School safety

The fatal stabbing in a Bronx classroom was horrific — but also extremely rare

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio, flanked by police Commissioner James O'Neill and Chancellor Carmen Fariña held a press conference on school safety at M.S. 88 in Brooklyn in August.

The fatal stabbing at a Bronx school Wednesday comes amid continuing debate over school safety and the use of metal detectors in schools — but also as serious crimes in schools are at near-record lows.

Details about the incident at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation are still coming in, but city officials have confirmed that two teenage students were stabbed during a history class, one fatally, by a classmate wielding a switchblade.

The incident is extremely rare: One student has not killed another inside a school for more than two decades, officials said. And though Wednesday’s events have put some families on edge, they come in the context of a wider downturn in crime inside schools and citywide.

The number of major crimes committed in schools — from murder to grand larceny — are at their lowest levels since the city began keeping track in 1998. Arrests, summonses, and suspensions have also fallen in recent years.

Less than two months ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio highlighted those trends at a press conference declaring last school year “the safest year on record.” At a briefing Wednesday, he noted that it had been “many, many years” since a student was killed inside a school.

The last time a student was killed at the hands of another student inside a school building appeared to be in 1993, when a 15-year-old student fatally stabbed another 15-year-old boy in the crowded hallway of a Manhattan junior high school. (In 2014, a 14-year-old boy stabbed another boy to death outside I.S. 117 in the Bronx.)

Still, the mayor’s critics have painted a different picture of overall school safety, relying on state data and other statistics that show more weapons are being recovered from city schools. Last school year, 1,429 weapons were recovered, according to police data, up from 1,073 the year before. De Blasio said last month that the increase could indicate greater vigilance from school personnel and police as opposed to a less safe environment.

Wednesday’s episode may also complicate the debate about the city’s deployment of metal detectors in school buildings. The building did not have a metal detector, and a police official said in a briefing that there was “no question” the knife used in the attack would have been caught during screening.

After rushing back to school to pick up their children, parents at the School for Wildlife Conservation reportedly began calling for the city to set up metal detectors. De Blasio said temporary metal detectors would be brought into the school on Thursday.

Police Chief Joanne Jaffe, who oversees the community affairs bureau, said it had previously been determined that the school did not require metal detectors, but now, “We’ll review that and take a look at that.”

Some advocates have argued metal detectors make students feel like criminals and “normalized the idea of getting shot or stabbed” as one student put it. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to have to pass through metal detectors, a WNYC analysis found.

Eighty-eight buildings currently have metal detectors, education department spokeswoman Toya Holness said. The city conducts annual reviews to determine if scanners are needed, and principals can also request that they be added or removed.

Last year, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged advocates’ concerns about the use of scanners, but said they had to be weighed against students’ safety.

“You want to make sure that when you remove something,” she said, “that the school stays as safe.”

Correction: Based on information from city officials, an earlier version of this story cited a fatal stabbing at a Brooklyn high school in 1992 as the last time one student killed another inside a New York City. However, as the story now notes, another student was fatally stabbed inside a school later that academic year, in 1993.

voucher verdict

Do vouchers help students get to college? Two new studies come to different answers

PHOTO: Micaela Watts

The debate around school vouchers has exploded in the last year with the appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. That also means recent studies showing that student achievement drops, at least initially, when students use public dollars to attend private schools have gotten a lot of attention.

But supporters have countered that test scores only say so much about student performance. The real test is how students do over the long term.

Two studies out Friday offer new answers — and some ammunition for both sides.

The research looks at how students from Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. fared after using a voucher to attend private school. It found students in Milwaukee’s voucher program were more likely to attend four-colleges, but not necessarily more likely to actually graduate. In D.C., voucher recipients were no more likely to enroll in college.

Here’s what else the studies tell us.

Disappointing results for D.C. voucher program

The D.C. analysis, conducted by Matt Chingos of the Urban Institute, found that 43 percent of students who won a voucher enrolled in college within two years of graduating high school. That’s 3 percentage points lower than similar students who lost the lottery, though the difference was not statistically significant.

The research relied on that random lottery for allocating vouchers in the first two years of the program. This meant the study could confidently show that any difference between lottery winners and losers was caused by the program, which was created in 2004 and has been a source of controversy ever since.

The study notes that because the sample size of students is fairly small, it can’t rule out the possibility that the program either boosted or hurt college attendance to some degree.

The results are surprising in light of past evidence that the first groups of D.C. voucher participants were more likely to graduate high school and scored higher on reading tests. (A more recent study on the program, focusing on students who participated in later years, found that it caused substantial drops in math test scores.)

Milwaukee voucher recipients more likely to attend — but not necessarily graduate — college

The Milwaukee study offers a more positive story for voucher advocates.

Voucher students were generally more likely to enroll in college, particularly four-year universities, than students with similar test scores from the same neighborhood who were not participating in the program in 2006. For instance, among students who used a voucher in elementary or middle school, 47 percent enrolled in college, compared to 43 percent of similar students.

When it came to actually completing college, though, the results were less clear. The researchers estimated that voucher recipients had a small edge — 1 or 2 percentage points — but the difference was not statistically significant.

MPCP is the Milwaukee voucher program; MPS is Milwaukee Public Schools

In contrast to the D.C. study, the Milwaukee researchers — Patrick Wolf, John Witte, and Brian Kisida — weren’t able to use a random lottery, meaning the results are less definitive. And although the researchers try to make apples-to-apples comparisons, the estimates may be skewed if more motivated families, or students who were struggling in public schools, used a voucher.

The latest results are consistent with a previous Milwaukee study by some of the same researchers. It’s also similar to a recent Florida study suggesting that vouchers led to increases in two-year college enrollment, but had little or no effect on whether students earned a degree.

(Both the Milwaukee and D.C. studies were funded by a number of groups that support school choice, including the Oberndorf Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Walton is also a funder of Chalkbeat.)

What we still don’t know

Like the research before it, these studies won’t come close to ending the debate about school vouchers. Opponents will likely highlight the results in D.C. and the inconsistent impact on college completion in Milwaukee. School choice advocates will point to other parts of the Milwaukee study, and the fact that the D.C. voucher programs appeared to keep pace with public schools while spending less per student.

Meanwhile, these studies tell us most about these programs as they existed more than a decade ago. That’s the disadvantage of studies like these of longer-run effects, even as they provide more information about metrics more important to most policymakers and parents than test scores.

“The problem with these long-term studies is that these are the right outcomes to look at, but by the time we know it, it’s of more questionable relevance,” Chingos said.

Future of Schools

Mike Feinberg, KIPP co-founder, fired after misconduct investigation

PHOTO: Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of the KIPP charter network, has been fired after an investigation into sexual misconduct, its leaders announced Thursday.

KIPP found “credible evidence” connected to allegations that Feinberg abused a student in the late 1990s, according to a letter sent to students and staff. Feinberg denies the allegations.

“We recognize this news will come as a shock to many in the KIPP Team and Family as we struggle to reconcile Mr. Feinberg’s 24 years of significant contributions with the findings of this investigation,” the letter says.

It’s a stunning move at one of the country’s best-known charter school organizations — and one where Feinberg has been in a leadership role for more than two decades. Feinberg started KIPP along with Dave Levin in Houston in 1994, and Levin brought the model to New York City the next year. The network became known for its “no excuses” model of strict discipline and attention to academic performance.

KIPP says it first heard the allegation last spring. The network eventually hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an external investigation, which found evidence that Feinberg had sexually harassed two adults, both alums of the school who were then employed by KIPP in Houston, the network said.

“In light of the nature of the allegations and the passage of time, critical facts about these events may never be conclusively determined. What is clear, however, is that, at a minimum, Mr. Feinberg put himself into situations where his conduct could be seriously misconstrued,” KIPP wrote in the letter, signed by CEO Richard Barth and KIPP’s Houston leader, Sehba Ali.

Feinberg’s lawyer, Chris Tritico, told the Houston Chronicle that Feinberg had not been fully informed about the allegations against him.

“The treatment he received today from the board that he put in place is wrong, and it’s not what someone who has made the contributions he’s made deserves,” Tritico said.

Read KIPP’s full letter here.