details emerge

Fariña set to reveal new school rating system in policy speech

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

The city is revamping the way it rates schools, putting less emphasis on test scores and getting rid of the A-to-F school letter grades, according to a news report that appeared shortly before Chancellor Carmen Fariña is set to give a major policy address Wednesday morning.

Instead of issuing schools annual progress reports with an overall letter grade, as the city has done since 2006, the education department will now create separate reports for school leaders and for families, according to the report, which appeared Tuesday evening in the New York Times. Those school reports will eschew letter grades for categories like “not meeting target” or “exceeding target.” And they will factor in other measures of a school’s quality, such as the rigor of its courses and the results of parent and student surveys, to balance out student test scores, the Times article said.

Fariña has promised those changes for months, and they reflect Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign against the previous administration’s use of test scores as the primary way to judge schools and – when their scores were consistently low – to consider closing them. De Blasio and Fariña have both slammed the Bloomberg administration’s A-to-F school ratings as overly blunt and unreliable. Fariña even told a group of educators earlier this year that she hadn’t checked their schools’ letter grades “because I don’t care.”

Fariña has previously proposed merging the information included on the data-based progress reports with the findings of official reviewers who interview school faculty members and observe lessons. The new ratings system will reportedly give more weight to the findings from those visits, called “quality reviews.”

Meanwhile, the city is tweaking the quality review process so that more schools will receive visits this year, according to a person briefed on the plans. Some of the lowest-performing schools have been told to expect three formal reviews this year.

What is still unclear is how the city will use the new school ratings.

In the past, schools that received three consecutive failing grades on their progress reports could face closure. De Blasio has said closure will now be used only as a last resort, but he has not specified how the city will intervene at schools that are earn consistently low ratings. With the school year underway, educators and advocates have been calling for the city to detail its plan to improve troubled schools.

Behind the scenes, the city recently launched an intensive-support program for about two-dozen schools that were identified as struggling. The plan involves principal coaching, teacher training, and even a special superintendent to oversee the high schools. Two of those high schools will not be sent any new students during the year, since late enrollees can destabilize schools.

But that program only includes a fraction of the city’s low-performing schools. More than 370 schools saw 90 percent of their students struggle on last year’s state tests, according to a recent report by a pro-charter group that is demanding “bolder leadership” to improve those schools.

That group, Families for Excellent Schools, has paid for television commercials this week and is planning a major rally on Thursday to draw attention to those struggling schools. The group is aligned with major charter school networks, such as Success Academy, and one solution it offers for the problem of low-performing schools is to create more charter schools – an approach de Blasio has criticized.

Fariña is expected to give more details about the new school-rating system and her plans for struggling schools during her speech Wednesday at P.S. 503/P.S. 506 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

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

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.”