struggling school skirmish

After Tisch attacks Renewal goals, city says school closures possible next year

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (left) and city schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa.

Outgoing state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch took a swipe at New York City’s school-improvement program Thursday, saying the city is permitting “failure” at certain troubled schools and setting “ridiculous” goals at others.

Her comments came after Chalkbeat reported that the city has quietly given the 94 struggling schools in its $400 million “Renewal” improvement program three years to hit one-year targets. One of the schools, M.S. 53 in Queens, has until 2017 to boost its students’ average reading score from 2.14 to 2.15.

“At some point, everyone has to stop being ridiculous,” Tisch, New York’s top education official, said in an interview Thursday. “2.14 to 2.15? I mean, give me a break.”

She went on: “If that’s OK, then their definition of OK and my definition of OK are two very different definitions.”

Even though Tisch’s influence over state education policy is waning — she announced a few weeks ago that she will step down from her post in March — city education department officials were quick to fire back.

Spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the city’s Renewal school goals are more demanding than ones the state has mandated for schools in its “receivership” program, which puts outside groups in charge of low-performing schools that fail to improve.

“The concrete targets we’ve set exceed those set by the state for its receivership program, established under Chancellor Tisch,” Kaye said in a statement. (The state has not yet publicly released the receivership goals.)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have repeatedly said they will consider closing any schools that continue to flounder after receiving extra student services and teacher training. Kaye emphasized that point Thursday, and even implied that officials are considering shuttering some schools next year.

“We will make the difficult decision about where that is necessary for the coming school year,” she said. “We are demanding sustained progress, and will hold schools accountable if it’s not made.”

Tisch, who has said she intends to weigh in on contentious education issues before leaving her role, has expressed doubts before about de Blasio’s approach to struggling schools.

This spring, she called it a mistake not to shut down certain chronically low-performing schools, and last year she said the state would move to close such schools if necessary.

On Thursday, she ratcheted up that critique, saying that it is “deeply frustrating” to watch certain schools go through round after round of interventions without making real progress.

“If you sit with persistent failure and you tolerate it, then by definition you are destroying the educational pathways for some kids,” she said. “At some point, you’ve got to pull the plug.”

Tisch is not the only state official to clash with de Blasio, a Democrat, over how to improve troubled schools.

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, questioned whether de Blasio had a convincing strategy when lawmakers were debating earlier this year whether to extend his control over the city school system. And de Blasio forcefully rejected Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s receivership scheme, arguing that the city is best qualified to revamp its schools.

John King, who recently left his position as state education commissioner, rejected the de Blasio administration’s initial plans for two of its lowest-performing schools. He demanded that the city establish a process to replace ineffective teachers and administrators at schools, which it did through a deal with the teachers and principals unions.

King’s replacement, MaryEllen Elia, has signaled that she will give the Renewal program a chance. During a recent tour of a Renewal school, she said the city had put in place supports at the school that have the potential to “make a huge difference.”

“Now,” she added, “we have to watch and see what the outcomes are.”

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 [email protected]

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.”