Chancellor-designee Dennis Walcott testifies at the New York City Council's Education Committee's Budget Hearing
City school officials said today that they would need roughly $300 million to avoid laying off thousands of teachers next year.
Today's twice-delayed City Council hearing on the DOE's preliminary expense budget for 2012 focused on how to avoid teacher layoffs and the current "last in, first out" rules that require the city to lay off teachers based on seniority.
Testifying before the City Council for the first time in his new role as chancellor-designate, Dennis Walcott fielded questions about how the city can avoid mass layoffs. And, although he's still being referred to by some DOE officials as Deputy Mayor, Walcott was treated just like his predecessors by the Committee: with skepticism.
Council members were quick to offer their congratulations and support to Walcott, but then became less welcoming when the subjects of teacher layoffs and ending "last in, first out" rules were raised.
Many council members questioned whether or not Mayor Bloomberg had requested enough funds from Albany, with several suggesting that perhaps the $600 million Bloomberg requested ($200 million of which was set to go to schools), was deliberately low, perhaps as a strategy to continue pushing for changes to "last in, first out" rules.
As discussed here and here, the state released the results of the 2009-2010 Grade 3-8 Math and English language arts test results last week. The focus has been on the new, higher bar for passing the tests and the resulting large drop in the percentage of students judged as proficient. Charter schools, like traditional public schools across the city, saw their much-touted proficiency gains plummet. Barbara Martinez at the Wall Street Journal did a good job of summarizing charter schools' results in New York City. In order to give a more complete picture, I analyzed the 2009-2010 results for charters to see which schools performed best and how the schools performed compared to their traditional public school counterparts. I also posted data on individual schools below and in this spreadsheet.
I defined proficiency in the customary way: as the proportion of students at a charter school that scored a Level 3 or higher on the ELA or math tests. In order to look at overall school performance, I averaged the proficiency rate across grade levels broken down by subject, and then took the average of both the ELA and math tests to come up with a single "proficiency" number. The schools that had the highest average proficiency rates were Harlem Success Academy, Icahn Charter School 2, the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, and the Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School. (The other two Icahn Schools also scored in the top 10 of all charter schools.) To be clear, different schools serve different grades and comparing performance across grades can be misleading.
I've posted a chart below that lists the average proficiency rates as well as the ELA and math proficiency rates, for every charter school that posted test results during the 2009-2010 school year. Scroll over the name of the school to find out what grades the school services, which grades were tested, and other salient information relating to the school's performance.
The head of the charter school office at the Department of Education, Michael Duffy, recently announced his decision to leave the government to work for Victory Schools, Inc. Victory Schools is a for-profit Educational Management Organization (EMO) that runs seven of the nine for-profit charter schools that are currently open in New York City. Duffy's move attracted attention to the company's business plans, which were complicated by the new charter school law passed in May that barred for-profit charter operators from opening more schools in the state. (The company might become a nonprofit to keep growing.) But Victory Schools' performance has been left out of the discussion.
I decided to compare Victory Schools' performance against that of its for-profit and not-for-profit charter school competitors in the city by looking at both the amount that the schools spent per pupil on management fees and their 2008-2009 progress report raw scores, which I then ranked independent of the DOE's letter grades. (These grades were sharply questioned during the 2008-2009 school year.) I found that the five Victory Schools that had progress report scores in 2008-2009 placed in the bottom 35 percent of all charter schools and in the bottom 20 percent of schools citywide. Two schools — the NYC Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries and the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls — were too new to get a progress report score. Both, however, received evaluations of "underdeveloped" from the city.
VictoryComp Powered by Tableau
These middling performance numbers come despite the fact that the seven schools paid around $2,163 per pupil to Victory Schools for the company's services.
In a recent article in the journal Education Next, Mike Antonucci reviewed the finances of the two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He found teachers unions in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Montana spent several hundreds of dollars per teacher for political campaign spending on candidates and ballot initiatives. New York, according to Antonucci, spent only $5 per teacher.
But this is only part of the picture. Another source of political spending can be found in financial documents that the city teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), filed with the federal government. According to this "LM-2" filing, the UFT spent around $31 per teacher, or a little over $2.4 million overall, out of a $202 million budget, on political activities during the 2008-2009 school year.* The UFT membership, however, consists of more than just teachers. If you included total UFT membership — 164,462 — spending on political activities would be around $16 per member. (To be clear, Antonucci only considered active teachers in his calculations.)
In addition to this spending, which includes things like lobbying, buses to events, and phone banks, the UFT has a political action committee (PAC). The PAC is a stand-alone group whose specific purpose is to dole out money to politicians, groups, and ballot measures that the union supports. The UFT's PAC, known as the Committee on Political Education ("COPE"), is funded by voluntary member contributions as well as other sources.
COPE spent $187,411 in 2008-2009 on donations to politicians. The fund's balance — the amount that could theoretically be given away — has also dramatically increased, to $1.35 million in July 2009, from an average of $124,000 during 2000-2005. Furthermore, contributions to the COPE — the amount that members have voluntarily given to the union's political activities — have reached their highest level in 10 years. In contrast, the amount the UFT spent on political activities independent of COPE has remained relatively constant at around $2.5 million annually.
On Tuesday, the Daily News published a report on the rising rate of student suspensions in New York City's schools. Since charter schools in New York often have discipline policies that differ from their traditional public school counterparts, I was curious to compare suspension rates in charters to those in traditional public schools. Looking at the Basic Education Data System (BEDS) filings for both charter schools and traditional public schools during the 2008-2009 school year, I found that both types of schools suspended, on average, around 8% of their student body. (BEDS data asks schools only to report on the number of students that were suspended, not the number of overall suspensions, which is the number that the Daily News article cited.)
Since school demographics can be correlated with suspension rates, I looked at charter school suspension rates as they compared to their traditional public school counterparts. I found that the results varied by neighborhood. In Harlem and the South Bronx, charter schools suspended a lower percentage of their student body. In Central Brooklyn, charter schools suspended slightly more students. A breakdown of suspension rates at co-located charter schools is available in this spreadsheet.
A recent national study on Charter Management Organizations, or CMOs, by non-partisan Mathematica Policy Research, sheds some light on the role that these organizations play in the national educational landscape.
According to my own measures, CMOs ran 37 of the 77 charter schools in New York City during the 2008-2009 school year — and they have plans to open dozens more in the next decade. While CMOs attract large amounts of philanthropic support, anti-charter critics charge that they are opaque and run their schools more like for-profit institutions. This interim report offers fodder for both supporters and detractors. I found five points to be particularly interesting:
CMOs need philanthropy to exist: All 44 CMOs in the study relied on philanthropic dollars to support operations. The average CMO relied on philanthropy for 13 percent of total operating revenues. CMOs funded by NewSchools Venture Fund report that 64 percent of their central office revenues come from philanthropy. The report concludes: “At least for now, these CMOs are unable to support their central offices (which often comprise 20% or more of total CMO spending) and facilities costs on per pupil revenues alone.”
CMOs rely on alternate certification programs, like Teach For America, for talent: According to the report, almost 20 percent of teachers at CMO schools come from alternative certification programs like TFA. In addition, many of the people in managerial and leadership positions are TFA alumni. CMOs claim that teachers trained in the TFA mode are accustomed to longer hours and “No Excuses” approaches and therefore require less training in the culture of the CMO. The authors question the ability of CMOs to expand if they rely so heavily on one source of talent.
CMOs have had problems expanding to high schools: Across the country, CMOs operate a disproportionate number of elementary and middle schools.
I was very interested to read the UFT's latest report on charter school attrition in middle schools, as I've had trouble finding reliable statistics to track charter school students from year to year. The UFT report claims that state test data provides a fairly accurate method to track charter school attrition-that is, the number of students that leave a charter school. However, the report doesn't provide data on the number of students that a particular charter school decides to hold back, or "retain." Therefore, it can only provide information on testing cohort attrition — that is, the number of students that vanish from a testing group from year to year.
I augmented the state test data with the numbers on retained students, which are available from the Basic Education Data System. (For more on BEDS, see this post.) The UFT report states:
If students are being left back, then their entrance into the cohort of the lower grade should be reflected in the size of that cohort. That cohort might grow, for example. What happens instead, however, is that those cohorts too are generally shrinking as students move up in grades. Since the cohorts into which the vanishing students would be assigned are themselves shrinking, retention seems unlikely to be the major factor in cohort attrition.
I confirmed with Jackie Bennett, the author of the UFT report, that she did not look at the BEDS data on retained students. This means that she couldn't consider retention from earlier grades that would reduce the numbers in these same cohorts. I found that when you consider the number of students retained each year in each grade, the majority of testing cohort attrition actually is due to retention of large numbers of students in both fifth and sixth grade.
Steven Brill's latest article chronicling the politics of the Race to the Top competition has caused a torrent of commentary. One contentious aspect of the piece is Brill's comparison of two schools that share the same building: Harlem Success Academy and P.S. 149. After Valerie Strauss picked up the statistics posted on the New York Public School Parents Blog, there has been much speculation about what types of kids are attending each school. Just how different are the populations anyway?
To figure out the answer, I looked at NY State Accountability Report Cards, the Special Education Service Delivery Report for P.S. 149, as well as special education invoices provided to the UFT by the New York State Education Department. I chose these data sets because they seemed to be the most reliable and the most comparable. By "comparable" I mean that both Harlem Success and P.S. 149 have to submit to the state as part of their Accountability Report Cards data on students who receive free or reduced price lunch (an indicator of economic need), whereas, for instance, only P.S. 149 lists something known as the poverty rate (which is slightly different.)
According to this data, Harlem Success Academy does appear to serve fewer needy students, both in terms of economic status, limited English proficiency, and special education needs. On the other hand, Harlem Success dramatically outperforms P.S. 149 on 3rd grade test results.
Last week, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would increase the number of charter schools in New York from 200 to 460. Included in the bill was a provision that charter schools increase efforts to enroll students with learning disabilities — an attempt to appease critics who claim that charters significantly under-enroll students with disabilities.
Yet an examination of data provided to me by the city shows that while charters enroll fewer students with disabilities, the gap is not as large as initially reported by the state teachers union, known as NYSUT. According to Department of Education data, 13 percent of charter school students have an Individualized Education Plan, indicating that they have special needs, compared to 15 percent at traditional public schools. NYSUT reported the numbers as being 9.4 percent at charter schools and 16.4 percent at district schools.
The discrepancy stems from problematic data NYSUT received from the state education department. According to the state, the number of students with disabilities that a charter school reports enrolling often does not match up with numbers reported by school districts. As a result, the state does not consider its own data to be reliable.
As an alternative, I used a database known as CAPS, which is compiled by the city's Committee on Special Education. CAPS includes information about every student in the city who has an IEP, so it provides a more accurate breakdown of the number of special education students at each school.
I found that the percentage of charter schools enrolling as many or more students with disabilities than their traditional public school counterparts increased from a quarter of schools last year to almost a third of schools this year.
This is the second post in a series that looks at data from charter schools' Basic Education Data System reports. This data was provided to us by the New York State Education Department via a Freedom of Information Law request. A full spreadsheet with the data we used is available here.
On Tuesday, the state teachers union released a report that said that charters in New York State had a student turnover rate of 8 to 10 percent each year. While statistics on overall turnover rates are hard to come by, data that city charter schools file with the state shows that one measure of transfer rate for city charter schools — that is, the number of students that transfer out of a charter school during the school year — is 6 percent. To be clear, this necessarily leaves out of the number of students who finished the school year but did not decide to return the following year.
Overall, the rate of transfers decreased slightly from 7 percent in 2007-2008 to 6 percent in 2008-2009. Generally, the longer a school has been in existence, the lower its transfer rate. For instance, the NYC Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries had the highest transfer rate — 26 percent — in 2008-2009, but it had only been open for one year. Achievement First Endeavor and Ross Global Institute had the highest rates in 2007-2008, 23 percent and 24 percent respectively. By 2008-2009, these numbers decreased to 15 percent at each school — numbers that are still higher than average. Some schools, such as Achievement First Crown Heights, Achievement First East New York, Community Partnership Charter School, KIPP Academy, and the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts, reported no transfers during both the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years.
To look at the transfer rates at individual charter schools, you can scroll down the list below.
This is the first post in a series that looks at data from charter schools' Basic Education Data System (BEDS) reports. This data was provided to us by the New York State Education Department via a Freedom of Information Law request. A full spreadsheet with the data we used is available here.
One of the largest issues in the charter school debates has been accusations that charters "counsel out" students who have learning disabilities or who do not adhere to the schools' strict codes of conduct. While we haven't found comprehensive statistics that track individual students enrolled in charter schools from year to year, the BEDS reports include a "student stability" number that is relevant to this issue.
Student stability counts the number of students who are currently enrolled in the highest grade that the charter serves who were also enrolled in the school last year. For instance, if a charter school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the student stability number would look at the number of current eighth-graders who were also seventh-graders last year.
We found that, on average, charter schools retain 84% of their students, compared to 93 percent for traditional public schools citywide. (The stability rate for traditional public schools varies from district to district, with a 91 percent stability rate in District 5, for instance.) This percentage has remained constant for the past three years but the percentage at individual schools varies widely. Some schools, such as the Beginning with Children Charter School and the Harbor Sciences and Arts Charter School, experience almost no attrition. Others, such as Harlem Day Charter School and the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy, consistently lose more than one third of their class. And for many charter schools whose highest grade was ninth, the attrition was noticeably high, probably because many of their eighth-graders chose to go to other, perhaps more well-known, high schools.
To better visualize the data, we have created a map that shows all of the charter schools that had applicable data.
Mid-April marks the beginning of the charter school lottery season, and with it, news reports of staggering numbers of applications to schools with limited slots. Already, the Post reported that 3,800 students applied for 588 spots in the Achievement First charter schools. In order to review the results for past lotteries, I submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the State Education department, who provided us with the Basic Education Data System (BEDS) data that all charters file with the state. I found that applications to charter schools have increased by 50% since 2007, with over 50,000 applications submitted last year. By comparison, enrollment in charters has only increased by 40% to just shy of 40,000 students last year. The chances of getting admitted to a charter school in New York City have declined from an average acceptance rate of 36% in 2008-2009 to a rate of 28% in 2009-2010. A full spreadsheet of the admissions data, with statistics for individual schools, is available here.
A recent report by the Independent Budget Office found that New York City charter schools that don't use public space receive around $3,000 less per pupil than traditional public schools. This post reviews how much charter schools actually spend on their space.
We created a database using financial information from the 2008-2009 annual financial audits and school siting statistics from the 2008-2009 Blue Book report produced by the School Construction Authority to catalog school space. We found that the 26 schools not housed in Department of Education-provided space spent around $2,100 per pupil on occupancy costs, which includes rent, utilities, safety, and maintenance. You can see the full spreadsheet here. This database lists every charter school and whether or not it is in DOE space. As an added feature, for those in DOE space, it lists the schools with which they share space and their respective progress report scores.
This $2,100 number only tells part of the story. According to a source who helps charter schools find private space, the market average for a charter school to lease space is between $2,400 and $3,500 per pupil. If the rental costs are less than $2,000 per pupil, this probably indicates that the school negotiated a great rental deal, bought the building a long time ago and paid off most of the mortgage, or has some sort of philanthropic money subsidizing part of the cost. This is certainly the case for many of the schools in our spreadsheet, such as the Carl C. Icahn Charter School or Bronx Preparatory Academy — both schools that have some sort of philanthropic entity helping them with their rental and/or purchase needs.
A Queens charter school that pays for pension costs directly out of its budget is cutting programs to afford pensions.
Stacey Gauthier at the Renaissance Charter School is worrying a lot these days — about money. This year she's had to increase class sizes, cut the summer school program, and forgo hiring experienced teachers when an older teacher retires. Yet she still hasn't cut enough to be able to afford the school's rising pension costs, which have grown from $12,000 per teacher in 2004 to $21,000 per teacher this year.
Pension costs for city teachers have been rising steadily over the past decade, but for the most part the expenses have been hidden from individual schools, which rely on the city to cover all pension costs. Yet for a small number of charters schools like Renaissance that participate in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) out of their own budgets, the ballooning price of a comfortable retirement has been acutely felt.
"We have another year to live," Gauthier said. "We're dipping into our savings now, which is okay, but if things don't rebound, we won't be financially viable."
In Albany this week, UFT President Michael Mulgrew floated a plan to save the city money by letting teachers retire earlier. But a new report on the health of the city's teachers pension fund suggests that Mulgrew's proposal would only compound the fund's potentially crippling budget crunch.
The fund's annual report, released last week, shows that it lost 29 percent of its value, more than $9 billion, last school year, even as the portion the city is required to pay reached unprecedented heights.
The mix of rising costs and declining value raises serious questions about how the city will be able to afford to pay the pensions it has promised in the future without major concessions by the teachers union.
The fund, called the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), is a collection of investments paid for with a combination of taxpayer dollars and teacher salaries. Every year a chunk of it is used to pay retired teachers and principals the pensions state law says they are owed.
Last year's financial crisis sunk the fund to its lowest level in more than 15 years, effectively erasing all of the gains made in the past decade's bull market, according to a database of TRS's financial reports. Over that time span, the fund's value, adjusted for inflation, has shrunk by more than $11 billion.
This leaves a $15 billion gap between what the fund expects to pay out in the next 30 or so years and what it will have saved by that time, according to the TRS's preferred accounting method. Another way of calculating these "unfunded liabilities" used in the private sector puts the number even higher, at $27 billion.
"It's not a crisis. It's a long-run big problem: The pension system is far more costly than it ought to be," said Charles Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent group that advocates for changes in city and state finances.
Like we did last year, Ken Hirsh and I used the 2008-2009 financial audits to calculate charter school expenses per pupil for the 77 charter schools operating during the year. This provides a sense of how much charter schools are spending, using funds from philanthropy and other sources, above the $12,432 per pupil provided by the city Department of Education. We've found this number is often elusive or non-existent, so we've tried to rectify that situation here.
Our main findings were that while total charter school expenses increased over the past year by 8 percent per pupil, the average amount spent by each charter school above the base level provided by the DOE was 13 percent less than in 2007-08. This could be partly be due to the decline in per pupil philanthropy, a trend we detailed in an earlier post, but we can't be sure. The workbook with all our calculations is available here.
The total expenses for the 77 schools were $342,825,475 compared to $236,230,149 in 2007-2008 — a 45% increase, largely reflecting the significant increase in the number of charter school students. The per-pupil expenses for 2008-2009 were $14,456 — $1,095, or 8 percent more, than in 2007-2008. For the 2008-09 school year, the “base funding” per pupil, i.e. the fixed amount per pupil received from the DOE regardless of demographics, was $12,432. So spending on the average student was $2,024 above the base amount. This is $314 less than the $2,338 spent above the base in 2007-2008. Thus, while the base funding amount increased by 13 percent, from $11,023 to $12,432, the amount charter schools spent above these numbers was actually 13 percent less in 2008-09.
In a post last spring, Ken reviewed some philanthropy statistics for New York City charter schools. This post reviews the updated statistics based on the 2008-2009 audited financial statements for 77 charter schools and adds a new comparison: the difference in philanthropy for charters schools that have non-profit Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) versus those who don't. In this analysis, we found that schools with CMOs take in at least $1,734 per pupil in philanthropic dollars, versus $994 per pupil in non-CMO schools — a $740 difference. We've summarized the rest of our results below, but you can see all of our calculations in this workbook.
The total amount of philanthropic contributions to the 77 schools was $31,302,550. The total enrollment was 23,715. (Enrollment information was taken from the 2008-2009 Learning Environment Survey data, which seems to have the most comprehensive information.) This comes out to a per pupil contribution of $1,320 — a 9 percent drop from the 2007-2008 audits, which showed a per pupil contribution of $1,443.
At the school level, the numbers were basically unchanged from last year. The average school philanthropy per pupil was $1,651 in 2007-2008 compared to $1,654 and the median school philanthropy per pupil was $1,092 compared to $1,081.
Kim Gittleson is a research assistant working with Ken Hirsh, a GothamSchools community writer and financial contributor.
The IRS recently posted the Form 990 filings for the 2007-2008 school year. This form is the required federal filing for tax-exempt organizations, which include charter schools, and contains data about fundraising, spending, and leadership compensation.
Since Form 990 filings are often difficult to find, I have compiled a database of the forms for 64 out of the 80 charter schools that were open in 2008. Of the 16 schools without Form 990s on record, fourteen are schools that opened in the fall of 2008 (and thus didn't have a 2007-2008 report). One school, East New York Preparatory Charter School, was open during the 2007-2008 school year but had no form available as of this writing. You can view a spreadsheet of the schools, their grades, the years in which they opened, and whether or not they filed a Form 990 here. The full database of all of the Form 990s is located here.
Because these filings are often lengthy and complicated, I have attempted to analyze some of the information.