early word

Just two F's amid nearly straight A's on 2009 progress reports

Just two schools got F’s on their progress reports this year, bearing out reports that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would tout high scores when he released this year’s grades today.

Eighty-four percent of elementary and middle schools earned A’s, up from 38 percent last year, promising to stir up questions about how useful the progress reports are for parents and principals.

A few other highlights: Of the lowest-performing schools, most opened under Klein’s watch. Nearly 5 percent of schools earned so much extra credit for helping their neediest students that their scores exceeded 100 percent. And the schools that the city tried to close last year before being thwarted by a lawsuit all earned A grades.

Klein is offering his interpretation to reporters right now at a press conference, and we’ll bring updates from there later in the day. For now, take a look at the complete list of progress report grades and add your observations to mine:

  • Ten of the 12 schools with the lowest raw scores opened since Klein became chancellor in 2002. The two schools that received F’s are Washington Heights Academy, which opened in 2004, and Harlem Link Charter School, which opened in 2005. This was the first year the schools had enough test results to give them progress reports.
  • PS 8, the popular school in Brooklyn Heights that made news last year when it received an F on its progress report, not only got an A this year but was one of the most improved schools in the city, with a score that rose by more than 70 points over last year.
  • The largest score drop in the city happened at the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy Charter School, which got 90.6 points on last year’s progress report but earned just 56.5 points on this year’s report, giving it a B.
  • The three schools that the UFT and parent leaders sued to keep open saw their scores rise by an average of 54 points. PS 194 and PS 241 in Harlem both went from D’s to A’s, and PS 150 in Brooklyn got an A after receiving an F last year.
  • Nearly 50 schools scored more than 100 points according to the progress reports formula, which awards extra credit to schools where especially needy students get higher scores on the state tests.
  • PS 123, the Harlem school that’s embroiled in a battle with the Harlem Success Academy charter school over space, received an A on the report. It received a B last year. Harlem Success did not get a progress report grade because last year was the first time its students took state tests.
  • KIPP AMP, the charter school where teachers voted to unionize last year, received the lowest score of any of the city’s four KIPP schools. It was the 65th-lowest-scoring city school, more than 600 places behind the next-lowest-scoring KIPP school, KIPP STAR.

Here’s the spreadsheet with each school’s scores from this year and last year. (Download an Excel file with the grades here.)

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”