let's review

On the last day of school in New York City, a look back at the 15 biggest education stories this year

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

The 2017-18 school year wraps up today in New York City. But before you head off on vacation, hit the beach, or board the bus to camp, we’ve compiled some of the biggest education stories to recap the year that was.

1. After more than half a century in the New York City education department, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña decided this winter to retire for good, setting off a national search for a replacement.

2. It seemed like that replacement would be Alberto Carvalho, the longtime superintendent of Miami-Dade County schools. But Carvalho stunned New York City this spring by turning down the job — after city officials said he initially accepted it — in an emotional meeting that was broadcast live on television.

3. De Blasio tried again to name a new chancellor. This time, it stuck: In April, Richard Carranza took the helm of the country’s largest school system. It quickly became clear that Carranza — while philosophically aligned with his predecessor in many ways — would chart his own course as schools chief.

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza poses for a selfie with the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry.

4. One of the most notable areas of difference has been Carranza’s willingness to push for school integration. Only weeks into his tenure, Carranza made waves when he retweeted a news story that said: “WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”

5. The story contained viral news footage of a parent protesting an integration proposal for middle schools on the Upper West Side and Harlem. That plan was approved this month, and will affect District 3 schools starting next year.

6. But the biggest integration news of the year stemmed from a controversial proposal to overhaul admissions at the city’s elite specialized high schools in a bid to enroll more black and Hispanic students. The proposal has sparked protests from the Asian community, who say their children will be unfairly shut out of the schools.

7. A Bronx student was killed in a school by another student — the first time that’s happened in nearly 25 years. The tragedy has spurred big debates about school safety and discipline.

8. New York City began offering free lunch to all students, regardless of their family income, capping years of lobbying from advocates who said the old policy shamed students who couldn’t afford their meals.

9. More than 100,000 New York City students walked out of class as part of a national movement against gun violence that was spurred by the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Rafael Perez, a student in New York City, walked out during a March protest against gun violence.

10. More Renewal schools were closed, and the controversial school turn-around program was extended beyond its initial three-year deadline. The program’s future remains uncertain and progress has been uneven at best, despite costing more than half a billion dollars.

11. Once a formidable charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools publicly imploded just days after its leader was accused of inappropriate behavior.

12. Teachers unions notched a big win — and a substantial loss. New York City agreed to offer paid family leave to its 76,000 teachers after an online petition calling for the benefit went viral. But at the state level, teachers unions went home in defeat when the legislature failed to amend a controversial evaluation law that ties state test scores to teachers’ ratings.

13. It wasn’t all gridlock at the state: Education policymakers carved out changes to graduation requirements, breaking open a debate about what it should take to earn a diploma.

14. The state’s Board of Regents also approved new learning standards — dropping the name Common Core — and a new plan to evaluate and intervene in schools.

15.  “Sex in the City” star and longtime education advocate Cynthia Nixon launched a bid for New York governor on a platform that’s heavy on education reform.

Follow the ratings

Illinois education officials laud their school ratings — but critics say they don’t go far enough

Illinois rolled out its new school accountability system in the Illinois Report Card late last month.

State education officials publicly lauded their new school rating system Friday, even as a new, nationwide analysis of school improvement plans criticized Illinois’ approach as too hands-off.  

While the state developed a clear rating system as the federal government requires, Illinois falls short in follow-through, according to the report from the Collaborative for Student Success, a non-profit advocacy group, and HCM Strategies, a policy analysis group.  

“The state is taking too limited a role in leading or supporting school improvement efforts,” said the report, which examined how 17 states are implementing school improvement plans under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed in 2015 and replaced the No Child Left Behind Act.

Both those federal laws task states with identifying and helping improve underperforming schools and with creating criteria to judge which schools are doing well. Illinois rolled out its new school accountability system in the Illinois Report Card late last month.

State officials disagree with the criticism.

“Illinois is being held up as a model for other states to follow,” said Ralph Grimm, chief education officer of Illinois, speaking at the monthly state board of education meeting on Friday. “The entire (state) team has to be commended for providing useful information.”

Illinois’ rating system places every public school in the state into one of four categories based in part on scores on the annual PARCC standardized tests (click here to see how Chicago schools ranked).

Only about a third of Illinois students scored proficient or higher on PARCC tests administered last spring. In reading, 37 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 met that benchmark, while in math 31 percent did. Despite that, the state awarded 80 percent of its schools a “commendable” or “exemplary” rating. 

The state labeled 20 percent of schools “underperforming” or “low performing,” the only designations that could trigger state action. Intervention measures include improvement plans, visits from specialists, and additional funding.

The state released its ratings just days after Chicago released its own batch of school ratings, which take into account a different set of metrics and a different standardized test.

Grimm said the next step will be asking the state’s lowest-performing schools to draft improvement plans and then connecting them with experts to implement their changes.

The state ratings pay particular attention to how schools educate certain groups of students — such as children of color and English language learners. Improvement plans will focus on ways to raise their achievement levels.

Under the latest state rankings, nearly half of Chicago schools failed to meet the state’s threshold for performance, with a disproportionate number of high schools on the low-performance list. Nearly all of under- and low-performing Chicago high schools are on the South Side and sit in or border on the city’s poorest census tracts.

The state could grant underperforming schools $15,000, and  the lowest performers can apply for $100,000 under its IL-Empower program — which helped schools improve by funneling federal funds to them. Advocates have welcomed the change to a carrot to help schools pull themselves up, after years of sticks that overhauled and cut funding for low-performing schools.

Nationally, the Collaborative for Student Success report applauded Colorado for its streamlined application system, and Nevada for asking districts to directly address equity.

The collaborative criticized Illinois for failing to involve parents and community members in its plan. The group also said the state needs to give districts more guidance on putting together school improvement plans. 

carry on

These 16 Denver charter schools won renewal from the school board

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Sebastian Cruz waves to Rev. Leon Kelly as he works with children in a classroom during his after-school program at Wyatt Academy in September 2018.

The Denver school board on Thursday night unanimously renewed agreements with 16 of the district’s charter schools. The lengths of those renewals, however, varied from one year to five years — and signaled the board’s confidence in the schools to deliver a quality education.

The board also accepted Roots Elementary’s decision to close and surrender its charter at the end of this school year. The Park Hill school is facing low enrollment and high costs.

Denver Public Schools is a charter-friendly school district that has for years shared tax revenue and school buildings with its 60 publicly funded, independently operated charter schools. The schools are controversial, though, with opponents viewing them as privatizing public education.

Every charter school in Denver has an agreement with the district that spells out how long it’s allowed to operate. To continue running after that time period, the charter school must seek renewal. The arrangement is part of the deal for charters: They get the flexibility to operate independently, but they must periodically prove to the district that they’re doing a good job.

The school board relies on one set of recommendations from Denver Public Schools staff and a second set of recommendations from a districtwide parent committee in deciding how long a leash to give each charter school. The district staff and the parents on the committee consider factors such as test scores, school culture, financial viability, and the strength of a school’s leaders when making their recommendations.

They also consider a school’s rating on Denver Public Schools’ color-coded scale based largely on academic factors. The School Performance Framework, or SPF, labels schools either blue, green, yellow, orange, or red. Blue means a school has a distinguished academic record, while red means a school is not meeting the district’s expectations.

The staff recommended the school board renew the charters of all 16 schools that applied. Two other charter schools — DSST: Cole Middle School and Compass Academy — are also up for renewal this year. But because they earned the district’s lowest rating, they must go through a separate process in which they will present a detailed improvement plan. Their renewals will depend on the strength of their plans, which is why they weren’t included in this batch.

The board approved the 16 renewals Thursday without discussion. All of the new terms begin next school year. Here’s the rundown:

STRIVE Prep Federal, a middle school in southwest Denver
Year opened: 2006
School rating: Green
Renewal: Five years

DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School, a high school in far northeast Denver
Year opened: 2011
School rating: Green
Renewal: Five years

Rocky Mountain Prep Creekside, an elementary school in southeast Denver
Year opened: 2012
School rating: Green
Renewal: Five years

DSST: College View High School, a high school in southwest Denver
Year opened: 2015
School rating: Green
Renewal: Three years, with a possible two-year extension

KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy, a high school in far northeast Denver
Year opened: 2015
School rating: Blue
Renewal: Three years, with a possible two-year extension

KIPP Northeast Elementary School, an elementary school in far northeast Denver
Year opened: 2015
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible three-year extension

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, an elementary school in southwest Denver
Year opened: 2015
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible three-year extension

Wyatt Academy, an elementary school in northeast Denver
Year opened: 2003
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible two-year extension

KIPP Northeast Denver Middle School, a middle school in far northeast Denver
Year opened: 2011
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible two-year extension

Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, an elementary school in central Denver
Year opened: 2013
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible two-year extension

Denver Justice High School, an alternative high school for at-risk students in central Denver
Year opened: 2009
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible one-year extension

REACH Charter School, an elementary school in central Denver
Year opened: 2015
School rating: Yellow
Renewal: Two years, with a possible one-year extension

Monarch Montessori, an elementary school in far northeast Denver
Year opened: 2012
School rating: Orange
Renewal: One year, with a possible two-year extension

STRIVE Prep SMART, a high school in southwest Denver
Year opened: 2012
School rating: Orange
Renewal: One year, with a possible two-year extension

Academy of Urban Learning, an alternative high school for at-risk students in northwest Denver
Year opened: 2005
School rating: Red
Renewal: One year, with a possible one-year extension

Rise Up Community School, an alternative high school for at-risk students in northeast Denver
Year opened: 2015
School rating: Red
Renewal: One year