Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo schools must give more authority to management group, state board says

Charlotte Macaluso, right, speaks with Pueblo City Schools spokesman Dalton Sprouse on July 22, 2016. (Pueblo Chieftain file photo)

The State Board of Education on Thursday gave an outside nonprofit group significant authority in efforts to improve three Pueblo schools.

The group, Achievement Network, or ANet, will have the power to determine the schools’ schedules, tests, and teacher and leadership training.

The board also ordered Pueblo City Schools to submit redesign plans for two of the schools — Bessemer Elementary and Heroes Academy — under the state’s innovation law. That would give the schools flexibility from some state and local policies.

A third middle school, Risley International, already has innovation status.

Thursday’s final plan is not far off from what Pueblo officials had originally suggested to improve student learning. But the board, concerned with high turnover among teachers, principals and district leaders, pushed to give ANet more authority.

Pueblo officials at a meeting earlier this week described its relationship with ANet as a “partnership.” But state board members challenged the idea of giving Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso, and not ANet, final say on a variety of issues.

ANet “needs to be the ultimate decision-maker,” board member Joyce Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, said Wednesday.

Dalton Sprouse, a spokesman for the 17,000-student district, said officials would review the board’s decision with its lawyers.

“There’s still some clarification that we need. We’ll be working on that throughout the day and the coming weeks,” he said. “But for the most part, we’re excited that we get to move forward with our innovation plans and with the partnership with have ANet.”

Under Colorado law, low-performing schools and school districts that fail to improve student learning within five years face state-directed improvement plans. The state board’s decision to approve the Pueblo plan was the last it will consider this year.

A year ago, Pueblo was expected to be the state’s greatest challenge, with more than a dozen schools on the state’s accountability watchlist for persistent low performance. A last-minute boost in test scores saved most of the city’s schools — and the district itself — from state intervention. That left the three schools the state board considered Thursday.

Throughout the spring, the board directed most of the state’s low-performing schools and districts to either develop an innovation plan or contract with a third-party to take over some operations of the schools or districts. In the case of Pueblo, it did both.

The state could have taken more aggressive steps, but didn’t. Officials could have ordered that a charter school take over a failing school, or forced a low-performing district to either split up or merge with a nearby high-performing district

The scope of each state-ordered innovation plan and partnership agreement varies widely between school to school. Pueblo’s management plan is one of the most specific about the authority the management organization has, and had the most input from the state board.

“I feel as though we’ve all learned together,” said state board chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat.  We’ve tried to be true to the intent of the legislation. There’s an element of faith to all of this — the commitments that are being made to us, work that is going to be done by outside vendors that is going to helpful to school districts. But I’m optimistic.”

Schools and districts that met with the state board this year will have either one or two years to show improvement or face more drastic direction from the state.

Charter Schools

A new study reveals which NYC charter school networks are outperforming their peers

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Leila Hadd
A KIPP school in the Bronx

All charter schools are not created equal. That’s according to a new study published by Stanford University research group CREDO, which shows some New York City charter school networks are better than others at improving their students’ math and reading test scores relative to surrounding traditional public schools.

The results are part of a broader study released this month that analyzed hundreds of charter schools and networks across 26 states to assess which types of charters are most effective in boosting student learning.

Most notably, the study found that charter school management organizations (CMOs), which CREDO defines as agencies that hold and oversee the operation of at least three charters, perform better than both traditional public schools and charters not aligned with CMOs. Academic growth was defined in the study as the change in a student’s scores from one testing period to the next.

Nationwide, students at CMO-operated charters received an equivalent of 17 days of additional schooling in math and reading compared to similar students in traditional public schools. In New York City, those rates were substantially higher, with students receiving the equivalent of 80 extra days of learning in math and 29 days in reading.

In comparison, non-CMO charter schools in New York City saw students grow only an additional 34 days in math and actually decline in reading compared to students at traditional public schools (The non-CMO reading difference was not statistically significant).

Five out of 11 CMOs in the city saw distinctly better results. Success Academy Charter Schools, which recently won the Broad Prize, came out on top, significantly outperforming most other networks in the city. Its students gained the equivalent of 228 days in math and 120 days in reading instruction compared to their peers in nearby traditional public schools.

However, the study only examined 168 students from the large network, a small share of its total enrollment of roughly 14,000 students in New York City. In an email, CREDO’s Lynn Woodworth told Chalkbeat that many Success students were excluded from the study because they couldn’t be matched to similar students in “feeder” district schools since the network takes few students after the initial enrollment period.

Icahn Charter Schools, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools New York City, KIPP New York City and Democracy Prep Public Schools all posted lower rates than Success — but still outperformed nearby district schools and the city’s average for CMOs.

Students at Icahn Charter Schools received the equivalent of 171 additional days of learning in math and 46 days in reading, compared to students at nearby traditional public schools. Achievement First students were close, with 125 extra days of learning in math and 57 in reading. KIPP New York City, Uncommon Schools New York City and Democracy Prep all posted gains equivalent to roughly 100 days in math and 50 days in reading.

Two networks — Lighthouse Academies and Public Preparatory Network, Inc. — performed closer to the city’s CMO average. And the three other CMOs — Ascend Learning, Explore Schools, Inc. and New Visions for Public Schools — performed comparably to nearby traditional public schools.

“At the average, independent charter schools show lower gains for their students than CMOs,” the report found. “Despite the wide range of CMO quality, larger organizations of charter holders have taken advantage of scale to the benefit of their students.”

First Person

I’m on a Community Education Council in Manhattan. Mayor de Blasio, we need to move faster on school integration

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Mayor de Blasio,

As the mother of a fifth-grade student in a New York City public school and a member of the Community Education Council in Manhattan’s District 2, I thank you for acknowledging that our public school system does not provide equity and excellence for all of our students.

I’m writing to you understanding that the diversity plan the city released this month is a beginning, and that it will take time to integrate our schools. However, the black and Hispanic children of this city do not have decades to wait for us to make change.

I know this firsthand. For the past six years, I have been traveling out of my neighborhood to take my child to one of the city’s few remaining diverse elementary schools, located in Hell’s Kitchen. In looking at middle schools, my criteria for a school were that it matched my child’s academic interests and that it was diverse. Unfortunately, the only middle school that truly encompasses both is a long commute from our home. After commuting by subway for six years, my child wanted a school that was closer to home. I obliged.  

At my child’s middle school orientation, I saw what a segregated school looks like. The incoming class of sixth-graders includes few students of color and does not represent the diversity of our district. This middle school also lacks a diverse teaching staff and administrators. (Had I not sent my child to this school, I would only be fueling the problem, since my child was one of the few children of color admitted to the school.)

These predominately affluent and white schools are creating a new generation of students who will not know how to interact with others that come from different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Integrated schools, on the other hand, will provide opportunities for them to learn and work with students, teachers and school leaders that reflect the diversity of our city and the world we live in.  

There are measures we can take that will have a stronger impact in integrating our schools than what is listed in the diversity plan. I am asking that you come to the table with students, school leadership and parents that are directly affected by school segregation and consider our ideas to create schools that are more equitable for all students.  

In the words of Valerie Castile, whose family received no justice in the death of their son Philando, “The system continues to fail black people.” While she was speaking of the criminal justice system, true reform of that system begins with educating our children — who will be our society’s future police officers, politicians, legislators and judges.

Mayor de Blasio, you have the power to spur change. The students and parents of our great city are asking for your leadership in integrating our schools.

Josephine Ishmon is a member of District 2’s Community Education Council. This is her personal opinion and does not reflect that of the CEC.