Process of elimination

Dozens of elementary and middle schools told they might close

J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn is one of 36 elementary and middle schools that the Department of Education has put on notice because of poor performance.

Three dozen schools that received low grades from the Department of Education on Monday are already getting notice that the city is gravely worried about their performance.

Department of Education officials have identified 36 schools — including 15 middle schools and 25 schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx — for an “early engagement” process that could lead either to closure or another lease on life.

This is the third year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year’s closures will be the last of the Bloomberg administration.

The potential closure list is nearly twice as long as last year’s, when the city held early engagement meetings at 20 elementary and middle schools and ultimately moved to close 10 of them. It is culled from 217 schools whose progress report scores put them at risk of closure, according to the city’s rules.

This year’s list includes several schools that have already had closure scares. Two schools, M.S. 142 in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, went through early engagement last year. (Chappie’s sister elementary school is now in the process of closing.) M.S. 142 and another school, J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, were also slated to undergo a different closure process called “turnaround” last year until the city was forced to abandon those plans.

The list also includes two charter schools that the city allowed to open, Bronx Community Charter School and Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which serves students in the foster care system. Both of the schools are up for renewal this year.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve.

But in starting early engagement, which includes communication with parent leaders and public meetings at each school, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the department’s deputy chancellor in charge of school closures.

“These are difficult conversations, but it’s important to have this dialogue and hold our schools to the highest of standards,” Sternberg said in a statement. “We’ll take the feedback that we receive from the school and community into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success.”

Fifteen of the schools are middle schools, signaling where the department could start making room for some of the 25 new middle schools it has vowed to open next year.

The city has vowed to open at least 50 new schools next year, including 25 middle schools.

The schools represent only a small fraction of those with progress report scores low enough to put them on the chopping block. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or below — this year, 217 schools — can be closed, according to the department’s guidelines.

Seven of the schools landed on the list after drawing three straight C grades from the city. Five of the schools earned B’s two years ago, when many city schools saw their grades plummet because of changes to the way state tests were scored.

A teacher at J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, reached before the city announced that the school was on the early engagement list, said she thought she school was improving after a rocky year under the specter of turnaround.

“The students are working towards something this year. It’s a very positive tone,” said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak about the school. Principal Maria Ortega, who narrowly avoided losing her job under turnaround, declined to comment.

The teacher did warn that teachers started the year with very little time to plan after many had left for the summer expecting not to return, something the city could hold against the school when assessing its likeliness to improve.

The department has not yet turned its attention toward high schools, whose progress reports will come out later this month.

Officials from both the teachers and principals union decried the early engagement process as being too little, too late for the long-struggling schools.

“We are troubled by the DOE’s statement that it is beginning conversations with these schools now to gain a better understanding of what is happening,” said principals union president Ernest Logan in a statement. “These conversations should have occurred before these schools ever arrived at this point.”

“Tweed’s measurement system depends almost completely on standardized tests, and its ‘engagement’ process does little or nothing to help struggling schools improve,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, also in a statement. “Unfortunately, closing schools — rather than fixing them — remains the centerpiece of Mayor Bloomberg’s education strategy.”

The schools undergoing early engagement:

J.H.S. Jackie Robinson, Manhattan
M.S. 45/STARS Prep Academy, Manhattan
P.S. 133 Fred R Moore, Manhattan
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte, Manhattan
P.S. 154 Jonathan D Hyatt, Bronx
M.S. 203, Bronx
Young Leaders Elementary School, Bronx
Performance School, Bronx
J.H.S. 125 Henry Hudson, Bronx
Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School, Bronx
P.S. 64 Pura Belpre, Bronx
P.S. 132 Garret Morgan, Bronx
P.S. 230 Roland Patterson, Bronx
M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
Globe School for Environmental Research, Bronx
P.S. 6 West Farms, Bronx
P.S. 50, Bronx
The School of Science and Applied Learning, Bronx
P.S. 67 Charles Dorsey, Brooklyn
P.S. 167 The Parkway, Brooklyn
Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn
P.S. 174 Dumont, Brooklyn
P.S. 224 Hale Woodruff, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 291 Roland Hayes, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero, Brooklyn
I.S. 349 Math, Science, and Technology, Brooklyn
P.S. 73 Thomas Boyland, Brooklyn
P.S. 165 Ida Posner, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 8 Richard Grossley, Queens
P.S. 140 Edward Ellington, Queens
I.S. 59 Springfield Gardens, Queens
P.S. 156 Laurelton, Queens
Mott Haven Academy Charter School, Bronx
Bronx Community Charter School, Bronx

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.

summer mix tape

Ten stories you might have missed over the summer (and should read now as a new school year begins)

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Stand for Children received funding to support parent education.

There is no such thing as time off from covering education. While school doors were shuttered, plenty happened this summer on the Colorado education beat. Here, we’ve compiled stories that we hope prove useful as you ease back into your fall routines.

We’ve got your immunization data right here … 

For the second year, Chalkbeat tracked down immunization data for more than 1,200 schools in Colorado’s largest school districts. Our database revealed that Boulder remains a hotspot for the anti-vaccination movement, students in districts with racial and income diversity are more likely to get their shots and nearly half of schools in the database did a better job this year tracking students’ immunization records. Read our news story about the findings, check out these six charts that dig into the numbers and search for school-level data here.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg reflects on his sabbatical (a break not everyone appreciated)

In June, Denver Public Schools’ longtime schools chief returned from a six-month unpaid sabbatical in South America with his family. “It made us appreciate the extraordinary resources we have here,” he said in an interview about his experience.

A milestone for Colorado charter schools on diversity, but not so much on integration

For the first time, Colorado’s charter schools educated a larger proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than district-run schools, a state report showed. We took a closer look and found that does not mean charter schools are more integrated.

Race, policing and education during a summer on edge

This summer sadly provided no shortage of violence and heartache over issues that sometimes feel like they’re tearing America apart at the seams. We sought to bring some local perspective (and wisdom) to the debate by talking to an ambitious Manual High School student who took up a bullhorn at Denver street protests and to Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn.

A middle school’s last-ditch effort to save itself 

An Adams County middle school running out of time to improve has placed its bet on more challenging, more personal teaching — and zero test preparation. Watch Chalkbeat later this week for a report on whether these efforts paid off in the form of improved state test scores. (Hopefully … the data are set to be made public Thursday).

Guess which Colorado school district had a high proportion of teachers designated to lose tenure …

Compared with other large Colorado school districts, Denver Public Schools had a higher proportion of teachers set to lose tenure under a sweeping educator effectiveness law passed six years ago. We surveyed big districts about one of the consequences of Senate Bill 191.

Too darn hot to teach and learn 

As part of its big bond request of voters this fall, Denver Public Schools wants to try to cool off some of its hottest schools. We took a look at where the mercury soars the highest and found that in 12 of the 18 hottest buildings — some of which house more than one school — the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch exceeds the district average.

But the University Club has a lovely lunch menu (and squash courts, too)…  

What if the State Board of Education held a not-so-public meeting with the education commissioner at a private club downtown to prioritize goals, but didn’t get much of anything accomplished? That happened.

What we know — and don’t know — about Colorado remediation rates

Colorado’s college remediation rates inched upward after years of steady decline, a disheartening development. On top of that, we’re not getting the full picture, either, because of incomplete school-level numbers and non-existent district-level data.

Diet Coke: Coming soon to a high school vending machine near you? 

Despite opposition from advocacy groups, Colorado appears headed toward lifting a seven-year ban on diet soda in high schools. The rule change would clear the way for diet soda to be sold in high school vending machines and school stores, though districts could decide not to stock the drinks. We covered the issue before and after the State Board of Education’s initial vote.