An audit by Comptroller John Liu into one of the Department of Education’s school support networks found that it was doing its job — but concluded that the department can’t know just how much networks help schools in them.
Since 2007, the department has required principals to select support networks based on their philosophies and services, rather than grouping schools by geography. The shift means that support organizations, some run by the department and some by external nonprofits, essentially compete with each other for contracts to offer schools help with teacher training and administrative tasks, in a controversial arrangement that could potentially end when the Bloomberg administration does.
Scrutinizing just one of the city’s 55 networks, Children’s First Network 406, Liu’s office found that evidence that it was providing solid support for its schools. Principals in the network said they were satisfied with it, according to the report, released today.
But Liu concluded that the department cannot show how much networks cause schools to thrive or struggle. The report recommends that the department solicit more feedback on network performance and also develop “quantifiable criteria and standards” to isolate the impact of the network on a school’s performance.
In the department’s formal response, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the department’s annual progress reports and regular quality reviews are sufficient to illuminate networks’ performance.
The department has released intermittent reports ranking the networks’ performance, starting in 2009. In 2011, the city canceled one network’s contract because its schools were struggling. Last year, the department shuttered three networks whose principals were asking to leave. One of the dismantled networks, CFN 110, had been run by an official who was living with a principal she oversaw.
The department also opened two new networks last year, each managed by external nonprofit organizations. One is run by Teaching Matters and the other is run by Diploma Plus, a group that specializes in running transfer schools for students who have falled behind.
Whether to preserve the network structure is a big decision facing Mayor Bloomberg’s successor, which Liu hopes to be. When the other leading Democratic candidates debated the structure during a forum in January, they were divided about its future.
“I am dubious about whether this current network structure can be kept,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “The way it is structured right now just through the networks doesn’t make sense,” Bill Thompson said.
But City Council Speaker Quinn said she thought the network structure could survive into the next mayoral administration.
“Some people really love the networks they’re in,” she said. “So I wouldn’t want to eliminate that for principals and schools that are finding a good match in the network, but I would want to explore ways to bring back a geographic overlay.”