The state released the results of this year's third through eighth grade tests yesterday, and officials from City Hall to the charter sector lept to celebrate students' gains.
Some changes were the focal point of the Department of Education's Tuesday afternoon press conference—like the drop among English Language Learners and the boosts charter schools saw. But they avoided nuances in the results for the city's new schools, which have been at the center of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education reform policies. Beyond first impressions, here are seven interesting takeaways we parsed from the trove of data:
Like last year, English Language Learners took a step back. Students who are identified as English Language Learners improved slightly in math, but took another step back from the statistical gains they made on the literacy test (ELA) earlier in the decade, before the state made the exams tougher in 2010. While just under half of the city’s non-ELL students met the state’s ELA standards, just 11.6 percent of ELL students did so. But in math, the percentage of ELL students scoring proficient rose by 2.5 points, to 37 percent.
But students in other categories that typically struggle showed improvements. The percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient in math and literacy went up again this year, to 30.2 percent in math and 15.8 percent in English. And although Black and Hispanic students are still lagging behind their white peers by close to thirty percentage points in literacy and math, they also saw small bumps in both subjects. Officials said that new initiatives targeting struggling students, particularly students of color, contributed to the gains.
Immediately after Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to "turn around" dozens of struggling schools, Department of Education officials began laying the groundwork to implement the complex and politically charged process.
Planning is well underway, and it is likely to ratchet up after Thursday night, when the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the proposals to close and reopen the schools with new names and new teachers. Approval is virtually assured, because the panel — whose majority consists of mayoral appointees — has never rejected a city proposal.
Yesterday, in a first post about turnaround's past, present, and future, we looked at how the process landed on the panel's agenda. Today, we are summarizing what we know – and what we don't — about what is likely to come next.
What will happen to the teachers at the schools?
All teachers will have to reapply for their jobs. Under the 18-D process outlined in the city's contract with the union, each principal and a team of teachers chosen by the principal and the union will set hiring guidelines and hire back at least 50 percent of the teachers from the old school who apply and are qualified to work in the new one. Federal turnaround requirements call for the schools to replace at least half of teachers who have been on staff for more than two years, suggesting that the rehiring might have to achieve exactly a 50 percent replacement rate. But city officials have said they are not setting a rehiring quota for turnaround principals.
Since Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to "turn around" dozens of struggling schools during his State of the City speech in January, the city has hammered out specifics while holding two rounds of raucous meetings at each of the schools that could be overhauled.
Meanwhile, community members, politicians, and union officials have argued against turnaround at rally after rally — even as the city's plans evolved. On Thursday, they will air those arguments one more time as the Panel for Educational Policy — which has never rejected a city proposal — sits down to hear public testimony and then vote on 26 turnaround plans.
In two posts, we will summarize how the city got here, what turnaround entails, and what could happen after Thursday. First, some recent history:
What exactly is turnaround, anyway?
Turnaround is one of four federally prescribed school overhaul strategies that cities can adopt to qualify for School Improvement Grants. The SIG program was developed to entice states and school districts to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan committed to funding overhauls. The program has gotten mixed reviews across the country but still has sent school districts into a frenzy trying to win scarce funds, which can amount to millions of dollars per school for three years.
If districts want the funds, they must select one of the four strategies for each school on the list. They can close the schools and disperse their students; partner them with nonprofit groups or turn them into charter schools under "restart"; add new resources and programs under "transformation"; or choose turnaround.
Two weeks after Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to to replace half of all teachers at 33 struggling schools, efforts are underway to soften the threat.
Department of Education officials said today that the city is exploring the option of replacing fewer teachers at the schools under an allowance included in federal guidelines for the school improvement strategy known as "turnaround."
The turnaround process, which Bloomberg announced two weeks ago to sidestep a requirement of other school improvement strategies to negotiate new teacher evaluations with the teachers union, mandates that 50 percent of teachers be replaced. But the U.S. Department of Education makes special allowances for some teachers who have been hired in the last two years.
Now the city is looking to take advantage of that flexibility when it files formal turnaround applications with the state next month.
The catch is that not every teacher hired in the last two years is automatically eligible for the exemption.The federal guidelines make an allowance only for teachers who were selected "according to locally adopted competencies as part of a school reform effort" headed by a principal handpicked to lead it. That means, according to the guidelines, the teachers should have been screened for an ability to "be effective in a turnaround situation."
It's not clear how many of the roughly 3,400 teachers at the 33 schools would fall into this category. As recently as Monday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told state legislators that there would be "possibly up to 1,500, 1,700 teachers" cut loose from the schools.
New Yorkers following Chicago’s snowballing union-district standoff over plans to extend the school day may not realize that similar conversations take place inside city schools every year.
Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and his schools chief, former New York City deputy Jean-Claude Brizard, are pushing schools to add 90 minutes to their 5-hour-long days, among the shortest in the nation. But they have offered teachers only 2 percent more pay, raising the ire of the teachers union, whose president, Karen Lewis, has said Emanuel is creating "a nightmare" by asking union members to override their union contract.
Even though the union has filed a lawsuit over the plan, Emanuel and Brizard decided to shop the proposal school by school, and teachers at at least nine schools have voted to extend their working hours—and the instructional day. The city and the teachers union send out warring press releases each time another school takes a vote.
Staff at New York City schools routinely take similar votes, but with less fanfare. There has been no system-wide push for a longer school day in years, and educators do not foresee a Chicago-style showdown repeating in New York.
That’s in part because the average New York City school day is already much longer than Chicago’s, and slightly longer than other major cities’, with many students in school for 6.5 hours or more. In addition, the district already struck a flexible deal with the union five years ago to extend the school day by 37.5 minutes four days a week for at least 290,000 city students, mostly those who struggle academically. How that time is spent is, to a large degree, up to each school.
Researchers say it is almost impossible to make a good estimate of the length of the New York City school day—something that one Chicago columnist found last week when he tried to tally the numbers—because instructional time requirements vary by grade-level and subject, and principals and teachers can decide together how they want to structure parts of the school day.