2011-2012 progress report (part 2)

Mixed progress in city's latest plans to open, overhaul schools

Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by Chancellor Walcott and principals, discussed the city's school creation efforts during a press conference in April about the opening of 54 new schools.

If the Bloomberg administration has executed any education policy promises with fidelity, it has been around opening new schools. But its record on the trickier task of improving existing schools has been more mixed.

That trend continued last year, according to our analysis of the city’s progress toward fulfilling the education commitments it made during between September 2011 and August 2012. We found that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott are on track to meet most of their school creation goals, but when it comes to improving ones that already exist, their success is less clear. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.)

The city did better at fulfilling its school creation and improvement goals than it did at keeping its promises about boosting teacher quality, which we examined earlier this week. In the final part of this series, we will look at whether city officials have kept their word about taking new approaches to handling high-need students and engaging parents.

On creating new schools:

  • The city will open 100 new schools before the end of 2013, including 50 charter schools.  (Bloomberg’s State of the City address, January 2012)
    The city is so far on track to hit this goal. Fifty-four new schools are opening this fall, bringing the total number of schools that have opened under the Bloomberg administration to 589. Of the newest crop of schools, 24 are charter schools.
  • Fifty new middle schools will open by 2013, of which 25 will be charter schools. (Walcott’s middle schools speech, September 2011)
    The city also chipped away mightily at this number, and depending on the method of counting might be more than on track to hit the total. This year, 18 of the 54 new schools opened with middle school grades, including seven charter schools. Another eight of the new schools, all charter schools, opened with elementary grades but plan to serve middle school students once they are at full enrollment in several years.
  • The city will help high-performing charter networks grow faster. (State of the City)
    When Bloomberg made this promise, he specifically name-checked Success Academies and KIPP as two networks whose strong performance he would like to see replicated. This year, three new Success Academy charter schools and one new KIPP school opened in the city. All of them had sought to open since long before Bloomberg made the commitment. At least five other local charter schools also replicated this year.
  • The city will bring in charter school operators that run successful schools elsewhere. (State of the City)
    The city has so far struck out here: Except for KIPP, which has long run New York City schools, none of this year’s new charter schools are part of national networks. One operator that Bloomberg specifically mentioned, Rocketship Education, opened two new charter schools in its native California but so far has not opened or even proposed a school for New York. Its CEO has said dozens of districts have recruited the network but he is wary of operating under different regulations in different places.
  • The city will launch at least a dozen new career training programs by 2013. (State of the City)
    Six new career and technical education schools opened this fall, focusing on tourism, health careers, energy and technology, and software engineering. Four of them are district schools, and two are charter schools that plan to add CTE programs in later years.
  • The city will open three new high schools that include the first two years of college.  (State of the City)
    A month after Bloomberg vowed to replicate Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology High School, where students will be able to earn an associate’s degree by staying on for two years after receiving their high school diploma, Chicago announced it would open five schools in the model. Chicago’s replicas opened their doors this month. But New York City has not added any more “9-14” schools.

On improving existing schools:

  • Ten middle schools will undergo “turnaround” using federal funds allocated by the state. (Walcott’s middle schools speech)
    After Walcott’s middle school speech, he and city officials did not utter another peep about this plan. Then, in January, when Bloomberg surprised the city by announcing that dozens of schools would undergo turnaround, a federally prescribed overhaul strategy in which principals and teachers are replaced. Of the 33 schools on Bloomberg’s list, just six were middle schools. None of them, of course, ended up being turned around using the strategy, and the city is not receiving the federal funds.
  • The city will improve 33 struggling schools using “turnaround.” (State of the City, January 2012)
    Bloomberg proposed this plan after he came to odds with the teachers union about teacher evaluations, a required component of less aggressive school improvement strategies. It’s no secret how this plan turned out. After the city moved at a blistering pace to close and reopen the schools with new names and new staffs, an arbitrator ruled that the city’s hiring plans violated its contract with the teachers union. The schools could not undergo turnaround, and the city lost out on another pot of federal funds meant to help them. Now, at least some of the schools seem to have reopened for the year in more chaos than they closed.
  • The city will ask the City Council to redirect funds from 51 low-performing middle schools to other schools that have “shown promise but need continued support to succeed.” (Middle schools speech)
    Details about how the City Council’s middle school funds are being spent have always been murky. But Walcott announced details of the evolution in April, when he provided a status update about his middle school reforms. The new program, the Middle School Quality Initiative, is bringing together 18 struggling middle schools so they can learn from the practices of higher-performing schools.
  • More middle schools will join the Innovation Zone using federal Race to the Top funding. (Middle schools speech)
    This year, about 100 schools joined the Innovation Zone, a set of schools that use technology and other changes to tailor instruction to individual students. Of them, 39 were middle schools, bringing the total number of middle schools in the zone to 70, according to department officials. All schools in the zone get support either throughfederal Race to the Top funds or from private donors.
  • The city will use $15 million in state funds to buy non-fiction books aligned to the Common Core standards. (Middle schools speech)
    In April, Walcott announced that purchasing for the two-year book buy was underway. The books would become available to schools April 26, he said.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”