principal principles

New York City closes the door on Mayor Bloomberg’s boot camp for principals, marking end of an era

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Joel Klein and Carmen Fariña attended the final Aspiring Principals graduation in June.

A high-profile principal training program that started with a bang under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has gone out with a whimper.

The Aspiring Principals Program, a cornerstone of former Chancellor Joel Klein’s approach to the school system, graduated its final class in June and will no longer train new school leaders in New York City.

Since 2003, the fast-track principal training program has been run under the auspices of the NYC Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organization initially launched as an alternative to the city’s traditional process, in which educators work their way up through the system over time.

But the Aspiring Principals Program was also a mechanism for Klein to carry out his reform agenda by training would-be principals like CEOs (former GE executive Jack Welch once chaired the Academy) and holding them accountable for boosting school performance.

Early on, the program trained close to 90 aspiring principals per year, often younger teachers looking to vault into leadership positions, Academy officials said. It originally included an intensive summer training followed by a paid year-long residency shadowing an experienced principal, and over 14 years, the program produced 466 city principals.

The decision to end the principal training program comes alongside a shakeup to another longstanding relationship with a non-profit organization. Chalkbeat reported earlier this month that the city will not renew its contract with TNTP, a reform-oriented organization that helped recruit and train roughly 20 percent of the city’s teachers — opting instead to run the program itself.

City officials said they ended the principal training program for the same reason they brought the teacher training program in-house.

“It was just a smart move on the [education department’s] part to take what we’ve learned from our partners and make sure that we internalize it ourselves,” said Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg.

Asked whether ending the principal training program amounted to a rejection of the business-style leadership Klein espoused, Weinberg indicated that the education department had shifted its thinking. “It takes specific things to run GE, but it’s a different thing than running a school,” he said.

Still, the decision to end the program is not likely to have a sudden effect on principal recruitment and training. The education department had been scaling back the program for years, and in June, just 13 people graduated from it. (By contrast, the city hired 137 principals last school year.)

One of the ways the city reduced the program’s scope was by no longer sending prospective principals to spend a year embedded in another school — an expensive commitment given that the city had historically paid participants a full principal’s salary while training.

“As Carmen Fariña came on board, she wanted to build the district’s capacity to run their own leadership programs,” said Irma Zardoya, president and CEO of the NYC Leadership Academy, which now works with districts in more than two dozen states across the country. “They received significant funding to build capacity through their own leadership development programs. It’s happened gradually.”

The city has been leaning more heavily on its Leadership in Education Apprenticeship Program, which was developed with the NYC Leadership Academy and includes a summer training that borrows heavily from the Aspiring Principals curriculum.

But a key difference is that participants keep their jobs in their original schools while learning from their current principals, eliminating the cost of paying them to train elsewhere. In 2017, LEAP produced 86 graduates, many of whom will likely be hired as assistant principals first.

City officials emphasized that they will not completely cut ties with the NYC Leadership Academy, and the organization will continue to provide support to existing principals who request it. The education department has also continued to invest in a suite of other training programs, including partnerships with local universities, funded partly by the Wallace Foundation, which also helped finance the initial Aspiring Principals program.

The Aspiring Principals program has evolved and sparked controversy throughout its 14-year run. Some school communities pushed back against what they saw as heavy-handed management tactics, and others questioned how people with little teaching experience could quickly morph into effective school leaders. (Current Chancellor Fariña significantly increased the amount of teaching experience principals must have before landing the job.)

A 2009 study of the program’s effect in New York City found that it had some positive effects on student test scores, but a different analysis showed that schools run with Leadership Academy graduates had higher teacher turnover and lower grades on progress reports. The program also motivated a high-profile spat between education reform critic Diane Ravitch and former Chancellor Klein, who passed over Ravitch’s partner to run the principal training program. (After this story was published, Ravitch wrote in an email that she never asked Klein to hire her partner to run the program, and their disagreements were unrelated.)

Eric Nadelstern, a deputy chancellor under Klein who later ran a principal training program at Teachers College, said the program’s conclusion marks the end of an era. While Bloomberg and Klein wanted to shake up the system, he said, Fariña has sought to restore veteran educators to the role.

“Carmen thinks very differently,” he said. “She thinks people need to put in their dues.”

This story has been updated to include a response from Diane Ravitch.

School choice

Denver judge blocks school transportation provision added to Colorado law

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Sam Boswell, 7, all bundled up in his winter clothes, splashes his way to the school bus on May 12, 2010.

A Denver judge struck down a provision of a bill related to the education of youth in foster care that would have removed barriers to transportation for all students.

The transportation provision was an amendment added by Republican lawmakers late in the 2018 session. Soon after the bill was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, several Colorado school districts and the associations that represent them filed a lawsuit to block it.

In a ruling issued Friday, Denver District Court Judge David Goldberg found that the amendment violated rules in the Colorado constitution that require every bill to have a clear title that explains what the bill is about and to deal only with one subject.

The bill’s title was “Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth,” and it seeks to improve graduation rates for foster youth by requiring child welfare officials and school districts to work out transportation to the student’s home district when that’s in the child’s best interest. It also creates flexibility around graduation requirements when students do change schools. Foster youth have the lowest four-year graduation rates in the state, much lower even than homeless youth and students whose parents are migrant workers.

The tacked-on language was added in the Republican-controlled State Affairs committee five days before the end of the session. It said that a school board “may furnish transportation” to students who are enrolled in the district but who live in another district. The provision applies to all students, not just those who are in the foster system. It also struck language from an existing law that requires the consent of the school district from which students are being bused.

The amendment language came straight from a separate bill about expanding school choice that had been killed by Democrats in the House the day before.

Many school districts opposed the transportation provision because they feared it would open the door for better-off districts to poach students and undermine the meaning of school district boundaries. Advocates for school choice argued the provision was good policy that would allow more students, especially those from low-income families, take advantage of opportunities. They also argued, apparently unconvincingly, that it was required for implementation of the foster youth portions of the bill.

The Donnell-Kay Foundation intervened in the case in defense of the law. (The Donnell-Kay Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat. You can read our ethics policy here.)

In his ruling, Goldberg said this specific issue has never been litigated in Colorado before, and he relied in part on rulings from other states with similar requirements. Bills with broad titles, he wrote, can be construed broadly and encompass a range of issues as long as they have some connection to the title. But bills with narrow titles must be construed narrowly — and this amendment didn’t make the cut.

“The subject of House Bill 18-1306 is out-of-home placed students and efforts to ensure educational stability,” Goldberg wrote, while the amendment’s subject “is all students, with no qualifiers, conditions, restrictions, or reference to out-of-home placed students. … House Bill 18-1306 seriously modifies transportation for all students and is hidden under a title relating exclusively to out-of-home placed students.”

Goldberg ruled that the amendment is “disconnected” from the rest of the bill, and neither lawmakers nor the public had enough notice about its inclusion before passage.

That leaves the rest of the foster youth bill intact and advocates for expanded school choice facing an uphill battle in a legislature in which Democrats, who are more likely to give priority to school district concerns, now control both chambers.

This isn’t an abstract issue. In 2015, more than 150 students who lived in the Pueblo 60 district but attended school in higher-performing Pueblo 70 lost access to transportation when the city-based district ordered its neighbor to stop running bus routes through its territory.

Online Shopping

Jeffco launches universal enrollment site to make school choice easy

PHOTO: Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat
Students in a social studies class at Bear Creek High School in Jeffco Public Schools read about Genghis Khan.

Starting Monday, parents in Colorado’s second-largest district will be able to shop online for schools and, once enrollment opens in January, apply to as many as they like.

The launch of Enroll Jeffco, following the path paved by Denver Public Schools, means some 86,000 students and their parents won’t have to go to individual schools during the work day and fill out paper forms if they want to apply somewhere other than their neighborhood school.

The online system cost about $600,000 to develop and operate for this school year. The district expects it to cost about half of that annually going forward.

Universal enrollment systems allow parents to compare and apply to traditional district-run schools, district schools with specialized programming or models, known in Jeffco as options schools, and charter schools with a single application on the same website. Universal enrollment systems are a key component of what some call the “portfolio model,” in which districts oversee a range of school types and parents vote with their feet. They’ve been controversial in places, especially when coupled with aggressive school accountability policies that lead to school closures.

In Jeffco Public Schools, which is more affluent than many Denver metro area districts, officials see the move to a single, online enrollment system as a valuable service for parents.

“Regardless of how people feel about it, we operate in a competitive school choice environment, both inside the district and outside the district,” Superintendent Jason Glass said. “That compels us to make thinking about that transaction, making people aware of the options and enrolling in our schools, as frictionless and easy as possible.”

Colorado law requires schools in any district to admit any student for whom they have room and for whom the district can provide adequate services, after giving priority to students who live in the district. But many districts still require paper applications at individual schools, and schools in the same district might not have the same deadlines. A recent report by the conservative education advocacy group Ready Colorado found that parents who use school choice are more likely to be white, middle- or upper-class, and English-speaking than the state’s student population. The authors argue that districts should streamline the enrollment process and consider providing transportation to make choice more accessible.

Jeffco isn’t rolling out new transportation options yet, but it might use data from the enrollment process, including a parent survey that is built into the website, to see if that’s desired or feasible. And officials believe strongly that the new online enrollment system will open up more opportunities for low-income parents and those who don’t speak English.

The website will provide information in the district’s six most commonly spoken languages and should be optimized for use on mobile phones. All parents will be required to use the system to express their preferences, including the majority of parents who want to stay in their neighborhood school, and the district is planning significant outreach and in-person technical assistance.

We believe that if all parents are participating, it improves equity,” Glass said. “One of the things we struggle with is that upwardly mobile and affluent parents tend to be the ones who take advantage of school choice. We want all of our schools to be available to all of our families. We think being able to search through and make the enrollment process as easy as possible is an equity issue.”

But critics of universal enrollment systems worry that the ease of application will encourage parents to give up on neighborhood schools rather than invest in them.

Rhiannon Wenning, a teacher at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, said the link between charter schools and open enrollment systems makes her distrustful, even as many of her students are using the choice process to stay at the school after rising home prices pushed them into other parts of the metro area.

“I understand parents want what is best for their child, but part of that as a citizen and a community member is to make your neighborhood school the school that you want it to be,” she said, calling the universal enrollment system an attack on public schools.

Joel Newton of the Edgewater Collective, which provides community support for lower-income schools in the eastern part of the district, said Enroll Jeffco will give the district much better data on which to base decisions, but he worries that Title I schools, which serve large numbers of students from low-income families, won’t be able to compete.

“With an online system like this, it really needs to be a level playing field,” he said. “And in my area, I’d much rather have resources going to curriculum and instructional aides to catch kids up than going into marketing support. But other areas can do that and they have these big, well-funded PTAs.”

Until now, parents have had to seek out information on each school’s website. The online portal starts by asking parents to enter their address and the grade in which they’re enrolling a student. It then displays the parents’ neighborhood school, with an option to explore alternatives. Each school page has extensive information, including a short narrative, descriptions of special programs like math, arts, or expeditionary learning, the school mascot, and the racial and economic breakdown of the student population. The intent, district spokesperson Diana Wilson said, is to let schools “tell their own story.”

Parents can select as many schools as they want when enrollment opens Jan. 22, and they’ll learn in mid- to late February where they got in. However, they have to commit within five days to one school, ending a practice by which parents in the know kept their options open through the summer months. District officials say this will help them plan and budget better.

Kristen Harkness, assistant director for special education in Jeffco, served on the steering committee that developed the system, and she’s also a parent in the district. Even as a district employee who thought she knew the process inside and out, she managed to miss a deadline for her son to be considered at another middle school.

She said that choosing between schools isn’t a matter of which schools are better but which are a better fit for a particular student. In her case, her son could have stayed at a K-8 or transferred to a combined middle and high school, with each option presenting a different kind of middle school experience. He’s happy at the K-8 where he stayed, she said, but parents and students should have the chance to make those decisions.

The new universal enrollment system is poised to give more families that chance. In the course of the rollout, though, there may be a few glitches.

“We’re doing all we can to look into the future and foresee any technical problems and design solutions to that proactively,” Glass said. “That said, this is our first time, and we ask for people’s patience.”