The New York Times ran a scathing article ripping Mayor de Blasio in regard to the Renewal Schools, the city’s plan to revive the lowest achieving schools. “New York Knew That Some Schools in Its $773 Million Plan Were Likely to Fail. It Kept Children in Them Anyway.” The schools were likely to fail because the student bodies were made up of significant number of students with disabilities, English language learners, homeless children, children who are “truly disadvantaged,” configurations that past mayors and chancellors have ignored, or, to be cynical, created.
Coincidentally (maybe) the “EightCities” Bellweather Education Partners blog wrote a highly laudatory article “New York City, New York,” recounting the Bloomberg approach to schools, ending with a shot at the de Blasio initiatives.
- Mayoral control enabled bold change
- Principals empowered by school-level autonomy in new small schools
- Massive and formerly corrupt central office reoriented in service of kids
- Failing high schools phased out and new small schools of choice phased in
- New administration changed course and slowed progress
A former New York City official had doubts,
“Once you slap a summative grade on [schools], everyone in the system is afraid they’ll get a bad grade. And [they’re] trying to figure out, ‘How do I game the system to avoid being embarrassed?’ It took their eyes off their students and put their focus on how to maximize their scores on state exams.”
“There’s an ideology that we created around [accountability] that I think has been used widely, … and I’d say it’s not the solution. It is a tool, but it has to be balanced against other strategic tools … it’s important to be honest about the fact that test scores, while they are important, will never tell you the whole story.”
No one seems to be tracking whether progress is being made by the “truly disadvantaged students.” No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required states to set adequate annual progress goals with punitive sanctions if schools fail to reach performance goals. The lowest five percent of schools require state interventions with the threat of closing schools
I hate to tell you – there will ALWAYS be a lowest five percent.
Does closing schools simply reshuffle the lowest five percent to other schools?
Who are the lowest five percent students?
Who are the students scoring lowest on the state tests? Not a surprise: students with disabilities, English-language learners, chronically absent (>20%) students, frequently suspended students, homeless students, students in foster care, etc., the at-risk students scoring well “below proficiency.”
We know thar principals are, “… trying to figure out, ‘How do I game the system to avoid being embarrassed’”
I spent a couple years working for a not-for-profit on a school support team – assisting principals, showing them how to “game the system” within the rules: cohort management, recruiting students “smartly,” targeting funding to particular cohorts of students, all geared to attract and retain the most “academic” students and targeting funding for the greatest impact on achievement.
Smart principals can “bump” scores, at least for a while.
Interestingly, during the phase out of closing schools school achievement data sometimes increases. Why? Are the teachers trying to save the school and changing their pedagogical strategies? Is the phase-out principal more talented? To the best of my knowledge the folks who ordered the phase-out had no interest in this phenomenon.
The feds, states, mayors, superintendents have been moving in the wrong direction, schools alone, no matter the dedication, cannot move all students to “proficiency;” we will never have a nation in which all students are “above average.”
We should be measuring growth within each school component.
William Julius Wilson, a Harvard Sociologist coined the term “truly disadvantaged,” too many of the families in struggling schools are from “truly disadvantaged” families.
For example schools with ‘persistent chronic absenteeism” frequently are among the lowest achieving schools,
Kim Nauer, Nicole Mader and others at the Center for New York City Affairs, in “A Better Picture of Poverty” investigated the impact of persistent chronic absenteeism,
Persistent chronic absenteeism, … contributes to the dishearteningly slight success that students in such schools have had meeting the state’s new, academically rigorous Common Core learning standards. In the 2012–13 school year, only about 11 percent of students at schools with persistent chronic absenteeism passed Common Core–aligned math and reading tests, compared with a pass rate of more than 30 percent at other elementary and K to 8 schools citywide.
Persistently absent students frequently are part of the truly disadvantaged cohorts. Nauer, et. al., suggests using a different set of metrics to assess poverty,
Measuring Poverty Risk Load Factors
The fact that family and neighborhood poverty can have an adverse effect on school performance is well known. But typical measures, like free and reduced lunch or even community poverty data, fail to capture the volume and nature of the challenges that many schools in New York City face … We layered in data from the city and state education departments on students, teachers and school climate. We found that the following 18 variables were strong predictors of both Common Core test scores and chronic absenteeism.
SCHOOL FACTORS: 1. Students eligible for free lunch 2. Students known to be in temporary housing 3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources Administration 4. Special education students 5. Black or Hispanic students 6. Principal turnover 7. Teacher turnover 8. Student turnover 9. Student suspensions 10. Safety score on the Learning Environment Survey 11. Engagement score on the Learning Environment Survey
NEIGHBORHOOD FACTORS: 12. Involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services 13. Poverty rate 14. Adult education levels 15. Professional employment 16. Male unemployment 17. Presence of public housing in a school’s catchment 18. Presence of a homeless shelter in a school’s catchment
Developing a metric that encompasses the risk load factors could result in a growth measurement that is realistic. We could identify schools with large percentages of truly disadvantaged children and identify the strategies that work, in schools and in neighborhoods. Schools should be making progress with all children; the question: how do you define progress and the rate of progress, aka, growth?
Clearly the turnaround programs that suck up federal, state and local dollars have not been effective ; they haven’t found the magic bullet.
Additionally, Raj Chetty and others have parsed many millions of data bits from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and used the data in a number of groundbreaking reports dealing with equality of opportunity.
The poverty risk load data metrics along with the Chetty datasets can allow us to both better define levels of poverty and to apply the Chetty data to assess economic/academic progress in addition to (instead of) changes in test scores.
The Opportunity Atlas is another incredible tool, a wide range of datasets by geographical areas encompassing many of the risk loads identified by the Nauer, Mader, et., al., in the Better Picture of Poverty Report.
Nothing is coming out of Washington, and, states seemed tied to the spawn of NCLB, the new federal law, ESSA.
Only two states even applied for the federal innovative assessment program, New Hampshire and Louisiana.
New York City may become the innovator, a progressive mayor in his second term looking for national credentials, a new chancellor anxious to make his mark, a union leader who just negotiated a collaborative contract …. Who knows? The innovative, and underreported, teacher contract contains the “Bronx Plan,” and changes in teacher evaluation. The “Bronx Plan” selects high poverty, high teacher mobility, lower achieving schools with collaborative cultures and intensive professional development leading to school-based plans. We know that ownership of plans leads to sustainable changes.
The contract both reduces the number of teacher observations and begins a process to make the observation process more formative (the topic of the next blog).
In spite of over 100,000 students who are homeless for all or part of a school year, in spite of distressing numbers of truly disadvantaged students, New York City did better than the state on the recently released grades 3-8 test scores.
I am hopeful that researchers, perhaps the Research Alliance for NYS Schools , the Center for NYC Affairs, the Metro Center at NYU can develop a metric that will say: taking into account the obstacles, the poverty risk load factors, your school is making progress, or, conversely, is failing to make adequate progress. Under the current metrics you don’t have to look at test scores, you can just look at zip codes.
Now is the time for bold leadership: Anyone willing to seize the reins?