closing time

It’s official: The city confirms plans to close or merge nine Renewal schools next year

Chancellor Fariña pictured with Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)

Citing poor performance and low enrollment, education officials announced a proposal Monday to close six schools in New York City’s high-profile Renewal program and merge three others.

The proposal comes as the program, which involves spending hundreds of millions of dollars to flood low-performing schools with additional social services and academic resources, nears the end of its third year. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio has, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, been reluctant to close schools, he has also said that some might need to be shuttered as a “last resort.”

City officials called Monday’s proposal “aggressive” and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña indicated the move is “what is best for students.”

“During this process we will work individually with every student and family to ensure they have a seat at a higher-performing school where they will receive the instruction and support they need to succeed,” Fariña said in a statement.

The Renewal program initially included 94 of the city’s most troubled schools, but due to previous mergers and closures that number had shrunk to 86. If the city’s proposal is approved by the Panel for Educational Policy — which is set to vote on it in March — 78 schools will remain in the program next year, according to the city’s press release.

That implies Renewal, which officials have explicitly called a three-year program, will continue into a fourth year. Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye wrote in an email that the Renewal program will “continue to support schools that are improving,” but did not say how long the city anticipated the program would continue.

The plan includes closing six schools immediately, instead of phasing them out, starting next academic year: Two of them are junior high schools in the Bronx: J.H.S.145 Arturo Toscanini and J.H.S 162 Lola Rodriguez de Tio, a “persistently struggling” school the city had already proposed closing as part of a deal with the state.

Two high schools in the Bronx are slated for closure: Leadership Institute and Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design; as are two Brooklyn middle schools: M.S. 584 and the Essence School.

The city also plans to merge three schools: Frederick Douglass Academy IV Secondary School (to be merged with the Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance), Automotive High School in Brooklyn (with Frances Perkins Academy), and M.S. 289 Young Scholars Academy of the Bronx (with North Bronx School of Empowerment).

Automotive, according to the city’s proposal, will be the only merged school that will absorb the school with which it’s being merged, and stay in the Renewal program. But all of the merged schools would still get supports through the city’s community schools program.

Finally, the city’s plan includes truncating the middle school grades at two Brooklyn Renewal schools: P.S. 306 Ethan Allen and P.S. 165 Ida Posner.

The announcement comes three days after the New York Times first reported the closures and mergers.

In the case of the closures, according to the city, the Department of Education took into account performance and enrollment and included “a careful analysis of each school community.”

The six schools the city has identified for closure all have fewer students than when the Renewal program began in the 2014-15 school year. M.S. 584, for instance, has roughly 80 students this year, down from 224 six years ago.

Enrollment drops have plagued the vast majority of the city’s Renewal schools, which have collectively shed more than 6,000 students since the program launched.

In terms of performance, all six schools are clearly struggling. At the Essence School, for instance, 5 percent of its students were proficient in math or reading last school year — far below city averages.

But they are not necessarily the lowest-performing schools in the program, according to the city’s own benchmarks. The Essence School met one-third of the goals the city set for it last year — on measures including attendance and “rigorous instruction” — and even had one of its school climate goals converted into a “challenge target” because it was met before the deadline.

City figures show 26 Renewal schools met fewer benchmarks than Essence did last year. Asked why some lower-performing schools were not closed, the education department’s Kaye noted that a number of factors were considered beyond academic achievement and enrollment: feedback from families, staff turnover, history of interventions or improvement, and “research from schools in similar situations.”

“For each school we evaluated all these areas and have determined that closure would be the best course of action,” Kaye wrote.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group that has consistently criticized the Renewal program, seized on the news of the closures and mergers as evidence of the program’s failure.

“Thousands of kids are still languishing in Renewal schools that are even worse than those now slated for closure,” CEO Jeremiah Kittredge wrote in a statement. The organization pointed to several schools in the program that have lower test scores and graduation rates than those the city plans to close.

But multiple observers said the city’s closure plans don’t necessarily mean the program isn’t working, especially since it explicitly targeted troubled schools.

“De Blasio had run on a campaign not to close schools, but that was destined to have mixed results on a school-by-school basis,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. “You have dozens of schools [in the Renewal program] and a relative handful have been demonstrably unsuccessful. That’s not surprising.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also weighed in on the city’s proposal. “I’ve visited many of the city’s Renewal schools and have seen firsthand the hard work that’s taking place,” she said in a statement. “While many of these schools are showing important signs of progress, some continue to struggle — and those situations must be addressed appropriately.”

Megan Hester, an organizer at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform who has closely followed the program, wondered how the city might better serve the students who would potentially be displaced by the closures. City officials said they will launch a series of town hall meetings at each school starting next week, and offer individual support for parents to find new schools.

“I think for parents the question is, these schools weren’t able to be improved, so what’s the plan for the children in these neighborhoods?” Hester said. “What is the city learning from that and what are they going to do differently to make sure the next strategy works?”

Update 4:39 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect additional responses from education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye.

Future of Schools

For Indianapolis principals hoping to improve, one program says practice makes perfect

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
A kindergarten student reaches for crayons during a lesson at Global Prep Academy.

Mariama Carson has spent 20 years as an educator, first as a teacher and now as principal of Global Prep Academy. But in all that time, she never found training that prepared her as well as what she learned over two weeks last summer.

Carson, along with 23 other Indianapolis school leaders, was chosen to be a fellow in a principal training program through the Relay Graduate School of Education. Almost immediately, she noticed a big difference from previous coaching she’d had: They practiced everything.

How do you teach kids the right way to walk in the hallway? They practiced it. How do you let a teacher know she’s struggling? They practiced it. What are the precise words to use in an evaluation? More practice.

“The commitment to practice is what has been so different,” Carson said. “Whatever we learn in Relay … it’s not just something someone has told you about. You’ve practiced it. You’ve lived it.”

Relay, a six-year-old New York-based organization, was founded by a cadre of leaders from high-performing charter school networks. Practice, role-playing and applied learning are at the center of their work with educators, which for five years has included a year-long principal fellowship.

In the 2016-17 school year, Relay trained about 400 school leaders in the United States. Fellows from Indianapolis were chosen and sponsored by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit. Joe White, who directs The Mind Trust’s school support initiatives, said he was happy with the response during the last round of applications. The next cohort, whose members will be announced this month, will be larger and contain more Indianapolis Public School educators, as well as charter school principals, he said.

The Mind Trust wants to make the training “available to as many new operators as possible to continue expanding this work across the city,” White said. “We think that this is the way that we create sustainable schools that will provide high-quality results and outcomes for kids for a very long time.”

Two principals in the midst of the program told Chalkbeat that the fellowship is already changing the culture and efficiency of their schools. The principals spent the fellowship’s two-week summer training session in Denver learning how to best collect and analyze student data, give feedback to teachers and create a school building that runs smoothly.

“The practice and critical feedback we got was unlike anything I’d ever experienced,” said Mariama Carson, a principal at Global Prep Academy, which is housed in the IPS Riverside 44 building. “Usually as a principal, you don’t get that kind of feedback.”

But Relay, which also has teacher training programs, has its share of critics. Kenneth Zeichner, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington, analyzed non-university-affiliated teacher training programs, including Relay’s. Although he hasn’t looked into the principal program specifically, he said he is troubled that the teacher training curriculum emphasizes using test scores to gauge results at the expense of a more well-rounded assessment of students, who many times are coming from families living in poverty.

He also worries Relay as a whole is too focused on fast growth, rather than on proving its methods work. There have been no independent studies done on whether Relay produces better teachers than other alternative or university programs, Zeichner said, although one is underway.

“My concern about Relay is not that they exist,” Zeichner said. “If you’re going to measure the quality of a teacher education program — of any program — the independent vetting, or review, of claims about evidence (is) a baseline minimum condition.”

Chalkbeat spoke with Carson and Bakari Posey, principal at IPS School 43. The two just completed their second of several training sessions, which will continue through the rest of the school year.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What made you want to be part of the fellowship?

Carson: The job of a principal is so lonely. To have the opportunity to work with high-quality, hard-working principals across the country is always inviting.

Posey: I wanted to make sure that I was able to appropriately and efficiently and effectively develop the people on our team. That’s what really drew me in. It’s shaped my thinking and sharpened my lens as a leader and what I’m looking for in classrooms.

What have you learned so far that you’re implementing in your school?

Carson: It’s been transformative in how our building is run just on the cultural side. Relay has really helped us understand that especially with adult learners, you have to start with the “why.” And then we model, and the teachers (in my school) play the position as students. We go into full acting mode, and then the teachers execute that practice. For two weeks before the kids even showed up, that’s what our teachers were doing. Normally, I’d hand my teachers a packet of procedures and expectations, but we never practiced.

Posey: We’ve started to implement already … around coaching teachers — how we give that feedback and give teachers bite-sized action steps to work on instead of making a list of 12 things to do at once. If you do one thing better every single day, then you get better overall. Something else that’s big for me is student work exemplars — actually having an example of excellence for student work that the teacher creates and uses to guide feedback. Overall it’s just kind of helped to organize my thinking as a school leader and really kind of give you a little bit of a road map towards student growth and overall school success. It’s the best professional development I’ve ever been a part of.

How have teachers back in your schools responded to the changes you have introduced, including suggestions on improving instruction, evaluations, etc.?

Carson: Teachers have been responding well, and they’re getting used to this culture, a culture of practice. Even in our feedback sessions where we’re coaching teachers, it’s “OK, execute the lesson — I’ll be the student, you be the teacher.”

Posey: They’ve been receptive. It’s not coming from a place of “gotcha” or I’m trying to make you look really bad. It’s really coming from a place of really getting better for our students to really give them the best, which is what they deserve.

gates keeper

Gates Foundation to move away from teacher evals, shifting attention to ‘networks’ of public schools

PHOTO: Department for International Development/Russell Watkins

Its massive education funding efforts have helped spread small high schools, charter schools, and efforts to overhaul teacher evaluations. Now, the Gates Foundation is going in a new direction.

In a speech Thursday, Bill Gates said the foundation is about to launch a new, locally driven effort to help existing public schools improve.

The idea is to fund “networks” that help public schools improve by scrutinizing student achievement data and getting schools to share their best ideas, he said. Of the $1.7 billion the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend on U.S. education over the next five years, more than 60 percent will go to these networks — dwarfing the amount to be spent on charter schools, about 15 percent.

Gates said that’s both because he wants to go where other philanthropy isn’t and because the foundation’s strategy is to affect as many students as possible. (Only 5 percent of U.S. public-school students attended a charter school in 2014.)

“In general, philanthropic dollars there … on charters is fairly high. We will be a bit different. Because of our scale, we feel that we need to put the vast majority of our money into these networks of public schools,” Gates said. (“We love charters,” he quickly added.)

The Gates Foundation is a supporter of Chalkbeat.

The strategy appears to be a nationwide expansion of the work Bob Hughes, the Gates Foundation’s K-12 education chief, did in New York City as the longtime head of an organization called New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions started several dozen district and charter schools but also created tools for schools to check on student progress that were later adopted by New York City itself.

Gates offered other examples: Chicago’s Network for College Success, which works with about 15 high schools; the LIFT Network in Tennessee, which includes 12 school districts; and the CORE Districts in California. The foundation plans to fund 20 to 30 such networks, Gates said.

Also notable is where Gates said the philanthropy will no longer be sending money: toward efforts to encourage new teacher evaluation systems, which in some states have faced fierce political resistance in recent years.

The foundation’s new work to support school networks will be driven by local ideas about how to create the best schools, Gates said.

“The challenge is that, even that piece when it’s done very well, the teacher in the classroom — that is not enough to get the full result we want,” Gates said. “And this is something that I’m sure has been obvious to all of you. But it’s really the entire school, where the leadership, the development, the overall culture, the analysis of what’s going on with the kids — it’s that school level where you have to get everything coming together.”

The final quarter of that $1.7 billion will go toward research into how kinds of technology could improve student learning and ways to improve math instruction and career preparation.