special circumstances

Citing NCLB changes, transfer school seeks overhaul exemption

A transfer school that the city is planning to close is desperately trying to escape an accountability dragnet planted by No Child Left Behind.

Its plight could reshape how other transfer schools are assessed under a new accountability system the state is working to devise.

Bushwick Community High School is one of 33 schools that Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants to shut down and reopen after replacing half of the teachers. It landed on the list after its low graduation rate triggered penalties under city, state, and federal accountability systems.

BCHS teachers say the school is being penalized because it enrolls only students who have been unsuccessful in other high schools, making it unlikely for them to graduate on time. This week, the staff submitted a letter to Bloomberg arguing that he should remove BCHS from the list schools that the city is planning to “turn around.”

“BCHS’s placement on the PLA list is the illogical conclusion of a crude, one-size-fits all accountability system,” they wrote. “As a transfer school, BCHS is designed to be part of the solution for struggling students in the city, but the current accountability metrics punish us for working with our students while allowing the source of their failures to go undetected.”

It’s a position that state officials support and are even trying to turn into policy.

State education officials have visited the school often in recent months at the behest of Regent Kathleen Cashin, who believes the school was unfairly placed on the list.

“We must change the metrics to allow these schools to stay open,” said Cashin, who was accompanied by Chancellor Merryl Tisch on two of her visits to the school last last year. Ira Schwartz, the state education official in charge of devising a new accountability system for the state, has also met with teachers and administrators at the school.

Schwartz is leading efforts to craft New York’s application for a waiver from the draconian proficiency requirements of the Bush-era law No Child Left Behind. The state’s application, which will be finalized and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education next month, is set to include new language that will allow the state to have greater flexibility to assess transfer schools.

The schools have long been lumped in with traditional high schools for accountability purposes, even though their students are very different. Students who enter transfer schools have already struggled in other high schools, and many have been incarcerated, homeless, or parented children.

“These transfer schools provide an enormous opportunity for these students to turn themselves around,” said Tisch.

The new language would remove consequences from transfer schools if their graduation rates fall short — an inevitability when students enroll years into their high school careers, already far behind where they should be.

Tisch said she supports the special language in the NCLB waiver being considered for transfer schools. But she declined to comment on whether BCHS should be removed from the state and city accountability programs.

The school opened in 2004 with a mission of serving students no other high schools would enroll. Unlike most transfer schools, which require students to have earned some credits in other high schools, BCHS enrolls any student 17 or older who walks through the doors.

“This sets us apart from most other transfer schools,” said Aaron Boyle, a teacher at the school. “Our mission has always been to be open for all students to pursue their high school diploma.”

But it quickly earned a reputation for having one of the city’s lowest graduation rates and landed on the state’s list of schools facing consequences because of their performance. Last year, just 25 percent of students graduated in 6 years, the second lowest rate in the city. Among students who entered the school with fewer than 22 credits, the school ranked dead last.

Federal regulations allowed the state to evaluate transfer schools on a case-by-case basis when compiling their list of “persistently low-achieving” schools, an Obama administration designation that is based on NCLB’s rankings of schools.

No transfer schools landed on the state’s first list of “persistently low-achieving” schools, compiled in January 2010. But when an updated list came out in December 2010, two transfer schools were on it. One was BCHS.

For the last year and a half, the consequences of being on the list were palpable but not disruptive, teachers said. As a “restart” school, BCHS was partnered with a nonprofit group that took over some management duties. The nonprofit, New Visions, was leading efforts to pilot new teacher evaluations and helping teachers scrutinize student work.

Meanwhile, teachers at the school were helping state officials craft the language about transfer schools for the NCLB waiver and growing optimistic that the state was recognizing the BCHS’s plight.

But when Bloomberg announced that he would abandon the “restart” program in favor of a different plan that would not require him to negotiate new teacher evaluations with the city teachers union, the wind went out of BCHS’s sails.

“The state has already acknowledged that we’re not supposed to be on the PLA list and they’re actively pursuing a way to get us off it,” said David Donsky, a veteran teacher and UFT chapter leader. “The problem is the mayor might shut down our school before we can get reprieved.”

Superintendent Karen Watts will meet with staff  and parents tonight as part of an early engagement process that the city is organizing for each of the 33 schools due for closure under the turnaround model.

The full letter BCHS sent to Bloomberg is below.

An Open Letter to Mayor Bloomberg From the Staff of One of the 33 PLA Schools

January 18, 2012

Dear Mr. Mayor,

One of the 33 PLA schools you are proposing to close with the Turnaround Model is Bushwick Community High School (BCHS).  Taking such a step would recklessly intensify a process which is already being misapplied to our school, and would be a mistake with dire consequences for the young people of NYC who are most at risk.

BCHS is a transfer school, a second-chance high school serving students 17-21 years-old coming from unsuccessful experiences at other high schools in the city.  BCHS is not a “failing school” but one where students achieve significant academic growth.  Moreover, our school succeeds with some of the most challenging students: students who have previously dropped out of high school, students who have failed all their classes for years, students with learning disabilities, students who are parents, students who have been incarcerated, students who are involved with gangs, students without parents or guardians.

If BCHS is a good school, why is it on the PLA list? 

Good question.  The answer is that the PLA list is determined by the traditional measures of a school’s four-year graduation and Regents passing rates.  However, because we are a transfer school, BCHS students come to us for the exact reason that they are off-track from finishing their academic requirements on a four-year timeframe.  Most of our students begin at BCHS at age 17 or 18 with fewer than 15 credits.  It is mathematically impossible for our students to graduate “on time,” due to the lack of success they had at their previous schools.  Yet, we are the ones being held accountable under the current system.

Do you have any evidence to support the claim that BCHS is successful? 

Yes.  Students routinely demonstrate improved outcomes over their prior school experience with us, and on the transfer school-specific Alternative Cohort, our school made AYP for Regents exam performance in the 2010/11 school year.  Additionally, our school’s NYC Progress Report highlights much of our success.  Compared to the other transfer schools BCHS is given a 95% for improving student attendance, a 90% for our English Regents pass rate, and a100% for our Math Regents pass rate.  This means BCHS is performing at the top of our peer group of schools in these vital areas.  These factors contribute to our grade of “B” for “Student Progress.”

In addition, the city’s most recent Quality Review of the school characterized BCHS as “proficient overall” with many “well-developed” areas.  Here’s a quote from the city’s last quality review:  [BCHS] embraces some of the city’s most over-aged and under-credited students reflecting their philosophy that all students deserve a second chance. To this end, all stakeholders are highly effective in collectively supporting the specific needs of each individual student in a safe, secure environment that students love to come to.

BCHS’s placement on the PLA list is the illogical conclusion of a crude, one-size-fits all accountability system.  As a transfer school, BCHS is designed to be part of the solution for struggling students in the city, but the current accountability metrics punish us for working with our students while allowing the source of their failures to go undetected.  This contradiction has been widely recognized and is currently being addressed by New York State.  For BCHS to be gutted in the meantime by political brinksmanship would be a tragic consequence of an accountability process gone awry.

What are the consequences of removing half the staff?

Devastating.  Our school currently has a strong team of talented and highly motivated teachers, but being on the PLA list has already hindered our ability to attract and retain talented teachers.  Last year, because we were on the PLA list, none of the seven teachers who were eligible for tenure were approved by the superintendent, despite being recommended for tenure by our principal.  As a result, many left.  Replacing them wasn’t easy.  One replacement, a first-year teacher, had to leave the school in December.  We are still searching for a suitable replacement.  If we can’t replace one teacher, how will we replace half the staff?  Where would these replacements come from?  Ironically, we would be forced to recruit from the 1500 teachers laid off by the closing of the other 32 schools.  Is this disruptive game of musical chairs really your solution?

You have been an advocate for improving the teacher evaluation system.  We acknowledge the shortcomings of the previous system and would welcome a new system that accurately assesses our abilities and gives us useful feedback.  However, a process with the pre-determined conclusion of 50% of teachers being pushed out is hardly a fair or effective effort along those lines.  It is a cynical blame game that will remove many good teachers, extinguish collaborative efforts and relationships among the faculty, fill the school with a bunch of new teachers, and demoralize those who remain.  How is that a winning scenario for our students?

We acknowledge the NYC school system faces enormous challenges, but sacrificing teachers as simple scapegoats is not a solution.  The path you are pushing our schools down will only result in more children left behind.  Let’s end the political games and work together on collaborative, comprehensive strategies that can truly improve the complex issues of our school system.


The Staff of Bushwick Community High School

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

These are the 13 education bills poised to become law in Indiana in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma talks with Democrats shortly before the session adjourned without passing several bills.

Despite a chaotic end to this year’s legislative session, lawmakers managed to push through several education bills that could bring changes for teachers, students and schools.

And it’s not quite over either.

Lawmakers ran out of time before their midnight deadline last week, leaving behind several major bills, including a bill that would expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie school districts. On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he’d be calling for a special session so they could revisit that issue and others.

In non-budget year, it can be hard to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. This year, the biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to Holcomb, where he can decide whether to sign them into law. You can find the status of all the bills introduced this year here, and Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

Graduation and workforce

Senate Bill 50 establishes the governor’s workforce cabinet, which would oversee job training efforts across the state. The cabinet would create a “career navigation and coaching system,” which all Indiana high schools would be required to participate in. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be a cabinet member.

House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. It makes several changes to state tests, replacing the state high school exam with a national college-entrance exam and eliminating the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. The final version of the bill also changes the timing of testing from earlier version. Students wouldn’t begin the new graduation pathways plan until 2021, so the same deadline was applied to switching to a college entrance exam for state accountability. Until then, state education officials will have to decide what annual test high schoolers take when students in grades 3-8 switch to the new ILEARN test next year.


House Bill 1001 would close the gap in school funding that resulted from miscalculations in the number of students attending public schools. The bills would let the state transfer up to $25 million this year and up to $75 million next year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts. The bill also calls for a study of virtual education programs within school districts.


Senate Bill 172 would require public schools to offer computer science classes as an elective in high schools, as well as a part of the science curriculum for all K-12 students, by 2021. The bill also sets up a grant program to help pay for teacher training in computer science.

Senate Bill 297 would require schools to include “employability skills,” also known as “soft skills,” in their curriculums. The idea for the bill came from David Freitas, a member of the state board of education.

Senate Bill 65 would require school districts to let parents examine any instructional materials dealing with sex education. It would also require schools to send out consent forms for sex ed classes, where parents could then opt students out of the class. If they do not, the students would still receive instruction.

House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science. It would also require the state education department to create an incentive program to reward teachers who earn the content area licenses.

Senate Bill 387 would allow districts to pay teachers different amounts and give special education and science teachers extra stipends in an effort to fill jobs. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers has been added and removed several times this year, and was killed for good in conference committee. The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit. Career specialists would have to pass an exam showing they understand how students learn and the practice of teaching, in addition to content exams. The bill also removes a provision from the current version of the permit that says a career specialist must have a bachelor’s degree in the area they wish to teach in.


House Bill 1420, among several other measures, would not let a student who has been expelled from a virtual charter school for non-attendance re-enroll in that same school during the same school year.

House Bill 1421 would ask the state education department to develop a school discipline model that reduces suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color. It also requires the department to provide guidance and information to districts, beginning in 2019, that want to use that model. It encourages the legislative council to study positive student discipline and restorative justice and asks the education department to survey districts on those practices.

House Bill 1398 would allow a group of charter schools and districts to form a “coalition” to pursue innovative academic strategies. Coalition members could also waive certain state requirements, such as the requirement that students pass Algebra 2 to graduate.

Senate Bill 217 would require districts and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia and by 2019, to employ at least one reading specialist trained in dyslexia, among other provisions.

House Bill 1314 would set up data sharing between the state’s education and child services departments. It would also require that the Indiana State Board of Education release an annual report about foster and homeless youth education.

'A Significant Change'

Done doing ‘more with less,’ Brighton district will move to a four-day school week

PHOTO: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post
Students in Alicia Marquez's 6th grade science class at Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton watch a video and work on home work in August 2017. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Students in the Brighton school district will attend school just four days a week starting next school year.

Officials with the fast-growing district north of Denver announced they were considering the change earlier this year after voters turned down a request in November for more local taxes, the latest in a string of defeats for District 27J. This week, they made it official.

There are already 87 school districts in Colorado that use a four-day week at all their schools, but until recently, the phenomenon was largely limited to rural districts. Brighton will be the largest school district in the state on a four-day week

In response to the concerns of working parents, the district will offer paid child care for elementary-aged children every Monday, when school is closed, officials said. Teachers will work some Mondays on planning and professional development.

The change is expected to save the district about $1 million a year, but Brighton Superintendent Chris Fiedler previously told Chalkbeat that the biggest benefit will be “to attract and retain teachers” in a district whose salaries are among the lowest in the metro area.

“I realize this will be a significant change for our students, their families, and the communities we are so fortunate to serve, but our district can no longer be expected to do more with less financial resources,” Fiedler said in a press release.

A mill levy override, a type of property tax increase, hasn’t been approved in District 27J since 2000. A 16th request for more revenue failed in November.

“We are 100 percent committed to providing our students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation,” Fiedler said. “To that end, I believe it is in our students’ best interest to provide high-quality, engaged teachers using 21st Century tools for learning four days a week rather than not have them five days a week.”

Local union president Kathey Ruybal told Chalkbeat that teachers showed “overwhelming support” for the change.