study says...

Phase-out process linked to fewer Regents diplomas, more credit recovery, new report finds

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

After a recent study found that the Bloomberg administration’s strategy of closing struggling schools didn’t hurt their students, a new report complicates that picture.

The report, released Thursday by the city’s Independent Budget Office, found that students enrolled when the closure announcements were made were less likely to graduate with a rigorous diploma and more likely to earn credit through remedial classes, at least at six large shuttered schools it examined.

Students at three of the schools — Samuel Tilden, South Shore, and Lafayette high schools, where closure announcements came in 2006 — graduated in four years at about the same rate as peers at similar schools. But at another three high schools — Bayard Rustin, Louis Brandeis, and Franklin Lane, where closure announcements came in 2007 and 2008 — students fared worse, with only about 44 percent graduating in four years, compared to 47 percent of similar students.

The IBO report also raises questions about the quality of the education those students received, whether they stayed at their closing school or transferred away.

Compared to their peers, the students from all six closing schools were more likely to graduate with local diplomas, not the more advanced Regents diplomas that have since become standard for students without disabilities.

They were also more likely to have earned class credit through “credit recovery” programs, which can be less rigorous than traditional classwork, and to have scored exactly a 55 or a 65 on their Regents exams. Those scores often raise eyebrows because they are the cutoffs for passing those tests to qualify for a local or Regents diploma.

Sarita Subramanian, the IBO analyst who wrote the report, said policymakers should note the possible negative effects of the phase-out process.

“People might think the benefits outweigh the costs” of school closures, Subramanian said. “But it’s good to know what the costs are, especially for the students enrolled at the schools.”

Subramanian cautioned that she did not examine the causes for differences in diploma types or credit recovery rates, but noted that staffers at closing schools could have felt pressure to ensure their students met graduation requirements by the time the schools dissolved.

The six high school closures the IBO analyzed were among dozens during Michael Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor. That strategy proved deeply divisive and inspired aggressive protest from the city teachers union and many parents and community groups. As students and funding left those schools, extracurricular activities, advanced classes, and school morale often disappeared as well.

Last month, the de Blasio administration announced its own plans to close three schools at the end of the school year, including one small high school. That school bears little resemblance to the large, comprehensive high schools examined in the IBO report, though, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has largely rejected school closure as a strategy for improving the city’s schools.

Instead, the city has poured additional resources into struggling schools through its “School Renewal” program, though officials have said they will move to close schools that are unable to improve.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that two of the schools the de Blasio administration wants to close this year are high schools. Just one, Foundations Academy, is a high school.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.