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.

‘The talk’ about how to deal with police

The act of scholastic disobenience was organized by Ines Anguiano, 16, a senior at Brooklyn Preparatory High School.Brooklyn Prep students walked out to protest (Photo: Caitlin Nolan, New York Daily News)

Eric Garner’s death — and a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who choked him – is a call to action for some New York City high school students, reports WNYC.

“This can happen to any one of us,” said Christine Rodriguez, a 17-year-old senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice. “I live in Bushwick, and on every block I see police cars. I worry about my friends, my peers, my family, strangers.”

Seventeen-year-old Malik James, who attends the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, is part of a youth leadership group that looks into policy issues.

“As a young black male who’s part of the demographic of those affected,” he said he felt “something between anger and desperation.” His coping method was research.

James has been scouring the Internet to understand the facts of the Garner case, looking for some sensible explanation for the grand jury’s decision. He’s hoping to figure out “what is it that I don’t know, what is it that I still don’t understand about the case, why he cannot get an indictment.” So far, he has determined that the system offers too many protections to police officers and that prosecutors are too closely tied to the police department.

Democracy Prep Charter High in Harlem stresses citizenship. Students told WNYC their parents had given them “the talk” about how to deal with the police.

Eleventh grader Jeff Agyapong said his mother warned him not to challenge the police.

“When police approach you, no matter what, don’t say anything, follow their directions no matter what because your parents will come down to the precinct and everything will get straightened out peacefully,” he said. “The contradiction in the black society is ‘should I stand up for myself because I know I didn’t do anything wrong?’ or ‘should I follow what everyone wants me to do?'”

“I don’t think black communities should be teaching their black boys to be afraid of cops,” Jaylene Paula said. “If we’re passive in these cases, then this passivity is going to encourage what happened in Ferguson and what happened in Staten Island.”

The parents of 16-year-old Anthony Ayba said, “They just think right now you need to be safe, don’t worry about your rights, just make sure you’re alive.”

Schools improve to compete with charters

Charter school competition is improving district-run schools in New York City, argues Eva Moskowitz in the Wall Street Journal.

Her Success Academy charter schools serve low-income, minority students, yet students “not only rank in the top 1% in math and top 3% in English among all state schools, but they take top honors in national debate and chess championships,” writes Moskowitz.

Critics charge her schools and other charters cherry-pick the best students and dump harder-to-educate students in district schools. If that’s so, “any academic gains by charters are offset by losses in district schools,” she writes.

The city is divided into 32 community school districts. Math and reading scores improved from 2006 to 2014 in community school districts with the most charters and fell in areas with few or no charters, Moskowitz writes.

Of the 16 charter-rich districts, 11 rose in the rankings. And of the eight among those 16 with the highest charter enrollment, all rose save one. The district that jumped furthest, rocketing up 11 spots between 2006 and 2014, was District 5 in Central Harlem, which has the city’s highest charter-school enrollment (43%).

And what about the 16 charter-light districts? Thirteen fell in the rankings, and not one rose. For example, District 12 in the Bronx, which in 2006 ranked higher than Central Harlem, now ranks 13 spots lower. District 29 in Queens, which in 2006 ranked 15 spots higher than Central Harlem and has fewer poor students, now ranks lower.

Average charter-school enrollment was 20% for those districts that rose in the rankings and 6% in those districts that fell.

If there holes in this, I don’t know New York City well enough to spot them.

NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña should be looking for ways to emulate successful charters, rather than dissing them, writes Richard Whitmire. “New district/charter collaborations were announced in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Rhode Island and Florida, the Center on Reinventing Public Education reported last month. They will join the more established compacts well under way in places such as Denver, Houston and San Jose.”

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.”

Charter with $125K teachers isn’t an outlier

Rhena Jasey, a Harvard graduate, is a founding teacher at The Equity Project charter school. Photo: Richard Perry/New York Times

The Equity Project, a New York city charter that pays teachers $125,000 and up, produced strong gains (1.6 years in math, .4 years in reading) over four years, according to an MDRC study that got lots of press, writes Neerav Kingsland.

However, the press missed an important point: The average New York City charter school delivers virtually the same impressive gains (1.5 years in math. .6 years in reading), according to a CREDO study.

The city’s 200 charter schools “have different instructional and human capital models,” writes Kingsland. There’s more than one way to improve student learning.

The state should lift its charter cap and let New York City open more charter schools, he concludes.

Bad NYC schools get cash, counselors

New York City’s lowest-performing schools will get more money and staffing, a longer school day and on-site social services, said Mayor Bill de Blasio at an East Harlem school, reports the New York Times.

Criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s strategy of closing low-performing schools, the mayor said, “We reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools.”

He spoke at the Coalition School for Social Change, where the attendance rate is 74 percent. It is one of 94 “renewal schools” with low test scores and graduation rates that will extend the school day by one hour. Teachers will have extra training.

. . .  the centerpiece of the proposal involves turning these institutions into so-called Community Schools, which try to address the challenges students face outside the classroom, with offerings like mental health services for those who need them or food for students who do not get enough to eat at home.

Nationally, community schools’ performance is “uneven,” according to the Times. In Cincinnati, a national leader, “some community colleges still showed dismal academic performances even after years of work and millions of dollars of investments.”

Where has De Blasio’s approach worked at any scale? asks Eduwonk. Why not target help at “middling schools” while continuing Bloomberg’s “aggressive strategy” (closure) on the worst.

“The track record on turning around the lowest-performers is pretty stark,” he concludes. “In the context of that evidence base do those parents and children deserve more immediate relief now?”

The renewal plan could “delay action on schools that are in desperate straits and should be reorganized or closed in fairly short order,” editorializes the New York Times.

Klein gets to say ‘I told you so’

Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, has a book coming out today, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools.

His timing is great, writes Rick Hess. Two new “gold-standard” studies on Klein’s reforms show promising results.

Klein closed large, low-performing high schools and opened small schools that are more likely to graduate their students and more likely to see them enroll in college, according to MDRC.

The Equity Project, “one of the many boundary-pushing charter schools that opened on Klein’s watch,” is raising achievement for its low-income students, according to a rigorous Mathematica evaluation.

It takes time to see what works, writes Hess. Klein didn’t get everything right, “but he led with courage and conviction, was constantly eager to inquire and learn, showed astonishing fortitude in the face of exhaustive personal attacks, and left New York’s kids a helluva lot better off than when he started.”

Improving teacher quality is the key to improving schools, Klein told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.

Firing a teacher “took an average of almost two and a half years and cost the city over $300,000,” when he started as chancellor, Klein writes. Due to union contracts, it was “virtually impossible to remove a teacher charged with incompetence.”

Klein wants schools of education to raise their selection criteria and update their curriculum, he told Bruni.

Klein urged “a rational incentive system” that doesn’t currently exist in most districts. He’d like to see teachers paid more for working in schools with “high-needs” students and for tackling subjects that require additional expertise. “If you have to pay science and physical education teachers the same, you’re going to end up with more physical education teachers,” he said. “The pay structure is irrational.”

In an ideal revision of it, he added, there would be “some kind of pay for performance, rewarding success.” Salaries wouldn’t be based primarily on seniority.

In Los Angeles, John Deasy “is the fourth California superintendent in the last two years to be driven from a job that has the shelf life of homogenized milk,” writes Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. The new superintendent, as yet unknown, may be “a Deasy-type provocateur, burning out after a short time or, more likely, we will be treated to a make-nice type who will not rock the LAUSD boat.”

Career-tech school tries to improve

Students at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School work on a car as part of the automotive program at the school.Students at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School work on a car as part of the automotive program. Photo: Jessica Glazer

Two years ago, a low-performing vocational high school in the Bronx escaped closure. Under a new principal, attendance and morale have improved, reports Chalkbeat New York. But enrollment is way down at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High.  Test scores and graduation rates remain low.

Principal Evan Schwartz hopes to reach a “90 percent attendance, 80 percent of first-year students earning 10 or more credits, and a 70 percent four-year graduation rate” this year.

Smith has been known for its attendance problems — Schwartz said that in years past, you couldn’t tell when the day ended because students trickled in and out of the building all day — but last year, the attendance rate increased to 83 percent, according to his estimates. (Official numbers for last year are not yet available.) That’s up from 73 percent in 2011-12.

Graduation rates have been more stubborn. In 2012-13, Smith graduated just 51 percent of its students in four years, according to the city progress report, including August graduates. Last year, 61 percent of students graduated, Schwartz says.

That increase is likely related to the fact that the school convinced nearly 100 over-aged, under-credited students who attended class intermittently to transfer out of Smith and into transfer schools or more flexible Young Adult Borough Centers.

Last year, Smith opened a “cutting-edge” auto shop. It’s also added some AP classes.

Yet, the school has trouble attracting students. Enrollment is down from 950 three years ago to fewer than 400. And the “transformation grant” is running out.

Teacher-centric charter raises scores

At The Equity Project, a charter school for grades 5 through 8 in New York City, teachers start at $125,000 with a chance to earn a $25,000 bonus. They have none of the traditional job protections. The idea is to attract and develop exceptional teachers to work with disadvantaged students.

Kadeem Gill teaches sixth-grade math at The Equity Project.

Kadeem Gill teaches sixth-grade math at The Equity Project.

After four years at the school, eighth graders have learned significantly more — especially in math — than similar students in district schools, concludes a Mathematica study.

TEP students “had test score gains equal to an additional 1.6 years of school in math, an additional 0.4 years of school in English language arts, and an additional 0.6 years of school in science,” Mathematica reported. That closed 78 percent of the Hispanic-white achievement gap in math, 17 percent in English language arts, and 25 percent in science. (Nearly all of TEP’s students are Hispanic.)

The founder and principal, Zeke Vanderhoek, earns $94,000 a year, less than his teachers, notes the Wall Street Journal.  The “charter has a lean administrative staff and slightly larger classes—31 students compared with an average of about 26 or 27 in district schools—so it can pour resources into teacher pay and training.”

Job applicants submit video of their teaching styles and evidence of their students’ growth. If invited for an interview, they have daylong auditions, leading classes under scrutiny of the staff.

Teachers are observed by colleagues and get feedback weekly, and they have four weeks of full-day professional development each year. Days are long, with teachers at work from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and students attending from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Many teachers don’t last. Of 43 hired during the four years studied, 47% didn’t return for a second year, in most cases because they weren’t asked back. That is higher turnover than in district middle schools, where 27% don’t come back for a second year, the study said.

The charter’s students resemble students in district schools in their academic backgrounds and attrition rate, the study found. TEP did not expel any students. In 2012-13, about 21 percent of the charter’s students were English language learners and 21 percent had special needs, city data show.

“While the charter’s students showed more growth, many still struggled,” the Journal reports. Forty-three percent of TEP eighth graders passed state math exams in 2013, compared to 28 percent citywide.

Higher pay lets the school pick from a large pool of applicants. But is the key to success the intensive training and feedback? Or just the willingness to fire teachers who aren’t quite good enough?

Chalkbeat New York looks at teacher Kadeem Gill, who grew up in public housing projects in the city. He got a scholarship to boarding school, then went to Princeton. His brother, who had behavioral and emotional problems, dropped out at 16. His half-brother was shot to death.

Small high schools help in NYC

New York City’s small high schools, once derided as a Gates-funded flop, increase students’ odds of graduating and going to college and cost less per graduate, concludes a new MRDC study that compared small school students with applicants who applied but lost a lottery.

Some 200 small schools were created between 2002 and 2008, usually serving disadvantaged students in buildings that had housed large, low-performing high schools.

Black males showed the strongest gains, writes Patricia Willens on NPR.

Because more students earned a diploma in four years, rather than five, costs were 14 to 16 percent lower per graduate, MDRC estimated.

While critics have labeled the Gates effort a failure, other researchers have been monitoring small schools for decades and have found generally positive impacts.

review of studies published between 1990 and 2009 found “the weight of evidence … clearly favors smaller schools.” An MIT study of New York City public small high schools also found positive effects: higher graduation rates, better test scores and an increase in college enrollment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of closing large high schools to create smaller specialized schools, notes the New York Times editorial board.  He pledges to help improve schools before closing them. “Given the clear benefits that have accrued to the city’s most vulnerable students, Mr. de Blasio should not shy away from the option of shutting down big schools and remaking them from scratch, particularly in cases where the school has been failing for a long time and its culture is beyond repair.”