victory lap

City’s top education officials claim victory after big increases in English test scores

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio

The city’s top education officials celebrated historic gains on state tests Monday — and argued the improved scores prove their education initiatives are working.

“This has been a three-day celebration,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, speaking to the press at Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education’s headquarters. “From the minute I got the news until today, I can’t stop smiling.”

For an agency that has suffered some high-profile struggles lately — including the departure of principal Michael Wiltshire from Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant — the good news was presented as vindication.

The share of city students passing the English exam jumped by almost 8 points, and matched the state’s average for the first time. Math scores also inched up by roughly one point. Both Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio said the improved scores show that their approach to education policy, a marked departure from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s, is proving effective.

“A lot is changing,” de Blasio said. “And this is pure hard evidence that these changes are working.”

De Blasio plugged many of his signature initiatives on Monday, including his college-focused “Equity and Excellence” agenda and his “Renewal” schools program, which provides extra resources and wraparound services to struggling schools. Overall, the percentage of “Renewal” school students demonstrating proficiency increased by 5.3 points in English and 1.5 points in math.

The test score gains come after a wave of bad press about the city’s turnaround program. Former State Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the program was “ridiculous” after Chalkbeat reported in December that “Renewal” schools have more modest improvement goals than other schools.

The state cautioned Friday that this year’s test scores are not an “apples-to-apples” comparison to last year’s test scores, since tests were shortened and students were given unlimited time to complete them for the first time. (Students across the state showed big gains in English test scores.)

But that didn’t seem to dampen de Blasio’s excitement. He argued that, if anything, the tests were more authentic this year.

“We think actually the new approach is a truer look at how kids are doing academically,” de Blasio said. “This test, because they changed the structure of the test, allowed a cleaner, better look at how a child is actually doing.”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.