New proposal

Rebuffing city’s plans, local education council offers its own vision for controversial Upper West Side rezoning

The District 3 Community Education Council includes P.S. 241 the STEM Institute of Manhattan, pictured above, in its rezoning proposal. The school is slated for merger with P.S. 76. (Photo by Alex Zimmerman)

The Community Education Council in District 3 is pushing its own sweeping rezoning proposal to address overcrowding and integrate Upper West Side schools, according to a lengthy letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

The CEC doesn’t have the authority to redraw zone lines — that responsibility lies with the city Department of Education. But it is ultimately up to CEC members to approve whatever the city puts forward.

“We intend to control our own fate. We will not have a plan dictated to us by the Department of Education, by City Hall,” said CEC President Joe Fiordaliso. “The Department of Education can either stand with us in support of overcrowding relief and efforts to desegregate our schools or not. I certainly hope they chose to stand with us.”

Members are calling for: moving P.S. 452 to give the co-located school room to grow, a larger zone for P.S. 191 to ensure it doesn’t wind up under-enrolled, and the rezoning of schools in Harlem after the DOE’s announcement, reported by Chalkbeat on Monday, that P.S. 241 will possibly be merged with P.S. 76.

In what promises to be a controversial stance, the CEC is sticking with city recommendations to rezone some buildings in the Lincoln Towers community from high-performing P.S. 199 to P.S. 191 — two schools that are separated not only by state test scores but also racial and socioeconomic lines.

“We know many people are going to be very unhappy and we don’t relish that,” said Kim Watkins, chair of the CEC zoning committee. “We empathize with every single family not getting what they want. But for the district moving forward, I really believe the time for this bold plan is now.”

Fiordaliso also said he hopes the council can leverage the rezoning process to call for a moratorium on charter school co-locations.

“Let them go to other districts. We’re drawing the line in District 3. No more,” he said.

District 3 has been locked in a rezoning battle for more than a year. The city already tabled one previous proposal amid community backlash last year. CEC members expected the city to present a final draft of their current plans at a meeting on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the City Department of Education said that’s not the case.

“We value the CEC’s leadership and partnership, and will continue to solicit feedback, host meetings and engage in robust conversations as we work to submit a final proposal that best serves all of the students and families in District 3,” spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.

New York City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents much of the district, came out in support of the CEC’s proposal. She said it represents exactly what Fariña has called for when it comes to school integration: an “organic” solution developed by the community.

“I think what the CEC represents is the larger Upper West Side community, so their job is to see the bigger picture and I think that’s exactly what they’ve done,” she said.

Here are some highlights of the CEC’s proposal:

P.S. 191

Much of the controversy has swirled around parents who would be rezoned to P.S. 191, a school that scores below the district average on state tests and where more than 70 percent of students live in poverty. The school, which has made gains under a relatively new principal, is slated to move into a brand new building with room for almost 700 students in 2017.

The CEC is calling for a larger zone to be drawn around the school to make sure it doesn’t end up under-enrolled. An additional building from the Lincoln Towers, 205 West End Avenue, would be added to the zone.

The council also wants a name change to help fight the stigma P.S. 191 gained after briefly (and, the council argues, incorrectly) being labeled “persistently dangerous.”

P.S. 199

Parents currently zoned for P.S. 199 have hosted rallies and protested at community meetings against proposals that would make P.S. 191 their zoned school instead.

But the CEC, in its own plan, is largely sticking with the city’s proposed zones around P.S. 199, where fewer than 10 percent of students are poor. Under the CEC’s recommendation, the Lincoln Towers community would remain split among P.S. 199 and P.S. 191.

To relieve overcrowding at the much sought-after school, the council is also asking for a commitment to limit the number of kindergarten classes to five.

P.S. 452

Another element of the CEC’s proposal that is sure to cause controversy: The council is recommending that P.S. 452 move about 16 blocks, into the building being vacated by P.S. 191. The CEC is “uncomfortable” with the prospect of starting an untested school in the old building, according to the proposal.

“We strongly believe that an already successful school with an excellent reputation and respected leadership makes it significantly more likely that District 3 will have a highly successful school,” the letter states.

In the meantime, the CEC wants the city to provide temporary busing to make the move easier for families.

Long term, the council’s plan calls for a middle school to open up in the space vacated by P.S. 452’s move.

Harlem

Perhaps the biggest departure from city plans surround the CEC’s proposal to include schools in the northern end of the district in the current rezoning process. As they stand, the city’s rezoning plans only address schools south of 110th Street, leaving out schools near Morningside Park.

Chalkbeat reported on Monday that the DOE is proposing to merge one school in the area: P.S. 241 the STEM Institute of Manhattan would fold into P.S. 76, about eight blocks away.

Given the possible consolidation, the CEC plan calls for the current P.S. 241 zone to be split among three schools: P.S.180 to the west, P.S. 76 to the north, and P.S. 185 to the east. Fiordaliso said that would make it easier for families to get to their neighborhood schools.

“It comes down to distance,” he said. “If we have other schools closer, we felt it was responsible and appropriate to split that zone.”

The CEC also calls for the city to engage with schools in the north to come up with special programming and other ways to boost enrollment and academics.

You can read the CEC’s full proposal here.



upheaval

Frustrations over principal turnover flare up at IPS School 43

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 43

It began with a tame slideshow presentation about hiring a new principal at School 43. But the Wednesday night meeting soon spiraled into a venting session — as parents and teachers pleaded with Indianapolis Public Schools to send in more staff.

Bakari Posey, the principal of School 43, departed for another job last week in the latest upheaval at the school, which is also known as James Whitcomb Riley. The assistant principal, Endia Ellison, has taken over in an interim capacity, as the district searches for a new leader for the school, which has faced significant turnover in recent years.

“This school needs help,” said Natasha Milam, who has three children at School 43, which serves about 450 students in prekindergarten to eighth-grade. “We need you all to listen. And we need you all to hear us.”

Milam, who volunteers at the school, said that because the building does not have enough staff to handle behavior problems, students are suspended far too often — meaning students are at home doing chores or getting into trouble, instead of in class learning.

Many in the neighborhood had hoped Posey, who is from the community, would be able to turn the school around after the previous two school leaders left their posts just months into the job. But under Posey’s leadership, the school continued to struggle on state tests, with just 7 percent of students passing both the math and English exams last year.

And after two-and-a-half years on the job, Posey left and began working this week as assistant principal at Fall Creek Valley Middle School in Lawrence Township. In an email Thursday, Posey said that he left because he thought the position in Lawrence would help him grow professionally and it was closer to his home.

Posey also disputed the picture of School 43 as a campus in crisis. He said this school year, there hasn’t been “turmoil in the school in regards to student behavior,” suspensions were down, and the campus has been “very calm.” (Suspension numbers could not immediately be verified.) He also said that Indianapolis Public Schools provided “great support” to school staff.

Nonetheless, parents and teachers’ at the meeting Wednesday said the school has serious problems.

Ryesha Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher who has been at the school a little over a year, said there are not enough staff to help with student discipline problems. That makes it hard for educators to teach, she said.

“We have fights almost every day,” Jackson said. “I guess my question is, ‘What are we doing right now to support teachers?’”

School 43 is a neighborhood school, on the north side of the district. More than 75 percent of students there are black, and almost 70 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price meals — about the district average.

Indianapolis Public Schools interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said district and school leaders would work together to develop a plan to address the urgent problems at School 43.

“But what I can’t give you right now is the plan for that help,” she said. “That takes time and coordination with the school staff.”

The district is gathering input about what school community members are looking for in a principal before posting a listing, officials said. Finalists will be interviewed by committees of parents, community members, and school and district staff. The goal is to name a new principal by April.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting was a small contingent from the IPS Community Coalition, a group that is often critical of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration, particularly the district’s partnerships with charter schools.

Michele Lorbieski, a resident from the north side who ran unsuccessfully for the Indianapolis Public Board with the support of the coalition last year, said the district cannot just rely on the next principal to fix the school.

“What I’d hoped to hear tonight was what the school district was doing to put things in place to stop this revolving door of principals,” she said.

District officials did not directly address why turnover has been so high among principals at School 43. But Brynn Kardash, a district official who recently began working with the school, said that the central office is doing more to support it this year.

School 43 was added this year to the transformation zone — an effort to help troubled schools that includes dedicated support and regular visits from a team at the central office, said Kardash, the district’s executive director of schools for the zone. Educators in the zone get additional training, extra planning time, and help analyzing student data, she said.

“The goal is to really support Ms. Ellison in work that she’s doing,” Kardash said, “which then leads to, hopefully, teachers feeling that support in the classroom.”

technical difficulties

This personalized learning program was supposed to boost math scores. It didn’t, new study finds

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A student at I.S. 228 in Brooklyn does online work through Teach to One, a program that grew out of the iZone.

A program that Bill Gates once called “the future of math” didn’t improve state test scores at schools that adopted it, according to a new study.

The research examines Teach to One, a “personalized learning” program used in schools across 11 states and which has drawn support from a number of major funders, including the Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings. (Gates and CZI are also funders of Chalkbeat.)

At five schools in Elizabeth, New Jersey, students who used Teach to One didn’t improve any faster than similar students who didn’t use the program, even after three years. The results underscore the limited evidence for claims that such technology programs can dramatically improve student learning, even as they have become magnets for philanthropic dollars.

“The original aspirations, that Teach to One programs were going to have huge positive effects on math scores — we can rule that out with these studies,” said Jonah Rockoff, a Columbia professor who studied an earlier iteration of the program.

Teach to One says its approach is designed to help students steadily learn math skills, regardless of how unprepared or advanced they are. Students spend time on a computer as well as with a teacher and working in small groups. Students receive individualized schedules each day based on their progress, and a computer program adapts the curriculum to students’ strengths and weaknesses in the form of a “playlist.”

New Classrooms, the organization behind Teach To One, suggests that the Elizabeth results aren’t the full story.

It points to a separate analysis released this week that looks at a broader group of schools — 14, from several districts — that used the program. That study shows Teach to One students making above-average gains on a test known as the MAP, which is taken on a computer with questions changing as students answer correctly or incorrectly.

New Classrooms co-founder Joel Rose suggested in a statement that those computer-adaptive tests capture something that state tests can miss: students’ progress.

“What seems to be emerging is a real tension in math between approaches focused on long-term academic growth and state accountability systems,” he said.

Rockoff said there might be something to New Classroom’s argument that the study using adaptive test is better able to showcase students’ gains. “If [students] are at a grade four level but they’re in grade six, teaching them grade four material is going to hurt them on the state test,” he said.

But the author of the second study, Jesse Margolis, and a number of other researchers who spoke to Chalkbeat note that it cannot show whether Teach to One caused any of the students’ gains, though — a major limitation.

“While this study cannot establish causality, it is encouraging,” Margolis wrote. (The New Jersey study is better able to establish cause and effect, but it also has limitations and does not rely on random assignment.)

The New Jersey study isn’t the first to show that Teach to One didn’t improve test scores: so did Rockoff’s 2015 report on three New York City middle schools that looked at both state and MAP tests.

One possible explanation is that Teach to One is helpful to students in some places but not others. Margolis said his study examined the same five Elizabeth schools as the Columbia study and also found minimal gains there, but that schools elsewhere seemed to see larger improvements.

Researcher John Pane of RAND, a leader in studying personalized learning, says the results are important to understanding a field with limited research to date.

“Because we have so little evidence on personalized learning,” he said, “every data point can be helpful for us to start triangulating and piecing together what works and what doesn’t work.”