Do the New York City Renewal School/Out of Time School Polices Include Encouraging Cheating by Principals?

Unfortunately a core principle of the Department of Education Renewal Schools initiative seems to be: cheat.

The dozen years of Bloomberg educational policy centered on the creation of small schools and the closing of low performing schools: the result – an increase in graduation rates.

The increase in graduation rates during the Bloomberg year depended on questionable practices: credit recovery and “scrubbing” of Regents examination papers, and, sadly, the current Farina administration appears to be following the Bloomberg playbook.

Carl Campanile in the March, 2015 New York Post, reported widespread highly questionable practices at John Dewey High School, a Renewal School in Brooklyn,

Investigators are probing accusations of a massive grade-fixing scheme by educators desperate to boost the graduation rate at Dewey, The Post has learned.

Multiple sources claim Dewey is cutting corners by passing kids with the help of a shady “credit recovery” program that students sarcastically call “Easy Pass.”

In today’s New York Post Susan Edelman reports the changing of improper changing of Regents scores at Automotive High School, an “out-of-time: school.

How do you fix a failing high school? Change the grades.

Under pressure to boost student achievement, the state-designated “out of time” Automotive HS in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has resorted to rigging Regents exam scores.

“Credit recovery” is a process by which kids who fail courses can pass the class through an expedited process; a decade or so ago a handful of schools created alternative methods of “recovering” credits. If a student attended the course regularly and failed the course the student could exhibit mastery through the creation of detailed projects, the student is granted the “lost” or “recovered” credit. I worked with a school support organization that assisted schools: a student worked with a teacher, spend 24 hours of seat time researching and writing a 12-15 page term paper to exhibit mastery.

Over time credit recovery deteriorated into credit mills. Students who never attended courses spent a handful of hours and were granted a credit. How commonplace? We’ll never know; however, virtually every school created some iteration of credit recovery, and many were educational charades,

On the verge of an investigation by the State Department of Education the city conducted their own audit and adopted more stringent guidelines. (see commissioner’s reg here)

The Department February, 2012 audit report here.

The Department press release here.

The Department High School Academic Policy Reference Guide – “credit recovery” pages 37-38

The Reference Guide requires:

Only students who have attended at least two-thirds of the class time of the original failed course are eligible to earn credit through targeted credit recovery.

Students may earn no more than a total of three core academic credits through targeted credit recovery throughout high school.

Students can only earn credit through targeted credit recovery during the semester or summer immediately ollowing the one in which they failed the original course

Intensive instruction in the applicable subject area under the direction or supervision of a teacher certified in the subject area in which the student is making up credit.

A school-based panel, which must include the principal, a teacher certified in the subject area for which the student needs to make up credit, and a guidance director or other administrator must approve a student’s participation in a make-up credit program.

To receive credit, the student must successfully complete the make-up credit program and demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for the subject, including passing the Regents exam, if the Regents exam is required for graduation.

These regulations are routinely ignored, with a “wink and a nod” from the Department.

During the Bloomberg administration the creation of hundreds of small schools led to teachers scoring papers of students that they taught. In the days of large high schools teachers scored many, many hundreds of papers each June. In my school we re-scored papers with grades of 62-64, sometimes we “found” an additional point or two and sometimes not, we always had two teachers re-read the papers and if they disagreed a third teacher would read the papers. In those days schools were not in danger of closing and the re-reading and “scrubbing” of papers just seemed like a reasonable policy.

During the Bloomberg years with the danger of school closings grading papers of your own students in a school closing climate; the temptation to “lean over backwards” is great.

The State Department of Education issued strict regulations – teachers could not mark papers of their own students and no re-grading of papers, no scrubbing.

Principals and other administrative staff in a school or district do not have the authority to set aside the scores arrived at by the teacher scoring committee and rescore student exam papers or to change any cores assigned through the procedures described in this manual and in the scoring materials provided by the Department. Any principal or administrator found to have done so, except in the circumstances described below, will be in violation of Department policy regarding the scoring of State exams. Teachers and administrators who violate Department policy with respect to scoring State exams may be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with Sections 3020 and 3020-a of Education Law or to action against their certification pursuant to Part 83 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

Two “out-of-time” high schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive are far beyond the “tipping point.” Boys and Girls has spent the year discharging students to other programs or just cleansing their register – the school currently reports a register of 478 with a graduation 2015 class of 95 students – more than 20% of students are absent each day – the September, 2015 entering class is miniscule.

Automotive reports a register of 350 students, a daily absence rate of 20% and only 43 students graduated this year. Again, a miniscule anticipated September, 2015 entering class, as the school data continued to erode the chancellor continued to praise the principal.

The Department is scrambling to address the wide range of issues confronting the Renewal and Out-of-Time schools. In many instances school and district leadership are faulty. In the scores of Schools Under Regents Review (SURR) the state pointed to “lack of effective leadership at the school and/or district levels” as the most distressing flaw. In too many instances I see school leaders without the requisite skills. Sometime “nurturing” school leaders who are not demanding of students and others who are autocratic and not team-builders.

The Department had failed to effectively address the core issue: getting the kids to school.

In 2008, the Center for New York City Affairs published a widely discussed report revealing that one in every five elementary school students in the city—more than 90,000 children—were chronically absent from school, missing the equivalent of a month or more of their school year. The problem was particularly acute in high-poverty neighborhoods, where 40 percent or more of students were chronically absent in some buildings.

“It’s an astounding figure,” (de Blasio] said.
“If we can’t do better on absenteeism, then none of our other educational outcomes make sense.”

The Center for NYC Affairs report identifies “risk load factors” that impede academic progress, the factors are not excuses; they are impediments.

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

Schools should be assessed taking into account the school and neighborhood risk load factors that schools confront. We differentiate among students, we should differentiate among schools.

“Cheating,” either a ‘wink and a nod” that allows shabby credit recovery or cutting corners to add points to Regents exams is a disservice to schools and students. Pushing kids “over the top” to pad data is not acceptable.

The new State Commissioner should direct the state inspector-general for testing to examine the clear violations condoned by the city.

A year and half into the new Farina administration we can point to one enormous success, the Universal Pre-K program, and, we struggle, along with staffs, to understand the direction of the remainder of the school system.

Staffs are confused, especially the Renewal Schools, inspectors from the city and state visit schools and criticize, parent involvement is absent, “districts” are shadows of the past, schools are adrift.

Turning to cheating to graduate kids is a sign of desperation.

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2 responses to “Do the New York City Renewal School/Out of Time School Polices Include Encouraging Cheating by Principals?

  1. John Dewey High School has had credit recovery for the past 20 years and they still managed to get three “C’s” in a row before the new administration took over and they then received several “B’s”. It was only when the new administration began to ask teachers to work harder to pull the school out of the danger zone that they began to report “credit recovery” as if it had just been invented. Many of the teachers at Dewey are long past their prime and have a hard time reaching students so they can succeed. When the UFT was “running” Dewey it was in a death spin and only in the last three years has it began to come back to being a truly good high school.

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  2. While your article makes great points, it is based on the premise that John Dewey is a “Renewal School” when in fact, it isn’t and has never been designated as one. Indeed, the NYSED designated Dewey as “in good standing” this year.

    After being targeted by the old DOE administration for nearly a decade, Dewey is back on its feet and is on its way to restitution. I am so glad that at least one school managed to escape the disastrous grasp of the DOE. Kudos to all the John Dewey teachers and staff for caring enough about the school to help place it back on the right track so it can return to its former glory. The Dewey community is truly a resilient and amazing one.

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