a new plan

Your guide to de Blasio’s announcement, with new goals for grad rate, coding for all

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new education initiatives for New York City schools at Bronx Latin in September.

Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out an ambitious new set of education goals and initiatives on Wednesday.

In a speech at Bronx Latin, de Blasio said the city would aim for 80 percent of high-school students to graduate within four years and would add reading specialists to elementary schools to ensure all second-graders could read at grade level. Over the next decade, the city will also introduce computer science instruction to all schools and offer all eighth-grade students the chance to take algebra.

After the de Blasio administration spent most of its first year and a half focused on rapidly expanding pre-kindergarten and introducing plans to improve a set of especially low-performing schools, the mayor’s speech offered new indications about how the city plans to improve instruction in all schools. De Blasio said the changes are aimed at creating a more equitable school system and city, invoking his mayoral campaign’s focus on inequality.

“There is a tale of two cities in our schools,” de Blasio said. “Excellence will not be apportioned out for the lucky few.”

We’ll be adding details over the course of the day. Here’s what the mayor announced:

Graduation rate goal: The city’s four-year August graduation rate was 68 percent for the class of 2014. De Blasio set a new goal: 80 percent by 2026, 10 years after this year’s high school seniors graduate.

College readiness: Two-thirds of those graduates will be “college ready” by the city’s standards by 2026, de Blasio said. That number refers to graduates who scored 80 or higher on a Regents math exam and 75 or higher on the English Regents exam or earned an equivalent score on the SAT, ACT, or CUNY Achievement Test, which included 47 percent of the city’s 2014 graduates.

In the South Bronx’s District 7 and Brooklyn’s District 23, adult advocates called “single shepherds” will be paired with students to help them navigate middle and high school and to prepare for college, starting next fall at a cost of $15 million per year.

Another initiative will provide tours of New York City colleges to middle-school students. De Blasio mentioned Columbia, New York University, the City University of New York, and the Fashion Institute of Technology specifically.

Advanced Placement classes: The mayor said the city will expand access to Advanced Placement courses. Some new AP classes and prep classes will be rolled out by next fall, the mayor said. Seventy-five percent of students will be offered at least five AP classes by the fall of 2018 and all high schools will have that many by 2021.

Officials did not say which AP courses would be made more widely available. A recent report from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School found that nearly four in 10 city high schools do not offer advanced math and science classes. The reasons include the proliferation of small high schools, which have less scheduling flexibility, and that many high school students are unprepared for the material — two challenges the de Blasio administration is likely to face as it expands access to AP courses.

Algebra instruction: The city will expand middle-school algebra classes to ensure students take the class by ninth grade. More than 40 percent of middle schools currently don’t offer algebra in eighth grade, according to the city.

Some new algebra classes will be added next fall, and all students will have access to algebra in eighth grade by 2021.

Computer science: All students will receive some computer science education in elementary, middle and high school in the next 10 years. The number of students receiving computer science training will be “expanded significantly” starting in the fall of 2016, and the program will have expanded to all grades in 2025. The program is expected to cost $81 million and will be the nation’s largest effort to increase computer science in classrooms, de Blasio said.

It expands on a series of smaller efforts to boost computer science in schools that the city has made over the last few years, including the launch of a teacher training plan, opening software engineering-focused high schools, and adding Advanced Placement computer science courses to high schools.

Reading instruction: Elementary schools will have access to expert reading specialists, who will focus on helping all students read on grade level by second grade. That’s a goal Chancellor Fariña has been talking about since the start of last school year.

De Blasio said his goal is for two-thirds of students to be able to read with fluency by the end of second grade within six years, and for the city to achieve 100 percent literacy in second grade by 2026. That will require significant improvements: Less than one-third of New York City’s third-graders earned a proficient score on last year’s state tests.

Approximately 700 reading specialists will be placed in elementary schools by 2018 and schools that need the “most support” will begin hiring specialists this spring.

District-charter school cooperation: De Blasio said the city would create and fund at least 25 partnerships between district and charter schools to share ideas for teaching math and reaching English language learners. The initiative will be based on Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s “Learning Partners” program and cost $5 million a year by 2017.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to a different college readiness measure.

mea culpa

This is the letter of apology that Adams 14 leaders never sent

Adams 14 leaders took a close look at district data during an October meeting. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Looking back on years of poor performance, leaders in the Adams 14 school district considered taking a rare step: saying sorry. But an apology letter to the community was never signed nor sent out.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the September letter that district administrators and board members were to have signed.

“Despite our well-intentioned tactics to get the district out of turnaround, six generations of school boards and four different superintendents and their administrations (including the current leadership) have not worked well together,” the draft letter states. “As a result, our various and conflicting priorities, coupled with the constant turnover and organizational disarray, have produced unacceptable results.”

The letter was written as administrators in the long-struggling suburban district learned that, for the eighth year in a row, students had not met state expectations in reading and math, and the district likely would face additional state sanctions. Multiple sources told Chalkbeat there was internal disagreement about the wording and tone of the letter. Several different drafts were presented, but without agreement, none were finalized or published.

District leaders did not respond to a request for comment about the draft letter.

The district has been working on improving community engagement with a consultant, Team Tipton.

The school board recently agreed to a $150,000 contract for the second phase of a two-year process “proven to be a transformational tool to help the district overcome historical dysfunction, drive a sense of integration and alignment, and set the platform for future success,” according to the resolution approved by the board.

A Team Tipton analysis of community opinion found a high level of distrust for the district, but also optimism about the future.

Some board members and the consultant team have prodded district officials to think more critically about the district’s performance, but many administrators in the district disagree with negative portrayals.

On Wednesday, district officials will explain their plans for improving student performance to the State Board of Education, whose members have the authority to order external management or more drastic interventions.

Here’s the letter in its entirety:



checking in

How do you turn around a district? Six months into her tenure, Sharon Griffin works to line up the basics.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
When Sharon Griffin became the latest leader of the Achievement School District in June, she said one of her biggest priorities would reconnecting the state-run district with the community it serves most — Memphis.

In a crowded room at a community center in a north Memphis neighborhood, the leader of Tennessee’s turnaround district takes a microphone and addresses the parents and students gathered.

“I’m here because we care deeply about your students, and we know we can do better for them,” Sharon Griffin told the crowd. “We have to do that together.”

This would be one of more than three dozen community events in Memphis that Griffin would speak at during her first six months on the job. The gatherings have ranged from this parent night in Frayser to a luncheon with some of the city’s biggest business leaders. And Sharon Griffin’s message remained unchanged: Stay with us, we’re going to get better.

“One of my biggest goals was getting our communities to think differently about the district,” Griffin told Chalkbeat this month. “People only interact with the superintendent or the central office when there’s an issue. We want to meet people where they are and tell them what we are going to do for them.”

When Griffin became the latest leader of the Achievement School District in June, she said one of her biggest priorities would be reconnecting the state-run district with the community it serves most — Memphis.

Griffin, a turnaround veteran from Memphis, has been assigned the task of improving academic performance and the public perception of the state district. Originally created to boost the bottom 5 percent of schools academically, the district of charter operators has struggled to show improvement. Of the 30 schools in the district, nine have climbed out of the bottom 5 percent.

Griffin’s efforts are in line with what Education Commissioner Candice McQueen asked her to prioritize: recruit and support effective educators, improve collaboration with schools and in doing so, plan strategically with them.

But first she’s doubling down on improving the way the district functions – such as making sure that the district is in compliance with federal and state grants, and that teachers have the certifications they need to teach certain courses. And that’s taken more time than expected.

Researchers, as well as community members and parents, have said that the district should be seeing greater academic progress after six years. Griffin told Chalkbeat that one of her big priorities will be helping the district better its teaching workforce, which she believes will help improve test scores. In the most recent batch of state test scores, not a single Achievement School District elementary, middle, or high school had more than 20 percent of students scoring on grade level in English or math.

But first, she needed to go on a “listening tour.”

“I’ve been to more meetings than I can count, because I wanted people to get to know me in this role, but more importantly, because I wanted to hear from those in our schools about what’s working and what’s not,” Griffin said. “Now, I get to take what I’ve heard and learned and create action steps forward.”

Griffin said those action look like “better customer service for our charters and our families.” That means Griffin has been focusing on improving communication with the district’s central office, one of the longstanding problems she has heard about from operators. She’s also striving to improve the quality of the district’s teacher workforce, and making facilities safer and more usable.

Griffin’s task will be a mammoth one, and she told Chalkbeat that part of her strategy for getting it done revolves around her new central office team. She said that getting the office running smoothly has taken up a large portion of her time during these early months in the job – especially establishing the revamped office so her charter operators can better communicate with the district. A year ago, more than half of 59 central office staff positions were slashed – and Griffin’s team of four is now even smaller.

“We’re still small but mighty,” Griffin said. “But I wanted our charters to know where to go with a problem or a question. Same for parents. We had heard they didn’t know where to go. That’s changing.”

Some charter operators have already benefited from the change. Dwayne Tucker, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, said the district has become more responsive this year and more respectful of charter operators’ time. LEAD runs two turnaround schools in Nashville, the district’s only outside of Memphis

“Previously, we’d get a request for data or information that needed a 24-hour turnaround because someone just realized that it needed to be fulfilled,” Tucker said. “Versus looking at us as the customer and planning so we didn’t need to drop everything. There’s more of a customer-service focus happening on ASD leadership now.”

Griffin’s also been turning to charter operators like LEAD for lessons learned – specifically about teacher recruitment and retention. She said she wants to see what charters are doing well and replicate those practices across the district. When Griffin visited Tucker at LEAD this fall, he said they talked mostly about hiring practices.

“She asked us a lot of questions about the teachers we’re looking for,” Tucker said. “We know that our teachers need to have a sense of purpose to do this work, because a turnaround environment is very hard work.”

Earlier in the year, Griffin also turned to the Memphis-based Freedom Prep, which runs one turnaround school, for lessons learned in retaining teachers.

“Our retention rate in the ASD in the past has not been great,” Griffin said. “I’m the third superintendent in six years, so you can imagine what the teacher retention rate is. Freedom Prep is one of the schools that has had a higher retention rate. Why? They’re focused on teacher support.”

A goal for Griffin during the first month or so as chief was to establish an advisory team of local parents, students, and faith leaders – and that hasn’t happened yet. But Griffin says the team is being assembled now, and that their input would be a big factor in the future.

Collaboration is key for Griffin, who is known for bringing groups with different interests together to find common ground.

“My goal is to work us out of a job,” Griffin said. “When we have empowered all of our teachers and leaders to build capacity within schools, the hope is that they won’t need us anymore.”