Jorge Lema – Final Policy Project
May 3, 2017
The New York City Renewal Schools Program was enacted to save 94 of the city’s lowest performing public schools. The program has failed because, although “Renewal” schools received a lot of funding and resources, their enrollments and teacher quality have decreased. Families and professionals are skeptical of Renewal Schools because the schools close if they do not meet program benchmarks in areas such as graduation and attendance rates or other more holistic expectations. School climates of mistrust and frustration have led to administrative manipulation of data to meet aforementioned benchmarks. New York City can reform this program by making it permanent, removing the threat of school closures and incentivizing people to work, and believe in, Renewal Schools.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Renewal Schools Program was enacted in 2014. It provides Renewal schools with funding and resources that traditional public schools do not have. Originally the schools were required to meet benchmarks in three years to avoid closures or mergers with other schools, but many have not. Students and school staff are leaving Renewal Schools in fear of losing their jobs because of school closures. NYC must reform the program if it wants to improve the lowest performing schools in the city which disproportionately serve low-income, students of color. While other research has focused on the Renewal Schools Program’s flaws, I recommend that the program continue indefinitely. New York City must create long-term partnerships with schools and communities to provide permanent support and resources for Renewal Schools, cementing the belief that schools do not fail.
The Renewal Schools Program was created to improve 94 NYC public schools considered among the 144 lowest performing schools in the state (Cheney, 2015). Schools were selected using three criteria: those identified as “priority” or “focus” schools by the State Education Department, elementary and middle schools in the bottom 25 percent in math and English language arts proficiency in the past three years and high schools in the bottom 25 percent in four-year graduation rates in the past three years, and schools that scored proficient or below in their most recent School Quality Review (Cheney, 2015). These schools were resource deficient and did not properly service their students. East Harlem’s Coalition School for Social Change, for example, had classrooms that were “starved for supplies and qualified teachers, with unlicensed interns leading one class and the kids in others left to learn from videos” (Gonen, 2017). Intervention was necessary to combat similar issues at all 94 schools.
Students at Renewal Schools are low-income, students of color, and severely disadvantaged.
Data Source: New York State Department of Education. Students at Boys and Girls High School (Brooklyn Renewal School) are predominately Black or African American and “economically disadvantaged,” meaning they qualify for free or reduced lunch (Reportcard Comparison – Boys and Girls High School, 2017).
At another Renewal School, Public School 298 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, many students live in temporary housing, with another family, or with different parents during the week and weekend (Taylor). Close to one in five children is homeless and the school’s neighborhood has the highest rate of gun violence in Brooklyn (Kolodner, 2017). Thus, Renewal Schools not only must improve academic performance, but also tackle external conditions, such as deep poverty, that inhibit student achievement.
Under the program, Renewal Schools must add an hour to their school days, receive couching for school administrators, and are paired with community organizations that provide services, such as counseling (Taylor, 2016). In 2014, schools were given three years to meet benchmarks in areas like attendance, graduation rate, and for elementary and middle schools, performance on state reading and math exams (Taylor, 2017). More holistic factors, however, such as enrollment, leadership, and staffing issues were considered before a school was shut down or merged with another school (Taylor, 2016). Originally, the program was set to end on June 2017 with with a two-year $150 million budget and variable third year amount, but is now projected to continue for a total of five years and cost $839 million (Wall, 2016).
Although Renewal Schools received additional support, many have closed. So far, 17 Renewal Schools have closed or merged with other schools because the Department of Education believed that they failed beyond rescue (Taylor, 2017). The threat of school closures has transformed Renewal School culture to the point where enrollments have decreased, school administrators have quit, and schools have tweaked data to meet benchmarks and avoid closures. The program has not helped the schools it was set to aid.
Why the Renewal Schools Program Fails:
Threat of school closures discourages professionals and families from working with Renewal Schools.
Renewal schools are stigmatized. Parents will not enroll their children at schools considered “failing” and in risk of closing. For high schools, because students choose where to apply, the Renewal School label discourages them from applying. At 11 Renewal high schools alone, enrollment fell 15 percent after the first year of the initiative (Taylor, 2016). Incoming classes had 30 students, far below levels city education officials deem necessary for viable schools (Taylor, 2016). As enrollments decreased, math and reading proficiency levels at these high schools also fell, indicating that the highest performing students left Renewal Schools (Taylor, 2016). In addition, attendance and graduate rates have declined such that only six of the remaining 11 high schools met the attendance targets set for 2015 and only three met their graduate rate targets for 2015 while three saw them decline (Taylor, 2016). The lowest performing students are left behind, many of whom barely attend school. Not only do fewer students attend Renewal Schools, but fewer succeed academically and graduate. There is a clearly an issue when fewer students want to attend schools with additional resources and support.
Data Source: New York State Department of Education. Enrollments at Boys and Girls High School decreased for every grade level from 2014 to 2015 (Reportcard Comparison- Boys and Girls High School, 2017)
The program does not combat the problem it says exists.
In 2015, more than half of teachers at Banana Kelly and Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx did not return after the school required that all teachers reapply to their jobs (Taylor, 2016). Teachers who leave or are not rehired, deemed unqualified to work at Renewal Schools, still remain in the system and can teach elsewhere. This is a problem because if former teachers are now unqualified to work at Renewal Schools, there is no reason they should qualify to work elsewhere. They were fired for a reason. The fact that Renewal Schools receive money, resources, and support makes it easier to cite teachers as the problem as well. They presumably have everything they need such that if students do not reach benchmarks, then teachers have failed. This obsession with teacher-blame does not address the structural forces that disadvantage Renewal Schools.
Fewer professionals want to work at Renewal Schools. At Automotive High School, many teachers asked to reapply to their jobs did not (Taylor, 2016). With fewer applicants, it is easier for schools to hire the poorly qualified candidates. Nearly 14% of teachers at Junior High School 145, a Renewal School in the Bronx, for example, were teaching subjects in which they were not trained (Donohue, 2017). Although disappointing, this makes sense. It is also difficult to attract candidates with the experience or expertise to work at Renewal Schools when the schools are in danger of closing and viewed as challenging to work at.
Data Source: New York State Department of Education. Between the 2014-2015 and 2015- 2016 academic years, the percentages of teachers with no valid teaching certificate, teachers teaching out of certification, teachers with fewer than three years of experience, students not taught by highly qualified teachers, and students taught by teachers without appropriate certification increased. The percentage of teachers with Masters Degrees plus 30 Hours or Doctorate also decreased. This all happened one year after the program began. Teacher quality decreased while the number of teachers remained the same. The staff must have changed. (Reportcard Comparison – Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research)
Climate of mistrust.
Teachers fear losing their jobs and fall back on unions. At one troubled Brooklyn high school, for example, the principal stepped down after clashing with teachers’ unions, claiming that it was for her “own sanity” (Taylor, 2016). The threat of school closures does not guarantee teachers their jobs, frustrating school leaders when negotiating with unions because teaching positions may only exist temporarily. This damages principal-teacher relationships because teachers and unions cannot trust administrator promises regarding job permanence.
Frustration with the short time span schools to demonstrate improvement.
Megan Hester, principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said “There’s no school improvement initiative in the country that shows long-term success that showed improvement within two or three years” (Taylor, 2016). At Leaders of Tomorrow, a Renewal middle school in the Bronx, 75 percent of a sixth grade class with over one hundred students received a 1 at their elementary school, the lowest level on the four-level scoring system (Taylor, 2017). It is possible to jump from a 1 to a 3, the score considered proficient, the principal proclaimed, but it is a process and takes time (Taylor, 2017). At East Harlem’s Coalition School for Social Change, teachers have even been pressured to pass students to boost the graduation rate (Taylor, 2017). In June 2016, Michael Wiltshire, principal of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, resigned to take “an easier job” in Long Island, where schools are better resourced and funded than those in NYC (Taylor, 2016, June 23). Constant pressure and expectations fatigue school leaders.
Attempts to manipulate school data to reach benchmarks.
Although Eric Aston, the executive director for school performance at New York City’s Education Department, said “the department wouldn’t decide whether to close a school solely based on test scores,” no school wants to risk a closing (Taylor, 2017, March 28). Dr. Wiltshire, former principal of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, admitted to having encouraged some students to transfer, but “that it was in their best interest because they had little chance of graduating” (Taylor, 2016, June 23). As a result, graduation rates increased, but only because the most vulnerable students left. Because these students leave, the program is helping the students it was meant to serve. They are pushed out of Renewal Schools, cementing a belief that it is impossible to help them.
Although a greater percentage of students passed the Integrated Algebra Regents exam in 2015 (102 students at 60%), more students actually passed the exam in 2014 (115 students), yet represented a smaller percentage of all students (34%) because enrollments decreased from 341 students in 2014 to 170 students in 2015. Big numbers only represent improvement relative to enrollment. Fewer students pass this exam, but data does not reflect this. (Reportcard Comparison- Boys and Girls High School)
Only 3,371 students graduated from Renewal schools in 2016, 18 percent fewer than the 4,121 who graduated in 2014 (Zimmerman, 2017) Yet, the city’s 31 Renewal high schools’ graduation rates have increased 7 percent since 2014 (Zimmerman, 2017). Current data does not demonstrate that fewer students graduate from Renewal Schools than in 2014.
^Although the Coalition (Renewal) School for Social Change increased graduation rates, the number of students who graduate actually decreased (Reportcard Comparison – Coalition School for Social Change).
Program does not measure growth.
The Renewal Schools Program sets standards that seem “too modest” and do not measure growth (Taylor, 2017). Public (Renewal) School 67 is supposed to increase its average math proficiency by only a hundredth of a percentage point this year, leaving it at a much lower rate than other NYC public schools (Taylor, 2017). Although this improvement seems miniscule, it can be tremendous because students at Renewal Schools are in need of tremendous growth. Facing deep poverty, many Renewal School students are several reading/math levels behind and cannot become proficient immediately, but they can grow. A focus on proficiency also disregards student improvement and teacher success. Schools should measure growth to understand student improvement.
Do not close schools. Create permanent partnerships with schools.
The threat of school closures discourages teachers from working at Renewal Schools and families from sending their children there. NYC needs permanent partnerships with Renewal Schools to provide them with support indefinitely. Renewal schools serve disadvantaged populations whom traditional public schools do not adequately service. Unless populations and their needs change, the resources they require will not. NYC cannot take away the resources it provides and expect them to perform as well.
Permanent partnerships remove negative stigmas and attract more people to Renewal Schools. No one will invest in Renewal Schools if will failing and inevitably close. Permanence attracts teachers to schools because their job loss fear will disappear. Parents become confident in Renewal Schools. More collaborative school environments ensue when everyone can focus on helping students rather than avoiding job loss.
Data source: NYC DOE. Students from Renewal Schools that close, such as Foundations Academy, attend schools that underperform city averages in attendance and chronic absenteeism rates where most have higher concentrations of poverty (Zimmerman, 2017). Closing schools does not solve the problem.
Implementation: Market a program that does not allow schools to fail because only systems fail, not schools.
Cement partnerships with community organizations. Implementation:
Enact permanent partnerships with community organizations that service student needs. Automotive High School, for example, purchased glasses for students who did not own and could not afford to buy them (Brown, 2016). Despite assurance that the glasses would arrive in September 2016, they did not arrive until February 2017 (Brown, 2016). This could have been avoided if schools purchase goods from organizations within communities with incentives to service children who live with them. Stakes are also higher with permanent relationships.
Include a college preparation component to the program.
Today, fewer Renewal School students pass Advance Placement exams, college level courses that prepare students for undergraduate study (Chapman, 2017). There has also been little progress in the percentage of kids at Renewal Schools taking the SAT entrance test; too few students consider college (Chapman, 2017). This makes sense when so few kids succeed academically. City data also shows that drop-out rates at Renewal Schools have lurched from 18.1% in 2014 down to 17.8% in 2015, but back up to 18.6% in 2016 (Chapman, 2017). Too few students complete high school and envision themselves at post-secondary schools. While it makes sense why this happens, students should understand why academic work is important for their success. This is not to say that students are to blame for low scores or rates, but rather that it is impossible to hold students accountable for their school work when many see no point in academic success. A college prep and access program offers post-secondary opportunities to students.
Implementation: Use additional funds to create/update college offices. Offer college standardized test prep, discussions on education and college, college application assistance. Invest in guidance counselors who understand students and communities. Partner with community youth centers, school graduates at college, or college students who live in communities to work with Renewal School students.
Heavier screening of Renewal School workers.
Too much is spent on bureaucrats who are not properly screened. Gregory Hodge is a leadership coach for the principal at Leaders of Tomorrow School and the Young Scholars Academy despite an official recommendation that he be fired and barred from ever working for the DOE (Golding & Edelman, 2017). He makes $660 a day which is small compared to the $1400 a day spent on other coaches and the $40 million spent each year on all coaches (Golding & Edelman, 2017). Despite this, Young Scholars will merge with other schools in September 2017 because it failed to “show meaningful progress” toward “sustainable improvements” (Golding & Edelman, 2017). Another school with a $660-a-day couch, Channel High School, closed in 2014 due to “a dismal graduation rate of 46 percent and ‘widespread dissatisfaction’ among parents, students, and teachers” (Golding & Edelman, 2017). Too much money is spent on professionals whose work fails.
Implementation: Listen to DOE hiring recommendations. Involve community leaders, teachers, and families in hiring. Host community events like town halls and Q&A forums for communities to evaluate candidates.
Offer professional development opportunities for teachers and principals before firing.
Help school administrators before firing or requiring that everyone reapply. Provide indefinite support because collaborative environments will attract better staff members. Firings should become last resorts.
Implementation: Offer veteran teachers at Renewal Schools opportunities to mentor newer teachers and supervise clusters of teachers. Create discussion groups for teachers to examine issues with students. Use funds to make classrooms smaller so teachers work with less students.
Growth rates measure student improvement more accurately. Allow schools to draft long-term plans for students to ensure that they reach proficiency levels with time. It is impossible to measure student improvement with only proficiency rates.
Funds are limited. Renewal Schools funds consist of $180 from NYC, $79 million from the state, $143 million from the federal government, and $7 million from other sources (Wall, 2016). Because President Trump favors school choice federal funding of the Renewal Schools Program will decrease. New federal budgets spend $20 billion a year for vouchers and expansion of charter schools alone (Bendix, 2017). NYC should enact budget cuts in other areas or curtail funds for positions such as leadership coaches. Carmen Farina, NYC School Chancellor, has stated that Renewal School support will continue for years “no matter what” (Brown, 2016). She wants to continue this program. With one of the largest tax bases and property values in the country, NYC can find money (Chan, 2007).
Too many people want to attend Renewal Schools
If Renewal Schools become are seen positively, too many students may want to enroll. Few families, however, will move to poverty-stricken neighborhoods when district schools in wealthier neighborhoods are not failing. Moreover, NYC should aim for this to happen because it means that the program succeeded.
Too many voices may want a say if procedures become egalitarian. Communities should create leadership boards that represent a diversity of voices. This may also get offset by the fact that families in poverty-stricken neighborhoods are less likely to have time to engage in school politics.
While growth measures improvement, it hurts students who never reach proficiency because they are behind their peers at other schools. It becomes more difficult to attend and succeed in college. People who draft long-term growth goals should work with college centers and school leaders to set realistic expectations.
Short-term programs succeed because momentum increases accountability. A long-term program risks losing momentum. Constant accountability should be enforced by the NYC DOE such that schools meet benchmarks even without the threat of school closures.
Politics of Current election
Mayor De Blasio will run for re-election in November 2017. Because De Blasio overturned former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education preferences for closing “failing” public schools, a new mayor can terminate any program we produce. NYC must act fast to enact this program and ensure some version of success before 2017.
The New York City Department of Education must provide Renewal Schools with indefinite support. Temporary assistance results in a cycle of failure. The threat of school closures discourages professionals and families from working with Renewal Schools, decreasing enrollments and teacher retention. Data is manipulated to make it seem that schools improve, when, in reality, they serve less students with few benchmark improvements. Without permanence, nothing is guaranteed. Even if Renewal School resources and support improve schools, they eventually disappear under the current program. Every method and discovery that Renewal Schools make are in vain. They become applicable under situations that will never be duplicated. Permanence terminates the problems that the current program faces because it does not permit Renewal Schools to fail. In fact, schools never fail – only systems do. Realistically, however, the “New” Renewal Schools Program cannot address the housing, food insecurity, and discrimination (which impact education) that students at Renewal Schools face, indicating that the city must also address larger institutional issues when truly reforming education policy.
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Chan, S. (2007, February 21). New York Tops 8 Big Cities in Taxes, Study Shows. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/22/nyregion/22taxes.html
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Taylor, K. (2016, July 18). After 2 Years, Progress Is Hard to See in Some Struggling City Schools.Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/nyregion/after-years-progress-is-hard-to-see-in-some-struggling-city-schools.html
Taylor, K. (2016, June 23). Principal of Boys and Girls High School Will Leave, Ending Experiment. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/24/nyregion/principal-of-boys-and-girls-high-school-will-leave-ending-experiment.html?ref=topics
Taylor, K. (2017, January 06). City to Close or Merge 9 Schools That Were in Support Program. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/nyregion/new-york-close-merge-nine-schools-renewal-program.html
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Wall, Patrick. (2016, June 09). Despite major city investment, struggling ‘Renewal’ schools shedanother 6,300 students. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/05/25/despite-major-city-investment-struggling-renewal-schools-shed-another-6300-students/
Wall, Patrick (2016, June 09). After Renewal program takes shape, $150M price tag becomes $400M. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2015/08/04/as-full-cost-is-calculated-150m-school-turnaround-program-comes-to-400m/
Zimmerman, Alex. (2017, February 22). New York City is touting grad rates at its lowest-performing high schools, but far fewer students are graduating from them. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/02/22/new-york-city-is-touting-grad-rates-at-its-lowest-performing-high-schools-but-far-fewer-students-are-graduating-from-them/
REPORTCARD COMPARISON – Boys and Girls High School| NYSED Data Site. (n.d.). RetrievedMay 03, 2017, from https://data.nysed.gov/comparison.php?type=reportcard&comparison%5B%5D=800000043520_2014_School&createreport=1&enrollment=1&38ELA=1&38MATH=1&48SCI=1®ents=1&gradrate=1
REPORTCARD COMPARISON – Coalition School for Social Change| NYSED Data Site. (n.d.).Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://data.nysed.gov/comparison.php?type=reportcard&comparison%5B%5D=800000046821_2015_School&createreport=1&enrollment=1&gradrate=1
REPORTCARD COMPARISON – Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research | NYSED DataSite. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://data.nysed.gov/comparison.php?type=reportcard&comparison%5B%5D=800000059629_2015_School&createreport=1&enrollment=1&avgclasssize=1&freelunch=1&attendance=1&suspensions=1&teacherqual=1&teacherturnover=1&staffcounts=1&hscompleters=1&hsnoncompleters=1&postgradcompleters=1&38ELA=1&38MATH=1&48SCI=1&lep=1&naep=1&cohort=1®ents=1&rct=1&nysaa=1&nyseslat=1&elemELA=1&elemMATH=1&elemSci=1&secondELA=1&secondMATH=1&unweighted=1&gradrate=1