Forty-eight percent of the schools in the city’s high-profile turnaround program did not meet even half their goals last year, despite being infused with social services and academic support, according to data released Tuesday.
But that means 45 schools, or 52 percent of the city’s “Renewal” school program, met at least half their goals last school year.
They were judged on benchmarks like attendance, graduation rates, and state test scores, with some of the targets raised last year for schools that met goals early. Just three schools hit all of their targets, city statistics show. Five schools hit none of them.
The new data offers a snapshot of how the city’s $400 million turnaround effort — perhaps the most ambitious program of its kind in the country — is faring two years after it launched.
So is the glass half full, or half empty?
City officials were careful to strike a balance. “There’s strong progress, and there’s a lot of work left to be done,” said Eric Ashton, the education department’s executive director for school performance. “Research has shown that it takes time for schools to improve.”
Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teacher College, said he was pleased that “that there is no effort to claim overwhelming success” — noting that evidence of the Renewal program’s success or failure would take time to evaluate, and there isn’t enough research to know exactly what is reasonable to expect in the short run.
“You want to see what’s happening more than three years out before you start making conclusions,” he said. “But there are kids in these schools now. Is half the schools making progress enough?”
Tuesday’s numbers are yet another indication of the tightrope city officials must walk. Though school turnarounds can take years, Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised “fast and intense” improvement through his Renewal program.
That means education officials have to find a realistic way of showing progress while acknowledging it will likely come slowly.
After initially refusing to publicly release the Renewal schools’ goals, the city acknowledged in late 2015 that Renewal schools were essentially given three years to hit what were usually one-year goals. Some said the targets were far too easy. (One school’s reading goal, for instance, only required it boost scores by one hundredth of one point — something the Board of Regents chancellor at the time said was “ridiculous.”)
But the education department’s Ashton noted that schools had to improve metrics like graduation rates by 20 percent or more — and many have seen significant gains. Since then, the city has created “challenge targets” for schools that met their Renewal goals early. (Seventy out of the 86 Renewal schools had at least one challenge target set last school year.)
“These are rigorous and realistic benchmarks,” Ashton said. “We’re making these targets so they’re real targets and tough to reach.”
City officials said “all options are on the table” for schools that don’t reach their benchmarks, including possible mergers or closures. But that determination would be made on a school-by-school basis and would also depend on factors like enrollment, the strength of its leadership, and community input, an official said.
For the first time, city officials also noted, the city is posting a more user-friendly document on each school’s website that shows whether they hit last year’s targets, and what their targets are for next year.
The state also released information Tuesday on schools designated as “struggling” in its receivership program. These schools have this year to make “demonstrable improvement” — a complex measure of progress calculated using several indicators of academics and school climate — or they could face takeover by an outside entity.
Of the 24 struggling schools in New York City, which are all also Renewal schools, 15 met their goals last year, city officials said. The scores are only markers of progress right now, but the final stats after this year will determine whether the schools face independent receivership, officials said.
Across the state, 56 of the 62 struggling schools met at least half of their indicator goals. State officials celebrated the news as a good sign.
“I am encouraged that so many schools are showing signs of progress,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa. “Their improvement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the teachers and administrators, as well as the determination of the students and their families.”
While “struggling” schools have until next school year to improve, “persistently struggling” schools had to meet targets this year. State officials would not speculate on whether any are likely to face takeover next year.
Of the 10 schools across the state that faced receivership heading into this school year, only one failed to show enough progress: J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodriguez De Tio located in the Bronx. The remaining persistently struggling schools dodged that fate this year, but could still be taken over by an independent receiver next year.
Renewal schools that met all of their 2015-16 targets:
New Millennium Business Academy Middle School
P.S. 067 Charles A. Dorsey
Ebbets Field Middle School
Renewal schools that didn’t meet any of their 2015-16 targets:
P.S. 194 Countee Cullen
New Explorers High School
Banana Kelly High School
P.S. 092 Bronx
Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research