code shift

NYC set to adopt long-debated changes to student discipline code that will further reduce suspensions

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Since last summer, education officials have been promising a new set of discipline policies that would dramatically reduce the number of suspensions issued to the city’s youngest students and continue the city’s shift away from those penalties for older students.

But exactly when those changes would become policy has remained unclear. Now, they appear to be imminent: The new discipline code will be in place by the end of April, according to education department spokeswoman Toya Holness.

The road to securing the reforms has been bumpy. In July, the city announced that it intended to completely ban suspensions in grades K-2, and reduce the maximum punishments for a number of offenses in other grades. The plan drew a mixture of praise and criticism.

“Children who are in crisis and who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by this plan to ban suspensions in grades K–2,” United Federation of Teachers chief Michael Mulgrew argued, “and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.”

Education officials later backtracked, saying that suspensions in K-2 would be allowed but reserved for only the most serious circumstances, fueling pushback from advocates that the city’s pace of reform is too slow.

“It’s been incremental change for a decade,” Johanna Miller, advocacy director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Chalkbeat in January. “We’re working with a broken system if we’re talking about telling a six-year-old it’s no longer appropriate to come to school.”

The debate over the city’s discipline code raises larger questions, some of which are also being asked in other large school districts across the country: Will reducing suspensions improve learning conditions in general, and especially for students of color and those with disabilities who are disproportionately subjected to them? Or will quickly phasing them out leave educators without the tools they need to maintain school order?

Mayor Bill de Blasio has come down firmly in favor of a series of policy changes that have made it harder to suspend students, winning some praise from advocates in the process. Continuing a trend that started under Bloomberg, schools issued about 30 percent fewer suspensions last year than just two years prior, a fact the city has touted as an accomplishment.

It is less clear however, whether those policies are playing out in a productive way inside schools. With support from the city, certain schools have faithfully implemented alternative approaches, which involve resolving conflict through discussion and reflection. And some students have said those efforts are making a noticeable difference.

But others, including some teachers and union officials, have said the city has not done enough to train educators to help schools adapt to the new policies — sowing chaos in the meantime.

A recent report from the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute offers some evidence to support that narrative, drawing on surveys of students and teachers. Meanwhile, advocates who see reducing suspensions as a critical civil rights issue have continued to point out that, even as suspensions fall, troubling racial disparities persist.

The policy change set to go into effect this month will likely refocus these arguments — as the de Blasio administration throws its weight behind a new discipline code that will further limit the use of suspensions. But how the changes will affect the city’s schools, as districts across the country experiment with similar policies, remains to be seen.

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.