scrambling to the deadline

Race to the Race to the Top: Live-blogging Albany's debate

With just hours before the state’s Race to the Top application is due in Washington, legislators in Albany are scrambling to deal with the cap on charter schools, considered a make-or-break component of the application. Anna will be sending updates from Albany today.

6 p.m. Now the city stakeholders are weighing in. Here’s the response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in recent days launched a strong public relations offensive against Sampson and Silver’s bill:

“Sadly, some 36,000 New York City students on waiting lists for charter schools – and thousands more who need and deserve better educational choices – were told today to wait longer, because help is not on the way. The Governor proposed a bill that would create options for those children and help the State win $700 million in federal money. It was the only bill that had the support of a majority of Senators, yet the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly defeated it without even a vote – on the same day the Governor’s budget presented a $1 billion cut to school aid statewide. While others played Russian roulette with our children’s futures, great credit is due to Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, the members of his conference, and Democratic Senator Craig Johnson – the sponsor of the Governor’s bill – who fought to make New York’s Race to the Top application as strong as possible. And while I rarely hesitate to speak my mind when I disagree with someone, I also try to give credit where it is due and want to thank Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. for his help on this important issue. Our children and their parents are owed a second chance from the Legislature. They deserve nothing less.”

And here’s the response from city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew. The UFT issued a report earlier this month on how charter schools serve the city’s neediest students, and many of its recommendations were echoed in the legislature’s bill.

“New York State had a chance to address the glaring inequities in charter school admissions, to increase the transparency of charter operations and to force profiteers out of the charter business,” Mulgrew said. “But charter advocates and their allies resisted these desperately needed reforms, to the point where the Legislature was unable to act.”

5:45 p.m. Senate Republicans are signaling they will use the legislature’s failure to act today as a weapon against Democrats who run for re-election.

“I am extremely disappointed that the Governor’s legislation to enhance New York’s opportunity to secure federal education funds was not brought up for a vote in the Senate,” Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said in a statement. “I’m confident it would have passed and strengthened the state’s application for the Race to the Top program.”

“Once again, when an important deadline was upon us and action was needed on an important issue, the Democrats in both houses were unable to act,” he said.

5:30 p.m. A side not heard much today from those who did not want to see the charter cap lifted at all. In that camp is Senator Bill Perkins, who says he’s concerned about “the charter wars” and the high concentration of charters in his Harlem district. Perkins said he didn’t believe lifting the cap was a prerequisite for a New York Race to the Top win.

5:00 p.m. Senators from both sides of the charter school divide are looking for a bright side in today’s debacle.

“In my opinion, nothing being done is better than a bad bill getting done,” Senator Craig Johnson said, echoing James Merriman. “The Silver bill would have been bad for education reform.”

Asked if not voting had hurt the state’s chances more than voting for the Silver bill, Johnson said, “the Silver bill would have hurt us even more. The governor’s bill would have been perfect.” (Johnson introduced the governor’s bill to the Senate last night.)

Like Johnson, Sampson said that “imprudent legislation” would have put the state at a competitive disadvantage in the federal competition. But he disagreed about which bill was imprudent — he favored the one he sponsored.

“The bill I sponsored with Assembly Speaker Silver would have maximized our eligibility for federal funds, while bringing greater transparency, accountability, and parental input to the charter school process,” Sampson said in a statement.

“We are working towards a bipartisan, bicameral solution today,” Sampson said. “We support the State Education Department’s application as it stands, and hope our federal officials can help us secure Phase One financing. If not, we will reapply for Phase Two, and try once again later this year to bridge the partisan divide to get New York’s school children the funding they need, and property taxpayers the relief they deserve.”

4:20 p.m. Today could have gone worse for charter school advocates, according to a statement just released by James Merriman, head of the NYC Charter School Center.

“While state lawmakers could not a pass a good reform bill today, we can be thankful they did not pass a disastrous one,” Merriman said. “Charter schools should commend Senate Republicans and Democratic Senators Craig Johnson and Ruben Diaz, who stood up for public charter schools and stopped a bill that would have severely damaged the charter schools movement.”

4:00 p.m. Anna reports that the Senate is still in conference. Senators are preparing to end their session, a Senate source told Elizabeth Benjamin.

“There were people saying raise the cap and people saying don’t raise the cap, or do it with restrictions. We have to balance all these things out and we couldn’t achieve that in our conference,” a Senate official told Anna. The official said the Senate did not want the governor’s bill to come to the floor because the Assembly would not pass it.

Asked whether the Silver/Sampson bill was meant as a political hit on New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the official said: “this was not an anti-Klein bill.”

3:40 p.m. And the Assembly has adjourned for the day, without taking action on either of the charter cap bills. It’s over, education committee chair Cathy Nolan confirms. Anna reports that no one is quite sure whether the Senate is still conferencing.

3:10 p.m. Anna reports that a rumor is spreading among legislators that the U.S. Department of Education extended the deadline. A USDOE spokesman, Justin Hamilton, said no, it’s not true.

3:00 p.m. The Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group that fights for equitable funding for schools across the state, just sent out a statement criticizing charter school advocates for blocking the Sampson/Silver bill.

“The charter cap bill has stalled because apparently it is more important to the charter school industry to keep accountability, transparency, and meaningful parent and community input out of charter schools than it is to have New York State compete effectively for $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding,” the statement reads.

2:55 p.m. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told me today that if the legislature fails to vote to raise the charter cap today, it would be a “serious black mark” on the state’s Race to the Top application. Her view contrasts with that of the city and charter school advocates, who argue that passing the Sampson/Silver bill would be worse than doing nothing at all.

When I spoke to her this morning, Tisch expressed optimism that legislators would raise the cap today. Otherwise, she said, they will have to answer to voters about a missed opportunity in a dismal budget year.

She also played up other elements of the state’s application, which include, among other things, significant changes to the way teachers are trained and certified.

“I think [NYSED has] articulated a bold strong application and when people in this state understand how good it is…they will be infuriated that this opportunity is slipping through their hands,” she said.

2:15 p.m. The New York Post says parents are angry about the Sampson/Silver bill, but Anna reports that there are no charter school parents or students present at the debate today. Charter advocates said they thought about bringing people, as they have to other hearings, but they already have a lobby day scheduled for February 2nd and there wasn’t time to rally the forces. As it stands, Anna reports, there’s no face to this issue in the building — either in favor of charter schools or opposed.

1:50 p.m. John Sampson is asking Sheldon Silver not to pass the bill in the Assembly unless there are enough votes for it to pass in the Senate, reports Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News.

1:45 p.m. I just checked in with Tom Dunn, NYSED’s spokesman, how the application was getting to Washington, D.C., where it is due in hard copy at 4:30. “We are completing the application and will deliver it,” he said. But no word yet on how it’s getting there.

1:35 p.m. Senate Republicans, who have also come out in support of the governor’s bill, apparently are planning to introduce an amendment from the Senate floor to substitute Paterson’s bill for Sampson and Silver’s. (Last night, the Republicans tried to bring Paterson’s bill to a vote and were ignored by Senate Democratic leaders.) Now it seems that Senate Democrats are looking for a way to avoid bringing the bill to the floor, rather than be embarrassed if a hostile amendment passes, Anna reports.

1:20 p.m. Walking into the room, Senate President Malcolm Smith was asked if he thought the Senate would bring the bill to a vote today, Anna reports. “I don’t know, I don’t think so,” he said.

1:10 p.m.: The fate of the charter cap fight appears to be resting with the State Senate.

The bill to raise the cap to 400, proposed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Majority Conference Leader John Sampson, faces much greater opposition in the Senate than it does in the Assembly. The Assembly appears likely to pass the bill this afternoon.

The key players are Senators Craig Johnson and Ruben Diaz, Sr, Anna reports. Both support the compromise bill that Governor Paterson introduced yesterday, which would lift the cap to 460 and ditch many of the provisions in Silver’s bill that charter advocates oppose. Johnson introduced the governor’s bill on the Senate floor, and Diaz issued a statement today calling on Sampson and Senate President Malcolm Smith to bring the governor’s bill to a vote.

A vote on the governor’s bill looks unlikely, though, so Johnson has just told charter advocates that he or Diaz may introduce a hostile amendment to the Silver/Sampson bill. The two senators are currently huddling with charter school advocates and Micah Lasher, the city Department of Education’s director of external affairs.

Charter school advocates are arguing that as far as the state’s Race to the Top application is concerned, no bill is preferable to the Silver/Sampson bill because the restrictions the bill places on charters would inhibit charter growth and cause the application to lose points. Silver has said he does not think the restrictions would harm the state’s application.

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”