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New York

IBO: Changes to teacher residency rules could net city millions

New York

As candidates squabble over universal pre-K funds, a fact check

New York

City's charter school spending to exceed $1 billion in 2013-2014

New York

IBO: City could save money by eliminating principal bonus pay

The Independent Budget Office's latest suggestion for how to cut costs at the Department of Education is to cut a performance pay program for school administrators that the Bloomberg administration convinced the principals union to accept. Since 2007, the department has distributed about $6 million a year to principals and assistant principals on the basis of their schools' progress report scores. Last year, 275 administrators — including some who were under investigation at the time — took home $5.7 million, with individual rewards as high as $25,000,  for principals at the top 1 percent of schools. Department officials said today that this year's bonuses, based on 2011-2012 progress reports, are in the process of being paid out now. In its annual "Options" report listing ways for the city to save funds and raise revenue, the IBO argues that the performance pay might be better off conserved. The annual report is meant to inform city government officials as they head into their final negotiations before adopting a budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The education department, which takes up about a quarter of the city's planned spending, was listed in 14 of the 80 suggestions this year. For each cost-cutting idea, the IBO lists arguments that supporters and opponents might make. For the performance pay idea, the report notes, "Proponents might argue that the more weight that is placed on the Progress Reports, the more incentive there is for administrators and teachers to 'teach to the test' and even to manipulate data. Moreover, the remaining measurement problems in the Progress Reports might imply that the basis for awarding the bonuses is flawed."
New York

IBO: Tension between quality, quantity fueled after-school cuts

Because the cost of city-funded after-school spots increased last year, the number of spots declined. After-school programs that the City Council restored are receiving less funding than city-funded programs this year. An eleventh-hour effort by the City Council in June to maintain funding for thousands of after-school spots achieved its intended purpose — but it also inadvertently created a two-tiered after-school system in which only some programs can strive to meet higher academic standards. That’s the conclusion of a report released last week by the Independent Budget Office about Out of School Time, a Bloomberg administration initiative to streamline publicly funded after-school programming. The report finds that the city’s simultaneous efforts to reduce costs and boost quality in OST programs induced Bloomberg's proposal to cut after-school spots dramatically this spring. City funding for the program rose from $61 million in 2007 to $108 million in 2009, allowing the number of seats to grow substantially, according to the report. But this year, after half a dozen rounds of city budget cuts, the proposed budget for the program fell to $76 million. At the same time, the city had embarked on an effort to raise standards in programs that had originally operated with offering “safe and developmentally appropriate environments” as its major goal. With an eye toward using OST programs to support academic instruction, the city told programs that they would have to hire “educational specialists” to develop curriculum and lessons — increasing the cost per participant by nearly 60 percent. The increase would required the number of slots to be cut in half, meaning about 26,000 children would have been shut out of OST programs this year.
New York

IBO: Students stood pat on tests during years of touted growth

For years, the city touted its improved test scores, saying that higher and higher percentages of its students were proficient on the standardized exams. A new report by the Independent Budget Office, which tracked the change in year-to-year test scores of individual students for the same period, disputes the gains the city claimed. That's because more than 60 percent of students from a single cohort who were tested from third to sixth grade between 2006 to 2009 on the English language arts exam didn't improve their proficiency levels, the IBO analysis found. Thirty percent ended up at a higher level and eight percent ended up at a lower level. "At a time when the city was saying things were getting better in the school system, it looks different when you look at performances of the individual student," said Ray Domanico, director of education research at the IBO. Domanico acknowledged that there were some limitations to looking at proficiency levels alone. He said comparing state test scores from one year to the next is less than ideal, because a proficiency level in third grade doesn't necessarily mean a student learned nothing if they earn the same level in subsequent grades. But given the data, Domanico said proficiency levels — rather than raw scores — was the only possible metric to measure individual student progress, in an era when education officials are increasingly evaluating schools and teachers based on students growth on test scores. He added that proficiency level is the most relevant metric to the public, because the city uses that data to make decisions about student promotion and admission, and shares it with parents.
New York

IBO: City's school progress reports are flawed but an advance

The system the city uses to award letter grades to schools is complicated and in some ways flawed — but it's the best system we have. That's the conclusion of a report by the Independent Budget Office, the city's budget watchdog that since 2009 has been charged with scrutinizing Department of Education data. The office examined the city's progress reports, released annually since 2007, to see whether their underlying metrics produce meaningful results. The progress reports were meant to radically reorient the way that New Yorkers thought about school performance. Instead of assessing schools simply by the proportion of students passing state tests, the progress reports focus on students' improvement from year to year. In a precursor to the "value-added" measurements now being used to assess teachers, the reports use a complex and evolving algorithm that controls for student demographics to calculate just how much students have progressed. The city then assigns each school a letter grade based on its score. The letter grades inform both the city's decisions about which principals should receive bonuses and which schools should be considered for closure and families' choices are where to enroll. The IBO concludes that the progress reports offer a more sophisticated analysis of school performance than ever before — but that there is room for improvement. "The methodology used by the education department is a significant improvement over simply basing measures on comparisons of standardized test scores," the report concludes. "Still, the School Progress Reports have to be interpreted with caution."
New York

IBO: Schools up for closure tonight enroll very needy students

A slide from the IBO's report about schools up for closure. For the third year in a row, the city's data watchdog has concluded that the schools the city is trying to close serve especially needy students. In 2010 and 2011, the Independent Budget Office put together longer reports about the city's school closure proposals on the request of Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council's education committee. But this year, the office, which has a special mandate to scrutinize the Department of Education's facts and figures, compiled details about the demographics, performance, and funding of schools on the chopping block on its own. Then it released the statistics in an easy-to-read, stand-alone format. Among the many people who are receiving the IBO's 13-slide presentation by email today are the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, who are set to vote on the closure proposals tonight, according to spokesman Doug Turetsky. "It's an accessible format so people can see the stats and come to their own conclusions," he said. UPDATE: Department of Education officials disputed some of the data in the slides and said the budget office had not given them as much time to review the report before publication as an agreement between the two offices requires. They urged the IBO not to release the report and then to retract it once it was published because data on at least one slide did not match information the city had provided. The budget office retracted one slide that showed change over time in the number of students with special needs at the schools. But other slides showed that the schools up for closure enroll more than the average proportion of students who have disabilities, are overage, or are considered English language learners, confirming analyses published elsewhere.
New York

IBO report hints that school spending could take another hit

New York

Taking DOE to court, parents resurrect battle over co-locations

Lawyers for the Department of Education were back on the defense in Judge Paul Feinman's courtroom on Thursday morning to argue a new twist on an old charter school co-location debate. A new lawsuit argues that more than 80 charter schools sited in public school buildings have gotten free rides on facilities expenses such as utilities and building maintenance. Parent groups who brought the lawsuit earlier this summer are suing want the DOE to collect more than $100 million in rent money that they say should have been charged. Today's hearing on the lawsuit, which did not yield an immediate decision, comes less than two months after the same judge rejected the United Federation of Teachers and NAACP's request to halt all charter school co-locations. That lawsuit argued that the co-location plans favored the charter schools. In today's hearing, arguments focused on the city's policy, in place since 2003, that lets charter schools share space free of charge. Eighty two charter schools are now occupied in public buildings that house an estimated 27,500 students, according to court papers. New York State charter law, first written in 1999, states that charter schools can be located within a public school building "at cost" based on what they are charged to rent, lease or own private or public space. How much "at cost" should be worth – if anything at all – was a major source of disagreement between the sides. Arthur Schwartz, arguing for the plaintiffs, said in court that the charter schools in public school buildings should have to pay for the per-pupil costs because it provided them with inequitably favorable resources at a time when district schools are forced to cut their budgets. "It gets at the heart of some of the disparities of the tales that we've heard in the schools," Schwartz told Feinman.
New York

Black on city history, teacher turnover, and school closures

Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't in her first month on the job on NY1 last night. Chancellor Cathie Black's interview on Inside City Hall last night is worth watching in full. The interview exposes just how much Black has been able to absorb in her first month on the job — and how much she hasn't. In a moment first highlighted by NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ on Twitter, Black declared, "The public school system in New York City has been unbelievably successful since the birth of our nation." She was responding to a question from host Errol Louis about why she chose to send her children to private rather than public city schools. Black did not elaborate, but the statement is confusing given that public schools in New York City did not emerge until the early 1800s. Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the "last in, first out" policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom (PDF link). Here's how Black responded: Well you have to know, like, what's really at the heart of the issue. I don't know that we know what's really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They're there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave. She then returned to the "last in, first out" question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren't concerned about being laid off. "Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, 'Maybe I don't have a job next year.' Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, 'I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?' That's going to be a catastrophe," she said. For years, researchers have asked why teachers leave schools — particularly struggling schools. A 2007 paper by a group studying New York City teachers, the Teacher Pathways Project, summarized the major findings this way: "Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which student achievement is higher and teachers — especially white teachers — are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students." "Teachers who score higher on tests of academic achievement are more likely to leave," as are teachers from out of town. Less-qualified teachers are more likely to stay at a school than teachers with higher qualifications, "especially if they teach in low-achieving schools."
New York

Q&A: The Independent Budget Office's new education watchdog