers from every borough are coming together to take a stand for school equality. If you believe EVERY child in New York City deserves a quality education, join Team Possible today: Join us at DontStealPossible.org **

Both of these pieces are highly political.  Both condemn the New York City public schools and identify “Team Possible,” known to be affiliated with charter schools, as a fine alternative to the problems of public education. (I paste these sections into this post, because I cannot provide links; I cannot locate on Politico NY‘s website a cache of its daily e-newsletters.)

A lot of readers would skim such a publication without careful and detailed reading.  I checked my “delete” file and discovered that these very messages have been appearing in my e-mail newsletters all this week, but I hadn’t noticed them until yesterday, when it took me a minute to register what I was skimming over.  My eye caught precisely the same wording as the script in the television advertisements a group called Families for Excellent Schools has been running in New York City to denounce Mayor Bill de Blasio and the improvements that he and his chancellor Carmen Farina have been making in New York’s traditional public schools and also to lavish praise on the city’s charter schools, most particularly Success Academy Charter Schools, the charter school chain led by Eva Moskowitz.

Families for Excellent Schools, the sponsor of the television advertising campaign, claims to be a non-political, educational not-for-profit, though it continues to be very much involved in New York state education politics.  It appears that, besides paying for its television campaign, Families for Excellent Schools is also buying space in my morning e-newsletter, though you’d hardly guess these were ads unless you thought about it.  The newsletter is made up of bullets of information in the news about education; these ads are different from the other blurbs only because they begin and end with a series of stars.  There is no formal notation that they are paid advertising.

In a news story, Politico NY (the online news outlet that also sends around the morning e-newsletter) quite recently posted a report on its website about Families for Excellent Schools and its ad campaign.  The story declared: “Charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools is attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio in a television ad for the second time in just a few weeks, this time by targeting his K-12 education agenda.  The new ad, called ‘Reality,’ started airing on Friday and attempts to rebut the educational policies de Blasio announced during a recent speech… FES, which is closely aligned with Success Academy and its CEO, Eva Moskowitz, has been one of de Blasio’s most relentless antagonists over the last two years.”  So what does it mean when Politico NY‘s e-newsletter appears to promote Families for Excellent Schools?

This blog recently covered the very same television advertising campaign in a post, Plutocrats in NYC Wielding Power, Buying the Airwaves, and Trashing Public Schools Again, which explains: “Here is what Families for Excellent Schools is attacking in its new ad.  In a recent major address, De Blasio committed to extending school improvement well beyond his vast expansion of pre-school over the past year.  Well over 65,000 children in New York City are now enrolled in pre-K programs, including many low income children, even children living in shelters for homeless families.  The district is also engaged in the ongoing transformation of New York City’s lowest-achieving schools into full-service, wraparound Community Schools.  In the recent address de Blasio promised to ensure reading specialists across the city’s second grades and access to algebra for all students by ninth grade.  He also promised that all of the small high schools created by Mayor Bloomberg will offer courses in advanced sciences and math.  Many of these schools that have offered a more personalized education have not, until now, provided a curriculum with enough courses for students to earn a Regents diploma.”

I urge you to read the entire blog post that explains how Families for Excellent Schools has been able to shield its donors to ensure that people watching (or reading) its ads do not know who is sponsoring them. The organization is closely affiliated with wealthy hedge fund managers, and has, to avoid naming its contributors and the limitations that might be imposed on their political giving, skirted the law that distinguishes nonprofit educational organizations from political advocacy groups.

This blog’s recent post suggested that readers reflect on the Families for Excellent Schools’ television ad campaign and, “Consider what it would be like to live in New York City these days with a bunch of wealthy plutocrats sponsoring political ads designed to trash your community’s public schools.  Mayor de Blasio has committed to making significant improvements in the way the city’s public schools serve over 90 percent of the city’s young people. What are a few rich friends committed to helping Eva Moskowitz grow her charter network doing undermining the public interest?”  This blog also recently covered Eva Moskowitz and her charter school empire so closely tied to Families for Excellent Schools in this post: Moskowitz and Petrilli Push Education Model Designed to Serve Strivers and Shed the Rest.

It would be easy for a reader of Politico New York‘s morning e-newsblast mistakenly to assume that Politico NY is somehow endorsing Families for Excellent Schools’ cause and that Politico NY is recommending that readers follow the link to the anti-deBlasio ads—just as readers are expected to follow the links to the news stories collected each morning.

I challenge Politico NY to re-format the publication for the purpose of distinguishing clearly and without ambiguity the blurbs designed to inform from the blurbs designed to advertise. Ads ought to be labeled as “paid advertising.”  And I wonder, frankly, whether a publication devoted to coverage of what has become a highly politicized policy war in New York, shouldn’t stop selling ads to the proponents of one side in that battle.

Plutocrats in NYC Wielding Power, Buying the Airwaves, and Trashing Public Schools Again

Public schools are among the primary institutions that serve the families in the 99 Percent.  As primarily middle class institutions, they are coming under attack from the One Percent, the plutocrats—both Republican and Democrats—who control the levers of power.

In a piece earlier this week the NY Times profiled 158 families across the country who have provided nearly half of all the early money that has been underwriting the campaigns of the candidates currently vying for the 2016 Presidential nominations. The reporters quote the political analyst and demographic expert Ruy Teixeira: “The campaign finance system is now a countervailing force to the way the actual voters of the country are evolving and the policies they want.”

Last week, the NY Times op-ed page printed a commentary by Thomas Edsall on the same subject.  Edsall describes the conclusions of political scientist Martin Gilens on the impact of our increasingly plutocratic system: “The majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.  When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose… Gilens notes that policies popular with the middle class but not with the affluent rarely win enactment: The majority are redistributive policies including raising the minimum wage or indexing it to inflation, increasing income taxes on high earners or corporations, or cutting payroll taxes on lower income Americans.  Conversely, policies opposed by the middle-class but backed by the affluent include ‘tax cuts for upper income individuals, spending cuts in Medicare, and roll-backs of federal retirement programs’—policies that have been adopted.”

So what does all this mean for education?  One need only look at television in New York City to get a sense of the power of money.  If you are a parent or a teacher or even a teachers’ union, you are unlikely to be able to run television ads in support of the public schools.  But if you contribute to the secretive Families for Excellent Education, nobody will even know that you are spending your money to undermine Mayor Bill deBlasio’s proposals to improve the traditional public schools that serve over 93 percent of New York City’s children and adolescents.

Families for Excellent Schools is what Politico NY calls a “charter school advocacy group,” affiliated for several years now with Eva Moskowitz’s chain of Success Academy Charters.  Politico explains: “Charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools is attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio in a television ad for the second time in just a few weeks, this time by targeting his K-12 education agenda.  The new ad, called ‘Reality,’ started airing on Friday and attempts to rebut the educational policies de Blasio announced during a recent speech… FES, which is closely aligned with Success Academy and its CEO, Eva Moskowitz, has been one of de Blasio’s most relentless antagonists over the last two years.” This is the third anti-public schools ad aired on television by Families for Excellent Schools in the past 18 months.

Here is what Families for Excellent Schools is attacking in its new ad.  In a recent major address, De Blasio committed to extending school improvement well beyond his vast expansion of pre-school over the past year.  Well over 65,000 children in New York City are now enrolled in pre-K programs, including many low income children, even children living in shelters for homeless families.  The district is also engaged in the ongoing transformation of New York City’s lowest-achieving schools into full-service, wraparound Community Schools.  In the recent address de Blasio promised to ensure reading specialists across the city’s second grades and access to algebra for all students by ninth grade.  He also promised that all of the small high schools created by Mayor Bloomberg will offer courses in advanced sciences and math.  Many of these schools that have offered a more personalized education have not, until now, provided a curriculum with enough courses for students to earn a Regents diploma.

So, who are the contributors to Families for Excellent Schools, the organization that is attempting to undermine the mayor’s progressive education agenda?  Nobody knows, though everyone suspects it is the hedge fund supporters who are known to support Success Academy Charters.  Chris Bragg reported a year ago for Crain’s NY Business: “Lobbying records… show how Families for Excellent Schools was able to shield its donors’ names.”  Critics have called it the “hedge-fund loophole.”  “Founded several years ago by business executives including four Wall Street players, Families for Excellent Schools has two components: an apolitical 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit and a politics-focused 501(c)(4).  The group’s 2012 tax returns reflect a heavy overlap between the staffs of the two entities, which share an office suite… New York’s 2011 ethics law requires issue-oriented nonprofits that spend more than $50,000 a year on lobbying to disclose sources of funds of more than $5,000… But the bulk of Families for Excellent Schools’ spending is not by its political arm but rather its 501(c)(3)—which does not have to disclose donors under state law.”  Much of the organization’s expenditures have been for television advertising, but Bragg points out the ads do not explicitly advocate for legislation, and hence skirt the law.

More recently in the Albany Times Union, Bragg reports that in 2014, Families for Excellent Schools spent $9.7 million without disclosing its donors. He explains that at a meeting in February of 2015, the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics acknowledged that some organizations have been able to “construct funding mechanisms that may avoid disclosure while still technically complying with the law and the regulations.”  Bragg adds that, “David Grandeau, an attorney for Families for Excellent Schools and former top state lobbying regulator, has maintained that the IRS definition of lobbying is far narrower than the one found in New York law, a distinction that he says makes the heavy New York lobbying spending by the group permissible under federal regulations.”

We know that political advertisements distort the views of political candidates, but what if it became widespread for people to run TV ads focused on distorting the work of core civic institutions?  Consider what it would be like to live in New York City these days with a bunch of wealthy plutocrats sponsoring political ads designed to trash your community’s public schools.  Mayor de Blasio has committed to making significant improvements in the way the city’s public schools serve over 90 percent of the city’s young people. What are a few rich friends committed to helping Eva Moskowitz grow her charter network doing undermining the public interest?

This blog has covered the impact of hedge fund lobbying to promote charters and undermine public education here, here, and here.