By the numbers

How much does homelessness affect school performance? New York City aims to find out

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña with students at P.S. 15 in 2014.

Last year’s school-performance report for P.S. 15 in the Lower East Side paints a troubling picture: only 2 percent of students passed the state English exams, and 6 percent passed math.

But there is a telling number the report leaves out: 46 percent of P.S. 15 students lacked permanent housing the year before, making them more likely to miss class, earn lower test scores, and switch schools mid-year, experts say.

Now, the city is hoping to better quantify how many high-needs students each school serves — including homeless students, whose numbers are growing — and to factor that in when rating each school’s performance.

The city is planning to award a one-year, $100,000 contract to an outside research group to measure each school’s population of students who have disabilities, come from low-income families, or enroll mid-year, according to officials and an education department request for proposals. The group would compare each school’s share of high-needs students to the local average, and analyze how that affects its academic performance.

That data could then be used to adjust the city’s school-performance reports and its school-turnaround efforts, in keeping with the theory that schools should not be held accountable for their students’ performance without considering those factors.

“Based on feedback from families and educators, we hope to build on the available data and further refine our accountability metrics by looking at student mobility and other student population characteristics,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement.

The city’s request makes special mention of students who leave or enroll in schools during the academic year. Those students could include children who recently arrived in the country, spent time in jail, or live in temporary housing. Such students can present twin challenges for schools: they often enter with gaps in their schooling, and their mid-year arrival can disrupt their new classmates.

In addition, a large share of such students could make it difficult for a school to earn high marks for “strong family-community ties” and “trust” on the city’s new school-rating system, the request says.

The request comes as the ranks of homeless New York City students has swelled in recent years, with their numbers increasing by 25 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to a recent report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. Today, some 84,000 school-age children in the city live in homeless shelters, in overcrowded apartments, or on the street, the report says. Those students switch schools mid-year at three times the rate of their peers in permanent housing, and they are far more likely to drop out of high school, according to the report.

“We certainly think it’s important that when you’re assessing the quality of a school, you really want to see if the kids who were tested in April are the same ones who arrived in September,” said Clara Hemphill, editor of the school-review website Insideschools, who advised the administration when it revamped the school reports last year.

The request says the contractor would begin gathering and analyzing school data next June, then produce a report by the start of the 2016-17 school year.

The city has worked to account for a school’s share of high-needs students in the past, creating “peer groups” of schools with similar characteristics. Those groups have been used to assess a school’s progress at raising its students’ test scores and graduation rates.

The de Blasio administration has signaled that it is aware of the difficulties that some schools face in serving mid-year arrivals, also called “over-the-counter” students, whom a 2013 report found were most often sent to low-performing schools. In June, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the 94 struggling schools in the city’s new “Renewal” program that they would be sent fewer over-the-counter students this academic year.

The latest school-performance reports, to be released this fall, will also feature a new formula for calculating student economic need that relies on census data rather than students’ applications for subsidized school lunches. Aaron Pallas, a sociology and education professor at Teachers College, said the updated formula and the request for proposals are both efforts to create “more refined measures of student need.”

“It’s important both for being able to better serve individual students,” he said, “and also to do a better job of assessing the needs and capacity of a given school.”

New role

Principal Donna Taylor retiring from Brooklyn School of Inquiry, moving to DOE

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry

Brooklyn School of Inquiry Principal Donna Taylor announced this week she is stepping down from her position next month.

Taylor, who has been with the Bensonhurst school since it opened in 2009, will take a position with the Department of Education, where she will support principals implementing progressive education and gifted and talented programs — two focuses of BSI. The school, which runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, is one of five gifted and talented schools open to children citywide.

“BSI was created by a team who believes that students need an inquiry-based, arts-infused curriculum, steeped in technology, where everyone is encouraged to think critically,” Taylor said in a statement. “We came together down here in Bensonhurst to grow our practice and build capacity. I am proud of the work I’ve done together with the school’s community to build and grow BSI.”

Her announcement comes the same week that BSI graduated its first cohort of eighth-graders. Moving forward, Taylor is working with other school staff and her superintendent, Karina Constantino, to ensure a smooth transition. A new principal has not yet been named.

BSI is the only citywide gifted school that participates in the city’s Diversity in Admissions program. The admissions pilot allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, English learners or meet other criteria. In the case of BSI, the school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

While it met that target in its admissions offers this year, it had few open seats because siblings of current BSI students get priority. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students.

It will be up to Taylor’s successor, alongside city officials, to decide where to take the pilot program next.

“We have no way of knowing what the new leadership will do or who they will be or what their position will be on the program,” said Sara Mogulescu, the parent of two children currently studying at BSI. “But I know there is a very strong core of commitment to that pilot and to continue to strengthen our community in all kinds of ways, regardless of whether Donna is the principal.”

Despite her many accomplishments, Taylor’s eight years at the helm of BSI were not without controversy. In 2014, Taylor made headlines for a comment she made at an open-house meeting at BSI. She remarked to prospective parents, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house.” Taylor subsequently apologized.

Mogulescu said Taylor had built a solid foundation at BSI, and she and other parents were confident about the school’s future — and Taylor’s.

“As much as we are all sad to see her go,” she said, “I think the parents take solace in the fact that she is going to be spreading her wisdom and experience to other schools.”

planning ahead

Big assignment for group of Colorado education leaders: rethink the state’s education priorities

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

The group will begin meeting in August and will spend its first year setting priorities. It is supposed to give recommendations for possible legislation by 2018 or 2019.

Lynne said various state departments and groups already work on initiatives tied to education, but “we don’t have a place where we weave it all together.”

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

Having a strategic plan and clear goals for what schools should be accomplishing could also give officials a better chance of changing school finance, Lynne said, if the group determines that is needed. Reports routinely rank Colorado near the bottom in per pupil funding among states.

“I think it’s hard when people want to talk about changing school finance or they want to address things like compensation for teachers, if you don’t have the core foundation of what do we want to achieve and how do we get there,” Lynne said.

Bipartisan legislation introduced this spring would have created a group with similar goals, but Republicans killed the so-called “vision” bill. Critics said the bill would have created more state bureaucracy and potentially conflicted with school districts’ strategic plans, and called it a ploy to ultimately ask taxpayers for more money.

Lynne said the group commissioned by the governor — which will have as many as 25 members — will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal.

The original Education Leadership Council was commissioned in 2011 by a Hickenlooper executive order. Recently the group stopped meeting. Members’ terms had expired, and excitement had decreased after the 2013 defeat of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes for schools. The council helped push for the measure.

When Lynne succeeded Joe Garcia as lieutenant governor, she said she knew she wanted to revive the group.

Her office started planning to regroup the Education Leadership Council in late 2016 before the legislature considered the same work, but she said she paused while legislators considered their bill. When that effort failed, Lynne said her office got back to organizing the council.

The group, Lynne said, will work under a shorter timeline than the one outlined in the failed bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who sponsored the “vision” bill, said the council is the right avenue for this kind of work.

“The legislature is not suited for long-term strategic thinking,” Rankin said. “It’s more about shorter-term action. This is a better way to do it — with our involvement.”

Sponsors of the vision bill, including Rankin, will be part of the leadership council.

Here is a copy of the executive order:

EO Education (Text)