school shakeup

Nearly half the teachers and staff are leaving six of New York City’s struggling schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
John Adams High School in Queens, one of eight schools where teachers in recent years have had to reapply for their jobs.

Nearly half of the teachers and staff are leaving six of New York City’s most troubled schools — a significant shake-up at a few of the schools the de Blasio administration is on a tight timeline to improve.

The teachers, counselors, and other staffers at those schools were required to re-interview for their positions this spring as part of an agreement between state education officials, the city, and unions. All told, just 54 percent will return: 245 staffers were re-hired, while 112 were not and another 97 did not re-apply.

The six schools are August Martin, Banana Kelly, Fordham Leadership Academy, John Adams, and Lehman high schools, and J.H.S. 80, a middle school in the Bronx.

The staffing changes leave those schools with a major challenge: hiring teachers to fill the newly open positions by the start of the school year. All six have been labeled “out of time” by the state and are under intense pressure to raise attendance, test scores, and graduation rates.

It’s possible that many of the schools will end up with first-time teachers. After Automotive High School in Brooklyn went through this re-staffing process in 2015, the school hired a host of brand-new teachers over the summer. This year, nearly half of that school’s teachers were in the classroom for the first time.

Officials suggested that many of the departing teachers did not belong in those schools.

“As we work tirelessly to turn these schools around and serve their students, we must have the right leaders, the right teachers, and the right school staff in place,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

Of the six struggling schools, some will see more turnover than others.

Almost all of August Martin High School’s staffers are leaving: Only eight were re-hired, and 35 were not re-hired or chose not to apply. More than half of the teachers and staff at J.H.S. 80, Banana Kelly, and Fordham Leadership are also not returning.

John Adams High School, the largest of the six schools, will be more stable: While 66 staffers are not returning, 122 were re-hired.

During a similar process last year, most of the teachers at two of the city’s lowest performing schools did not return. At Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High School, 74 percent of the teaching staff did not return. At Automotive High School, 63 percent left.

The re-hiring decisions are made by committees that include the principal, education department officials, and union representatives.

Still, the teachers union leader said Thursday that the strategy was all wrong.

“Mandated re-staffing of out-of-time schools misdiagnoses the real problem: these schools have been hemorrhaging teachers for years,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. The “out of time” schools “need good leadership, support and stability, not another spin of the revolving door.”

Pushback

National head of DFER after Colorado Democrats’ platform vote: ‘We’re not going anywhere’

PHOTO: Newark Trust
DFER President Shavar Jeffries

The national head of Democrats for Education Reform responded to the dramatic rejection of his organization at the Colorado Democratic Party state assembly with a simple message: We’re not going anywhere.

In an email to supporters that he also posted on Medium Thursday, Shavar Jeffries laid out his credentials as a Democrat and said disagreements over education policy should remain a “family fight.”

“We understand that on some issues, some in our party disagree with us,” Jeffries wrote. “We welcome that disagreement, and we welcome the debates that ensue periodically. We stay true to our principles because we believe our vision best reflects the values of the party and the outcomes we seek for young people.

“But we will fight  –  when fights are necessary  –  anchored in the understanding that this is a family fight and thus we will not engage in the politics of personal destruction against those with whom we disagree.”

Jeffries went on to blame the election of President Donald Trump on an unwillingness among Democrats to set aside their differences.

“Trump is president to a large degree because progressives and liberals engaged in a civil war over the 10 percent of policies where we might disagree, as opposed to uniting around the 90 percent where we agree,” Jeffries wrote. “Hillary Clinton was booed at the DNC convention in 2016 by the same forces that still seek to sow division within our party. Our unity is our best weapon against the ongoing assault to our democracy visited upon the country each day by Trump.”

Jennifer Walmer, the head of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, was booed down by delegates at Saturday’s assembly. Those delegates went on to adopt into the official party platform a call for DFER to stop using “Democrats” in its name.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the backing of the teachers unions, won 62 percent of the vote at the party assembly. The platform vote happened later in the day, after some of the more than 3,000 delegates had left.

It’s not clear how the platform provision could be enforced. Some members want the party to send a cease-and-desist letter to Democrats for Education Reform, something the Los Angeles Democratic Party tried in 2012, with no apparent effect.

The Colorado vote drew cheers and jeers locally and around the country. In New York City, one blog called it a “ray of sunshine” that could signal cracks in support for reform policies. Meanwhile, conservatives used the vote to cast Democrats as extremists. The editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette said it represented “a far-left shift in the Democratic Party.”

Education reform has become an increasingly divisive issue within the Democratic Party. Since the 2016 presidential election, opponents of a suite of reform policies, like charter schools and test-based teacher accountability laws, have increasingly sought to tie Democratic proponents of these policies to the unpopular president and his education secretary.

Jeffries said his organization would not be dissuaded by those tactics.

“If our intra-party opponents would prefer counter-productive family warfare as opposed to unity around shared values, this should be clear too: We stand with the millions of families across our country demanding access to high-quality public schools and the thousands of elected Democrats who fight tirelessly to ensure they get it,” he said. “We are not going anywhere.”

You can read Jeffries’ entire statement here.

get out the vote

Can schools encourage students to be more involved citizens? A new study suggests yes they can.

Democracy Prep charter network superintendent Seth Andrew at a 2012 admissions lottery event.

In a city of roughly 1,800 schools, many have names that have little to do with what students experience.

Not so for Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that a new study concludes makes students far more likely to vote once they turn 18.

The study, conducted by independent researchers commissioned by Democracy Prep, took advantage of New York City’s charter school admissions rules to examine the impact of applying to, getting accepted to, and enrolling in the network’s schools on later civic participation.

Looking at more than a thousand students who applied between 2007 and 2015 who were old enough to vote in 2016, the researchers found that just being selected in the admissions lottery was correlated with a slight increase in voting rates. Students who were chosen voted 6 percent more often than students who were not.

The impact was much greater on students who were chosen and actually enrolled: They voted 24 percent more often than students who applied but never got a chance to attend.

The findings suggest that Democracy Prep is achieving its explicit goal of promoting civic participation. They also offer one answer to the question of whether charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, undermine democracy.

“Democracy Prep provides a test case of whether charter schools can successfully serve the foundational purpose of public education—preparation for citizenship—even while operating outside the direct control of elected officials,” the researchers write. “With respect to the critical civic participation measures of registration and voting, the answer is yes.”

Seth Andrew, who started the network with a single middle school in Harlem in 2006, said he was pleased by the findings — and unsurprised, because the network has baked civic participation into its culture and academic program. Students must take on a personal “Change the World” project and pass the U.S. citizenship exam to graduate.

“This idea of ‘change the world’ was very central to what we were trying to get our kids prepared and excited to do,” he said.

Creating more engaged citizens takes more than just adding a civics class, said Katie Duffy, the CEO of Democracy Prep. Schools have to make democracy a part of the daily culture, she said.

“The more you talk about the importance of voting, the importance of elections, the importance of advocacy,” she said, “the more it becomes ingrained in our kids.”

The network has also long used Election Day — when district-run schools are often closed so their buildings can be used as polling stations — as a teachable moment.

In 2008, Democracy Prep students spent the day working to get out the vote in their neighborhoods. Four years later, Democracy Prep schools were among the few housed in city space that got special permission to stay open — and the network sent students out to advance the “Vote for Somebody” campaign it had kicked off in a catchy viral video. The next year, students promoted a different message — “I can’t vote but you can” — in an effort to boost the city’s 11 percent primary election voter participation rate.

The network’s influence extends far beyond its students. In 2012, six years into the network’s existence, officials estimated that students had helped 5,000 New Yorkers register to vote. Now, the network runs 22 schools in five states.

Andrew said the study’s findings about the impact of the network — which he left in 2012 to work on other civic engagement initiatives, including at the White House — offer only a start at a time when the United States lags behind other developed countries in voter turnout.

“I was thrilled with the outcome,” said Andrew. “But the as the guy that founded Democracy Prep I feel like there’s a whole lot of room to grow.”