Big money

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces computer science initiative fundraising is ‘ahead of schedule’

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio learns about computer science from a student at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx.

The city has raised $20 million to spread computer science education across New York City, reaching the halfway mark of its private fundraising goal, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The mayor’s “Computer Science for All” program is one his flashiest education initiatives. It’s a pledge to give all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students access to computer science education in elementary, middle and high school by 2025.

When the initiative was announced last year, it faced several obstacles. Chief among them were fundraising and recruiting enough computer science teachers. On Thursday, de Blasio sought to assuage both of these concerns and argued the program is on track to reach every nook and cranny of the city.

“We would never accept the notion that some kids get to learn math and other don’t. Some kids get to learn the alphabet and others don’t,” said de Blasio at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx. “But let’s face it. It was a norm that computer science education was, in many ways, considered an elite activity. We have to break through that.”

Last September, de Blasio had raised only about 30 percent of the $40 million in private funds necessary to bring computer science to every school in the city. Today, the mayor reported that number has risen by $9 million, including a $2.5 million donation by Math for America, a group that gives fellowships to STEM teachers so they can share their knowledge and skills with others.

The sizable spike puts the program’s private funding “well ahead of schedule,” de Blasio said after sitting in on a class at the school, which recently added AP computer science.

The city has trained 450 teachers so far, de Blasio said, but there is much work to do before the city reaches its 5,000 teacher goal.

Reaching that many educators is also a matter of funding, said Fred Wilson, the founder of New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education and a driving force behind the city’s “Computer Science for All” initiative.

“The issue is not getting the teachers excited to do it. I think the issue is having the funding to be able to pay for the professional development,” Wilson said. “The demand is there, we’ve just got to supply it.”

Other schools may face a lack of technology infrastructure, such as inadequate Wi-Fi. City officials said that in addition to private money, the program will leverage substantial public funds. Some of that public money will go toward making sure schools have the proper infrastructure and hardware, they said.

In all, 246 schools are involved in the program this year. That includes a broad range of efforts that fall under the city’s computer science umbrella. Some schools have new, large-scale computer science programs, like AP computer science or the city’s multi-year Software Engineering Program. Others have smaller-scale efforts, such as trained teachers who will integrate computer science lessons into typical school days.

Despite de Blasio’s assertion that progress is moving rapidly, earlier in the day City Comptroller Scott Stringer criticized the initiative for its decade-long timeframe for implementation.

De Blasio rejected Stringer’s logic on Thursday, arguing that producing a quality, effective program takes years.

“The reality is, it takes tremendous effort to prepare something that’s going to reach every single one of those children,” de Blasio said.

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.

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.”