After criticism, city publishes Renewal goals, arguing they top state targets

The city published its improvement goals for 94 struggling schools in its “Renewal” program Monday after facing a wave of criticism over a lack of transparency around the nearly $400 million program.

The city education department also released a detailed summary of those goals in response to charges that it had set a low bar for some of the troubled schools. Last week, a top state official accused the city of permitting “failure” after Chalkbeat reported that the schools had been given three years to meet one-year targets — which a few schools already hit this spring.

Newspaper editorial boards and a charter school advocacy group critical of Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly piled on. The New York Daily News called the goals “bureaucratic baby steps,” while the advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, called for the city comptroller to audit the Renewal program.

With Monday’s data release, the city fought back against those criticisms. The figures showed that the average Renewal high school must raise its four-year graduation rate by 17 points in three years — a major increase for low-performing schools that enroll a disproportionate share of high-needs students.

City officials also continued to make the case that the goals they set for the struggling schools are actually tougher than ones the schools must meet to avoid state takeover.

“The concrete targets we’ve set exceed those set by the state for its receivership program,” city education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement. For some of the schools, the city is demanding academic gains 10 times higher than the state is, she added.

Of the 94 Renewal schools, 50 are also in the “receivership” program. By Monday, the city had created a new section on each school’s website that links to its goals for both programs.

Before, as Chalkbeat reported last week, parents and other members of the public had to search through the schools’ lengthy improvement plans to find the goals — and even then, some of the targets were not listed.

The education department also released new data Monday about the size of the Renewal schools’ goals.

The 30 Renewal high schools had an average four-year graduation rate of 47 percent in 2014, which they must boost to an average of 64 percent by 2017. (That was the citywide average graduation rate in 2014.) The lowest graduation rate goal for any Renewals school is 57 percent, according to officials.

The targets for elementary and middle schools appeared somewhat less demanding. For the 54 schools tasked with raising students’ scores on the state English exams, they must move students from an average of a level 2.08 to 2.20 in three years. (A level three or four is considered passing.) The 49 schools with math-exam goals must boost students’ average level from a 2.03 to 2.20.

In a shift, an education department spokeswoman also said that the city would “strengthen” the targets for any schools that meet their 2017 goals early.

After state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch criticized the city’s Renewal program goals on Thursday, the city education department said its targets were more rigorous than those required of schools in the state’s own receivership program.

The data released Monday appeared to confirm that.

The 18 New York City high schools in the receivership program had an average four-year graduation rate of 44 percent in 2014, according to the city’s figures. To avoid takeover under the receivership program, they must boost that by an average of just three points by 2017.

For example, Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx must increase its four-year graduation rate from 42 to 45 percent by 2017 to avert receivership. But under the Renewal program, it is expected to raise its rate far higher — to 57 percent.

Meanwhile, elementary and middle schools in the receivership program need only boost their average state exam scores by three-hundredths of a level, according to the figures released by the city.

By design, the state program is more an accountability tool than a school-improvement system. While it is meant to prod districts to take immediate steps to revamp 144 of the lowest-ranked schools in the state, it only comes with $75 million to help fund those improvements — compared to the nearly $400 million for the 94 Renewal schools.

In an interview Friday, Assistant State Education Commissioner Ira Schwartz called the goals for the receivership program “pretty modest.” But he also said the state had required the city to raise some of its Renewal goals if it wanted to also use them as receivership targets.

For instance, he said the city originally submitted goals that would have receivership schools improve students’ average test score-levels by 0.06 points over three years. The state demanded that the gains be increased to 0.10 points over that period, Schwartz said.

“NYC has revised a number of its Renewal goals upward so that they would be accepted” for the receivership program, state education department spokesman Tom Dunn said in an email.

Kaye, the city spokeswoman, noted separately that the city had raised its goals for seven schools to match state targets. The city and state used different goal-setting formulas, Kaye said, with the city’s method factoring in the level of student need at each school.