a plan emerges

Student suspensions will now be used in New York state’s revised plan to evaluate schools

PHOTO: Monica Disare
The New York State Board of Regents

New York state’s plan to evaluate schools under the new federal education law is evolving.

On Monday, education officials released revisions to their draft plan required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, adding out-of-school suspensions to the list of ways schools are rated. They also proposed changes to the way the state treats transfer schools and a clarification of what the law means for schools with high testing opt-out rates.

This 12-page document offers a side-by-side look at the current proposals, and how they differ from ones released in a May draft. The final plan is expected to go before the board in September.

Here are a couple of the big differences:

Suspension rates

In May, out-of-school suspensions were on the list of items schools had to report. Now, state officials say they will use out-of-school suspensions as a way to evaluate schools, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

Suspensions disproportionately affect students of color, and groups like Educators for Excellence have pushed for school discipline data to be included in the plan. The state justified the change by saying there was “strong public support” for using this measure.

Transfer schools

In recent months, state education officials have gotten an earful from New York City transfer schools, which are mainly designed to help high school students who have fallen behind.

Transfer school students, parents and staff members worried the plan would treat their schools too harshly since federal law requires schools with graduation rates under 67 percent to be targeted for improvement.

In this redesigned plan, transfer schools would not automatically become receivership schools based on their graduation rates. Instead, the document states, “The commissioner will partner with the district to determine the most appropriate interventions for the school, which could still include receivership.”

“I’m very committed to making sure that we have an appropriate accountability system in place for transfer schools,” Elia said. “But I believe that all schools that are working with our students need to have accountability.”

The 95 percent participation rule

Under No Child Left Behind, states were required to have 95 percent of students participate in New York state standardized assessments. That’s proven tricky in New York, where as many as one in five families opted out of the tests in recent years to protest the emphasis placed on them.

The Every Student Succeeds Act carries over the earlier requirement and requires states to figure out a way to handle schools that have fallen below that mark. In the revisions released Monday, state officials say they will develop “guidance” about what will happen to those schools and tweaked the way they plan to evaluate schools with high opt-out rates.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.