NYC: Are schools really safer?

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City has made it much harder for principals to suspend students for defiance and disobedience, writes Stephen Eide in a look at the progressive mayor’s education policies.

Believers in the “school-to-prison pipeline,” progressives nationwide are trying to limit suspensions, he writes in Education Next.

“While below-proficient students are believed to benefit the most from a lower suspension rate, those who have the most to lose are the above-proficient, low-income strivers,” writes Eide.

The De Blasio administration claims school crime has fallen by 29 percent over four years. However, Families for Excellent Schools cites state data showing rising levels of violent incidents.

There are only four “persistently dangerous” schools in the city, down by 85 percent, the administration claimed last month. The school-safety agents union head pointed out that not a single high school had made the list, notes Eide.

In May 2016, the New York Post reported that school-safety agents and police officers had confiscated 26 percent more weapons from students during this past school year than over the same span in 2014–15.

In a recent teachers’ union survey, “more than 80 percent of the respondents said students in their schools lost learning time as a result of other disruptive students.”

De Blasio is trying to close the achievement gap through “turnarounds instead of closures, heavy emphasis on addressing the ‘root causes’ of K–12 underperformance through pre-kindergarten education and social services, less antagonistic relations with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and more-relaxed school-discipline policies,” writes Eide. “The results have been something less than revolutionary. “

Teachers lose clout without suspension

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar as he and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña visit a pre-K class. Photo: Associated Press

In 32 years teaching in New York City, Arthur Goldstein has had only one student suspended, he writes in the New York Daily News. But suspension was part of his discipline “toolkit.” Now, new rules give teachers fewer tools to maintain a learning environment.

“In Mayor de Blasio’s New York, when a kid curses you out in a crowded hallway, all you can do is call the kid’s parents,” Goldstein writes.

A colleague of mine, a rather large man, saw a boy and a girl getting passionate and physical in the hallway. He asked them to go to class.

The boy instructed my colleague to perform a vulgar act that may or may not be possible. My colleague was able to handle it in a professional manner, but found the consequences for the kid’s act to be mild indeed.

Why? Because principals must now get explicit approval from the central Department of Education for suspensions involving student insubordination.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña wrote the new rules to “lessen suspensions that disproportionately remove black and Latino kids from school,” he writes. Suspensions are down by a third compared to last year.

Fewer kids are missing class, Goldstein writes. But teachers have less power to control their classrooms.

NYC: Community schools backers fear failure

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to turn around 94 low-performing schools by converting them to “community schools” with an array of social services. Advocates of community schools fear the plan will fail because it tries to do too much, too quickly, reports Chalkbeat.

Principals will have to adopt the school renewal approach “regardless of whether they appear willing or able,” writes Patrick Wall. “And the schools will be required to boost students’ academic performance within a few years, even though community schools’ record on that front is mixed and the city has offered few details about how it will help them improve instruction.”

The turnaround plan . . . will connect the schools with agencies that will bring in physical and mental health services for students, after-school programs, tutoring, and perhaps job training or housing assistance for parents. The city will also provide teacher training and principal mentoring, a curriculum review, data-tracking systems, and an extra hour of learning time each day, officials said. In return, the schools must show that students have made academic gains within three years or they could face leadership changes or even closure.

. . . several city schools that have used the community-school model for years still grapple with low test scores and graduation rates, such as P.S. 50 in East Harlem, which has been a Children’s Aid Society-partnered community school for 14 years but still landed on the renewal-schools list. The principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, who recently resigned, brought in mentors from Good Shepherd Services last fall and a health clinic as part of a years-long effort to create a community school by partnering with outside groups and bringing in services. But the school’s curriculum and instruction still had flaws, evaluators concluded last year, and it remains on the state’s lowest-ranked list.

A Child Trends study found “mixed” results for community schools: The model “can improve academic outcomes; but findings are mixed and tend to be stronger in quasi-experimental studies than in more rigorous random assignment evaluations.”  So benefits are uncertain — and found only in weaker studies.

Principals will have to choose from an array of support programs and find the right providers, reports Wall. It takes “a very significant amount of time,” said Mark House, principal of the Community Health Academy of the Heights. “Even with a full-time site coordinator he spends at least one-fifth of every week dealing with the program’s logistics.”

The city’s after-school program at middle schools is very popular, writes Meredith Kolodner on the Hechinger Report. But critics say it doesn’t provide much academic support.

If you’re going to give students more time to learn, it must be quality time if you want to get results,” writes Sara Neufeld, who reported Hechinger’s Time to Learn series.

Moskowitz outmuscles the unions

In a Reason interview, Eva Moskowitz, founder of New York City’s phenomenally successful Success Academy charter schools, talks about how she built a political coalition to fight union power.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to squash Success Academy’s expansion plans, Moskowitz “bused 11,000 charter school parents and kids to the state capital in Albany to protest.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed the charter network, the mayor backed down and “state lawmakers quickly passed a bill to protect charter schools from future interference by the mayor.”

Alise vs. the Mayor

Alise vs. the Mayor the first in a pro-charter mini-series, pits a cute 10-year-old girl who loves reading against Mayor Bill deBlasio, who tried to close her school. Alise Alexander is a student at Success Academy‘s Harlem Central.

The school’s fifth graders — nearly all black and Latino and more than three-quarters from low-income families — scored first in the state in math in 2013 notes The Blaze.

A HuffPost story on public school “apartheid” complains that a Harlem Children’s Zone charter school is better equipped, more cheerful and serves a much better lunch than the ones district students get.

(At the Promise Academy charter), the brightly lit hallway is decorated with the student’s artwork. Every class has three teachers, 20 students and an abundance of computers, lab equipment and books. More grown-ups monitor the hallways.

One floor up is public middle school 469. It is Depression-era Kansas to the Promise Academy’s Oz. The hallway is grim, undecorated, and poorly lit. A group of older boys shove one another against lockers, which are mainly unused because they are too easy to break into, and a gaggle of eighth grade girls are huddled together whispering, plotting, gossiping. There are several hundred children bursting with energy and one security guard at one end of the hallway leaning against the wall.

The classrooms are largely devoid of books and equipment. One room has square black tables pushed together into groups suggesting a scientific purpose. It is easy to imagine beakers bubbling over Bunsen burners, but that was a long time ago, before the kids threw the scalding beakers at one another and a teacher.

. . . At some point, we tacitly consented to the notion that providing only 20 percent of the children in Harlem, those that win the lottery and go to charter schools, with adequate teachers, equipment and food, is a morally acceptable public policy.

The story is nonsense, writes Robert Pondiscio. He works for Democracy Prep, which runs a second charter school in the same building. “We run it on public dollars, at a per pupil rate that is lower, not more, than district schools.”

If the charters provide more for students than the district-run schools, why not expand the charters so more students can enjoy adequate teachers, equipment and food, plus lighting and supervision?

Private school head hits ‘elite’ charters

In defense of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s anti-charter agenda,  Steve Nelson attacks charter schools for enrolling the children of motivated parents and taking money from wealthy donors Nelson is the headmaster of the Calhoun School, an elite private school in New York City.

. . .  the (charter) lottery is rigged in that the pool is comprised only of self-selected families with social capital and high motivation. They claim to operate with more efficiency, but their budgets are augmented by an infusion of capital from billionaire philanthropists and hedge fund managers who know a lot about PR and very little about education.

Charter schools and other “so-called” reforms  reform” will “divide us by creating pockets of relative privilege while leaving the rest of the nation’s children to languish in neglect and poverty,” writes Nelson.

So, all of the nation’s children who don’t attend charters are languishing in neglect and poverty? Or maybe it’s just the public school kids.

The Calhoun School is a “pocket of rather extraordinary privilege on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. Tuition runs from $41,700 in kindergarten to $43,580 in high school and parents are asked to donate more.

Calhoun’s board is full of wealthy financiers, points out Matthew Levey.  The chairman of the board runs a hedge fund, the vice-chair is a partner at a financial firm, the treasurer manages two investment funds, a board member is a portfolio manager and another is a broker.

The mayor vs. the charters

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s denial of school space to three Success Academy charters is “part of the national “pushback” movement against school reform,” write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire on Slate. So far, it’s not going well. “By going after the charters, he is attacking one of the most promising urban school reform strategies available to Democratic mayors across the country these days, and he’s doing it without offering a clear alternative.”

De Blasio misread his mandate, writes Conor Williams on The Daily Beast.  

. . . at one of the schools he’s evicting, Success Academy Harlem 4, 83 percent of students scored proficient or better on the state’s math assessment in 2013. Nearly 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the school is getting great results.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tweeted a video purporting to tell “the real story” of school co-locations. It features parents touting the virtues of the non-charter schools that were sharing a building with Success Academy Harlem 4. “They have plenty of activities, they have a very good after-school program,” says one.

At P.S. 149 — the district run school in the building —5 percent of students scored proficient on the math test; 11 percent were proficient in English.

Democracy Now hosts a debate on “privatized education”  with former public school teacher Brian Jones and Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter network.

Sam Chaltain thinks this “isn’t really about co-locations, or charter schools, or the right of a parent to choose: it’s about the ongoing tension between our country’s delicate, dual allegiance to the core values of capitalism (consumption & competition) and the core values of democracy (conscience & consensus).”

Does democracy demand that Harlem parents send their children to P.S. 149?

“I voted for DeBlasio,” says Shamona Kirkland. “But I didn’t vote for you to take my child’s future.”

Success charters lose space in NYC

The high-performing Success Academy charter network will lose space for three schools, the New York Post reports. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Education reversed “co-location” decisions made last year.

The actions block new elementary schools in Queens and at Murry Bergtraum High School near City Hall. Bergtraum is the F-rated school running an online “credit recovery” program that’s left students illiterate.

At Success Academy Harlem 4, already in operation, the decision will leave 210 fourth and fifth graders without a school in the fall.

The Harlem charter is one of the top performing schools in the city, said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. At Success Academy’s Harlem 4, “83 percent of the students passed the state math exam last year, putting it in the top one percent of all schools in the state. Why would anyone want to stop that kind of student achievement?”

Success charters’ success has annoyed the mayor, write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in USA Today. The schools, run by the controversial Eva Moskowitz, have shown that low-income minority students can earn high test scores.

Consider the third-graders at Success Academy Harlem 5. They share a public school building with P.S. 123. If Harlem 5 children lose their seats, they might have to enroll in P.S. 123.

. . . The schools have similar students, but 88% of Harlem 5 third-graders passed New York’s math test compared with 5% of P.S. 123’s.

New York City charter students are outperforming peers who attend traditional public schools, a study by Stanford’s CREDO found. There are 70,000 students enrolled in the city’s charter schools and 50,000 more students on charter school waiting lists.

NYC’s teachers’ union enemy #1

Eva Moskowitz, who runs New York City’s largest charter network, is teachers’ union enemy number one, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, an old-school liberal Democrat, campaigned against Moskowitz:

 In May at a forum hosted by the United Federation of Teachers, or UFT, the potent government-employee local: “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. . . . She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.” In July, on his plans to charge charters—which are independently run public schools—for sharing space with city-run public schools: “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, O.K.?”

As mayor, he’s cut funding for charter construction, announced a moratorium on co-location and threatened to “roll back” co-locations already approved. 

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,”says Moskowitz, who’s also a Democrat. “It’s just wacky.”

As she reminds every audience, the 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools are overwhelmingly from poor, minority families and scored in the top 1% in math and top 7% in English on the most recent state test. Four in five charters in the city outperformed comparable schools.

If Success Academy can’t find space to expand, “most at-risk children would be sent back to failing schools,” says Moskowitz.

She’s backing charter-friendly Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat, reports the Journal.

Instead of universal preschool …

Federal early childhood programs are “incoherent” and “largely ineffective,” Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

 The federal government spends heavily on Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants and other early childhood programs, writes Whitehurst. Head Start produces no lasting gains. CCDBG may harm children, because some end up in low-quality centers, though it helps single parents work or train for jobs.

There’s no evidence state programs do any better, he adds. Researchers compared children in Tennessee’s high-quality Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK) with a control group. At the end of first grade, children who’d had a year of pre-kindergarten performed less well on cognitive tasks and social/emotional skills than the controls.

The long-term benefits of the Perry and Abcedarian pilots 40 years ago can’t be generalized, Whitehurst argues.

The most vulnerable children and their parents need help that starts earlier than preschool, he writes.

 The CCDBG program should be reformed so that the funding stream is part of a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents and so that it provides parents with useful information about their choices of childcare.

Head Start should be sunset, with the funds redirected to the same purpose as the CCDBG program – a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents.

Whitehurst proposes a federal Early Learning Family (ELF) grant modeled on the Pell Grant.  ELF grants would go to parents as a means-tested voucher that could be used at any state-licensed childcare provider.  “ELF grants would replace most present forms of federal financial aid for early learning and childcare, including Head Start and CCDBG, and would place families in the driver’s seat instead of federal and state bureaucracies.”

Whitehurst questions New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plans for universal pre-K in a New York Daily News op-ed.