In a first, city plans to end contract with a support organization

For the first time since introducing school support organizations in 2007, the city plans to end its contract with one of them. But unlike when the city closes failing schools, it has refused to publicly release data showing how the network has performed.

(Update 4/20: City officials now say they are planning to publicly release the data next week.)

Replications — one of several non-profit organizations that provide schools instructional and administrative assistance — will not be able to contract with schools next year, a Department of Education official confirmed today. Every year, the DOE ranks how well support organizations and networks are doing based largely on the test scores and graduation rates of the schools they work with. These rankings have been used to close low-performing networks, but this is the first time a support organization has lost its contract because of them. Replications’ founder John Elwell said today that the decision to cut ties with the DOE was a mutual one.

“I was going to ask them to let us out of the contract,” he said.

Elwell said that for two years, DOE officials have been threatening to end the department’s contract with him based on his network’s ranking at the bottom of the list. He said this year 20 other networks placed lower than his in the rankings, but Replications did not do well enough to keep its contract.

DOE officials have refused requests for the rankings, though they have shown them to principals. Former Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern disagreed with the DOE’s decision not to release the rankings showing how Replications’ schools had performed.

“I think the public has a right to know not only how schools perform but also how networks perform,” he said.

Elwell said that while some of Replications’ problems were financial — it was not taking in enough money from contracts to cover its basic costs — he blamed most of the network’s problems on shifting expectations from the city.

“I think it’s a very bad model,” he said. “We’ve become a mini district office with very little capacity. Meanwhile, the accountability is based on the schools improving on the progress report and the quality review, which to be honest, we have almost no control over,” he said.

The model of having a handful of city-approved organizations that contract with schools for instructional help began in 2007. That year, former Chancellor Joel Klein and Deputy Chancellor Nadelstern, who recently retired, shifted the city schools from a system of geographic regions to one of support organizations. The change meant that schools had to contract with one of many groups — either city-approved non-profit organizations or DOE-run ones — for support, rather than being assigned to one of six regional offices.

Last year, the city reorganized how schools get support again. The city’s large service centers, which offered schools assistance with writing their budgets and other back office tasks, were decentralized. Those operational tasks were moved over to the school support organizations, which had primarily been in charge of providing schools with professional development and instructional help. Currently, each support organization oversees a group of networks that are responsible for 20-25 schools.

Initially, Replications had no involvement with either administrative or instructional support. It was a non-profit with the goal of opening good schools by replicating the models of already-successful schools.

“Replications had one idea, which is a good one: if Mott Hall High School works, then let’s do another Mott Hall. And if that works, let’s do a Mott Hall 3,” said Clara Hemphill, senior editor at the New School’s Center for NYC Affairs, who authored a report on school support organizations.

But when the city switched from regions to support organizations, Replications changed, too. It signed up to provide instructional support to the schools it had opened as well as others that chose to a join. A year later, it and other networks were asked to oversee operational support, too.

Nadelstern said he thought highly of Replications’ work opening new schools, but felt the organization had a rough transition to managing them.

“I do think the task of opening an effective school is different from supporting one that’s up and running and that was the transition they had to make,” he said. “To their credit they accepted the challenge.”

Hemphill agreed, but said that Replications’ problems are not unique. Other support organizations are having trouble shifting from providing instructional help to also offering operational assistance, she said.

“The DOE is trying to see if it’s possible to live without district offices and without superintendents and clearly Replications wasn’t able to provide all that stuff,” Hemphill said.

Currently, there are 14 New York City schools that pay Replications a fee for its help. They will have to find new support organizations for next school year.

Elwell said that the end of his contract with the DOE would not spell the end of Replications. The network still has three schools in Baltimore where, Elwell said, he has more authority to change how the schools function by managing a fraction of their budgets and hiring their principals.

Schools in Replications’ Network

Grades 9-12

  • Mott Hall Bronx High School (NYC)
  • New Era Academy (Baltimore)
  • Renaissance Academy (Baltimore)
  • The Henry Street School for International Studies (NYC)
  • High School of World Cultures (NYC)
  • The Brooklyn Latin School (NYC)
  • Frederick Douglass Academy III (NYC)
  • Knowledge, Achievement, Success Academy (KASA) Baltimore Preparatory (Baltimore)
  • Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School (NYC)
  • Grades 6-8

  • The Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy IV (NYC)
  • The Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII (NYC)
  • Frederick Douglass Academy III (NYC)
  • Knowledge, Achievement, Success Academy (KASA) Baltimore Preparatory (Baltimore)
  • Mott Hall Community School (NYC)
  • Mott Hall Science & Technology Academy (NYC)
  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (NYC)
  • Grades K-5

  • P.S. 15 Jackie Robinson (NYC)
  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (NYC)
  • call out

    Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

    PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
    Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

    Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

    For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

    First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

    Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

    Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

    But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

    My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

    “A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

    Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

    “In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

    I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

    “Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

    I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

    “When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

    I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

    “It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

    I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

    “In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

    Weekend Reads

    Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

    This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

    We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

    Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

    Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
    “Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

    Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
    “My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


    Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
    “My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

    Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
    “I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


    Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
    “I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


    Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
    “As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

    D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
    “Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


    Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
    “I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


    Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
    “Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”