Making the grade

For first time in years, high schools net more A's and fewer F's

For the first time in years, more New York City high schools are making the grade, at least according to one of the Department of Education’s assessments.

After four years during which the city doled out fewer and fewer top letter grades to high schools on annual progress reports, the department announced today that more high schools received A’s and B’s — and fewer had received failing grades.

In 2008, the percentage of high schools that received top letter grades topped out at 83 percent. In subsequent years, as the city sought to close many of its large comprehensive high schools and replace them with smaller ones, that rate has fallen — to 75 percent in 2009, 70 percent in 2010, and 65 percent in 2011.

This year, the rate of top-graded schools bounced back up to 72 percent. The proportion of schools that received failing grades fell from 12 percent to 7 percent.

The reversal comes at a time when city and state officials have said that high schools are, by and large, not preparing students for college. In fact, the city even added new data points to the progress reports designed to reward schools that produce college-ready graduates, and penalize those that do not.

The boost in high schools’ city grades also comes at a time when more middle and elementary schools got grades so low that they face closure.

Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or worse can be closed, according to the city’s rules. Earlier this year, the city announced that 217 elementary and middle schools fell into that category, an 80 percent increase over last year. The city is targeting 36 of those schools for possible closure, nearly twice as many as it did in 2011.

Mayor Bloomberg has said that closing failing middle schools and replacing them with new schools would be a major initiative of the last year of his mayoral term.

But the number of high schools that the department might target for closure this years decreased. Sixty high schools met the closure standards, and the department is considering closing 24 of them.

Progress reports have been released annually since 2007 as a way to measure how schools are performing. The city also uses the reports to justify decisions about school closures. The reports factor in more than two dozen data points, including graduation rates, scores on state Regents exams, course completion, attendance, and results from surveys of parents, students, and teachers.

Principals and education officials said the reason so many high schools got top scores for the first time in years was the city’s heightened emphasis on preparing students for college. New college-readiness metrics accounted for 10 percent of each school’s overall score.

“Our high schools are rising to the challenge of more rigorous standards and diploma requirements,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said in a statement.

“It really highlighted some of our deficiencies,” Darryl White, principal of Bronx Collegiate Academy, said of the new metrics. Two percent of White’s students from the Class of 2011 were labeled “college ready,” according to the city’s standards, and the school received a B last year. So this fall,White said he introduced Advanced Placement courses to the school for the first time. This year Bronx Collegiate received an A.

“What I do appreciate is that it informs your of what your focus should be in the next year,” White said about the city’s strategy for grading schools.

In a press release, the department touted this year’s results as “generally stable.” Ninety-five percent of schools either maintained the same grade or changed by one grade from 2011.

Still, some schools saw a more precipitous decline.

Three schools fell from a C to a F, including Choir Academy of Harlem. Earlier this year, the Choir Academy’s middle school also tumbled significantly — from a B to a F. The school had been under investigation for cheating fraud and its former principal was abruptly fired in the middle of the last school year. The two other schools that saw similar declines were Bronx Regional High School and the Academy for Social Action.

Two high schools improved by three letter grades, from an F to a B: Gotham Professional Arts Academy and EBC High School for Public Service in Bushwick.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.