loose ends

Funding for no-longer-turnaround schools still an open question

Rejoice is turning to concern about funding at schools newly spared from an aggressive overhaul process.

The seven schools — all with top grades on the city’s performance metrics — pulled from the Department of Education’s “turnaround” roster on Monday were positioned to receive about $15 million in federal School Improvement Grants next year.

Being taken off the turnaround list means the schools won’t have to replace half of their teachers, lose their names, or get new principals. But it also means that they might not receive the funds: A letter distributed by the Department of Education to students at the schools on Tuesday states, “We regret that this [change] may result in the loss of federal resources for your school.”

The funds could make the difference between continued improvement and backsliding for the schools.

Five of the seven schools had received SIG funds in 2010 and 2011, enabling them to pay for enhancements that their principals said led to quick improvements. At Brooklyn’s School of Global Studies, nearly $1 million received under “transformation” allowed the school to buy new technology and hire expert teachers. William E. Grady Career and Technical High School paid for tutoring, college trips, an extended program, and Saturday school for students who had fallen behind. Both schools scored B’s on their most recent city progress reports after years of low grades.

“If we don’t get the money we wont be able to finish what we started,” Geraldine Maione, Grady’s principal, said this week. “We started out on the premise that we were getting this money for three years because that is what we were told.”

The city has signaled that it would like to see the schools get the extra aid. When he announced the turnaround changes, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the department would “continue to support these schools in their growth.” On Thursday, he said the city was examining its capacity to provide extra funding.

But Walcott did not specify whether the schools would receive the same level of additional funding that they would have received under turnaround. He also did not specify whether the schools would be able to carry out the enhancements, such as restructuring into small learning communities or adding new technical programs, that the city had detailed in public proposals for each school. Department officials have declined to answer those questions this week.

There are three ways the funding question could be resolved.

The city could ask the schools to carry on without any extra funds — but that would risk setting the schools back, exactly the outcome that Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said was undesirable when she spoke out against turnaround at Grady and other schools that had shown improvements.

Plus, the seven schools are still on the state’s list of “persistently low-achieving” schools, so the city must submit new plans showing how it will help them improve. Plans that do not call for extra funding could run into trouble getting approved — particularly after the city briefly argued that the schools desperately need additional funds. If city officials suddenly say they were wrong about the schools’ need, their credibility in requesting turnaround funding for 26 schools still slated for the process could be damaged.

Another option, to try again to seek federal funds for the schools, would require new teacher evaluations to be in place so the schools could be restored to “transformation” and restart, the federal reform processes most of them had already been undergoing. The city’s letter to students at the seven schools suggested that this option is on the table, saying, “However, we are continuing to press for an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers union, to implement a strong teacher evaluation system” that would allow “a different school improvement model.”

In some ways, an agreement seems within reach. After all, the union and city have announced an agreement on a key point of dispute from the failed talks, and union and city officials are scheduled to have their first session next week with a mediator who is charged with jump-starting evaluation talks for the schools that were undergoing transformation and restart.

But the city bristled at being ordered back into talks, and it is hard to imagine the city and union working out and implementing new teacher evaluations in seven schools when they failed reach a deal for 33 schools — giving rise to the impasse that prompted the turnaround plan in the first place.

Finally, the city could simply come up with funds from its own coffers to make up the difference. Funding enhancements at seven schools with top grades would raise issues of equity, and the city has signaled that it has limited tolerance for paying a bill it believes the state should cover with federal funds. When the Panel for Educational Policy last month approved a contract for nonprofit partnerships at 11 schools that were undergoing “restart” this year, department officials said the schools would cease to receive funding if the state does not approve SIG funds for next year.

But there are also signs that the city could shoulder the costs. In its plans for the schools, the Department of Education suggested that it might be able to foot the bill, saying that it would carry out turnaround even if the state did not agree to fund the efforts. And $15 million is a tiny line item for a department with a total budget of more than $20 billion — especially when the city is receiving more school aid from the state this year than it had anticipated.

On Thursday, Walcott said the department was exploring how to meet the seven schools’ funding. “I’ll be talking to the principals and getting more information from them and listening to their feedback and then we’ll be making the determinations,” he said. “What we’re doing is looking at our finances as well and how we could financially support them. We want to make sure we can continue their progress.”

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

Paying for school

Sweeping study proposes major changes to the way schools are funded in Michigan

Michigan needs to change the way it funds education so that schools get more money for students who need extra attention — such as those who live in poverty and those who don’t yet have a strong command of the English language.

That’s the top recommendation from a prominent group of educators, policymakers, and business leaders who have been studying Michigan’s school funding system for much of the past two years.

While many states use a complex formula that gives schools more money if they serve children facing extra challenges, Michigan has long used a system that distributes the same amount of money for virtually all students, regardless of their needs.

The state provides some extra funding for students with disabilities — but not nearly enough, according to a state study last year that found schools across Michigan are getting $700 million less a year than they need to serve those students.

The study released Wednesday recommends a major restructuring so that schools would be fully funded for special education programs and would get extra funds to provide resources to students who need extra help. With that money, schools could offer lower class sizes, add counselors and social workers, and give teachers more support, the report says.

The study was conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates on behalf of the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative.

The collaborative — including top business and education leaders across the state — came together in 2016 after an earlier “school adequacy study” was largely ignored by political leaders.

The earlier study, which was funded by the state legislature, recommended that the state significantly increase the amount of money it sends to schools per student.

The collaborative hopes this new more robust study, which clocks in at more than 300 data-packed pages, will have a greater impact.

Since this study used multiple methods to determine the right funding level for schools, it will be more difficult to ignore, the group hopes.

The study — paid for with $843,000 from major foundations and 18 county school districts — included interviews with hundreds of educators, including district and charters school teachers. Those interviews helped researchers determine how much money schools need to more effectively do their jobs.

The study examined geographic cost differences in different parts of the state, labor cost differences, and other factors and determined that schools need approximately $9,590 each for students who don’t have special needs, including funds that would come from the state and federal governments.

The study recommends that schools get 35 percent more for students living in poverty, between 50 and 70 percent more for students who are learning English, 70 percent more for students with mild disabilities and 115 percent more for students with moderate disabilities.

Among other recommendations in the  report is that charter schools receive the same per-student funding as districts. Currently, the state’s funding system pays some districts more per student than others based largely on historic funding levels as opposed to current needs. Some districts — including most charter schools — are currently getting around $7,600 per child from the state while others get thousands of dollars more

It’s difficult to compare how much funding schools are getting now with the proposed $9,590 per student because schools get a mix state and federal dollars and the $9,590 doesn’t include things like transportation dollars.

The report suggests that the state use a new approach to student transportation in which transportation dollars are distributed differently, taking into account differences between urban and rural school districts.

The report did not put a price tag on the cost of implementing the recommendations and did not spell out how Michigan could come up with the extra money. But members of the collaborative said they hope lawmakers will consider the report as they make policy changes. 

“The issue here is not about whether you live in Farmington or whether you live in Ingham County, it’s about every child ought to have the opportunity to be successful and that ought to be our goal in Michigan,” said Randy Liepa, the Superintendent of Wayne County’s intermediate school district. “I don’t think there will be significant pushback on that.”

The findings were released Wednesday morning, with press conferences planned in Lansing, Grand Rapids, and in the Detroit area.

Read the full report here: