New York

Behind every last-minute school hunt, a wealth of complications

P.S. 47 / The American Sign Language & English Secondary School Every year before students are packed off to school, hundreds of parents and children pass through the city's dozen registration centers in hopes of finding new schools. Often, they are recent arrivals to the city, looking to enroll their children before the new school year begins. Others are long-time residents trying to shift a child from private to public school or from a school many subway transfers away to one closer to home. In the auditorium of the American Sign Language and English Secondary School — one of the three centers in Manhattan — families waited for hours today as DOE officials examined their documents and searched for open slots. We'll be following their and others' efforts to find an empty seat before September 9. Maxine Shivers was making her second trip to the center  in two days. Shivers, who is in the Army, has deployment orders that will take her overseas within the month, but before she goes she's scrambling to transfer her daughter to a high school closer to where they live. Currently, her daughter is slated to begin ninth grade at the Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts (she wants to be a reporter), but that's a long subway ride from their home in lower Manhattan, and one Shivers doesn't want her daughter making alone. Distance is one of three reasons (along with safety and health) the DOE finds acceptable for requesting a transfer. Tomorrow her daughter has interviews at two high schools. "It's up to her now," Shivers said. If neither of those schools has an open seat, she'll have to return to the registration center and assess what's left.
New York

NYC's Small Schools: Panel Discussion

New York

Randomness is Not a Fluke

"I think there's nothing wrong with anything."  So spoke Chancellor Joel Klein at yesterday's release of the 2009 elementary and middle school progress reports.  As Anna Phillips reported, 84% of the schools received a letter grade of A, and an additional 13% received a B.  Only two schools out of 1,058 received an F, and just five more were awarded a D. The letter grades were driven by the remarkable/suspicious gains in 2009 on the state's ELA and math tests.  Schools weren't actually compared to one another on their performance this year to derive the letter grades.  Rather, they were compared to last year's peer and citywide benchmarks.  To use a football metaphor, because test scores rose across the board, virtually all schools moved up the field, but the goalposts didn't move.  I wasn't sure that the progress report letter grades could actually be less useful this year than last, but Chancellor Klein's administration has achieved that dubious feat.  When 84% of the schools receive an A—the top grade, which everyone understands to signify excellence—what useful information about the school's relative performance is being conveyed to parents, students, educators, and others with a stake in our schools?  Not much, in my view. Last year, my blogging partner Jennifer Jennings (who, for those keeping score at home, is now Dr. J) and I were sharply critical of the 2008 school progress reports.  Writing on Jennifer's eduwonkette site, we demonstrated that student achievement growth over the past year—which makes up 60% of the overall progress report letter grade—was highly unreliable.  Schools that demonstrated high gains in student achievement from 2006 to 2007 were no more likely to show gains from 2007 to 2008 than schools that showed low gains in 2006 to 2007.  We concluded that the measure of student progress making up 60% of the overall progress report grade was picking up chance fluctuations from year to year.  And if 60% of the score is random, there's not much genuine information about school performance in the progress report grade. It wasn't a fluke.