Receivership: A Magic Bullet for “Struggling” Schools or Another Chimera, Castor Oil or Ambrosia?

Governor Cuomo was impatient over the direction and pace of educational reform in New York State, so, he essentially replaced the Board of Regents, with himself.

In December, Jim Malatras, his Chief of Operations sent an accusatory letter to Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents. The letter asks, “What is the right thing to do for our students?” In the guise of seeking “advice” the letter poses twelve questions, and, tells the Board that the Governor intends to make dramatic changes, in spite of his lack of constitutional authority,

…the Governor has little power over education. which is governed by the Board of Regents. The Governor’s power is through the budget process and he intends to introduce the reforms during that process.

True to his word the Governor attached a number of proposals to the budget: extending tenure for new teachers from three to four years, another principal-teacher evaluation plan (the third in four years) and receivership, a system to deal with low performing schools.

From April through June the Board of Regents grappled with the dense, new, teacher evaluation law: an Education Learning Summit, two lengthy and contentious public Regents meetings, thousands upon thousands of emails, faxes, letters and phone calls to the Governor and Regents members all protesting elements of the new law. Eventually the Regents approved a set of regulations that will require the 700 school districts in New York State to negotiate the implementation of the new law.

What received virtually no discussion was receivership – a system by which “struggling” schools are given two years to improve before they are removed from their school district and placed under the supervision of a receiver, who has sweeping powers including the ability to change sections of collective bargaining agreements. The Lawrence Massachusetts receivership district is frequently referenced as a successful example of the receivership model (See discussion here and the Mt Holyoke School District is in the process of entering receivership, with strong opposition from the community and teachers (Read discussion here).

The New York State model is directed at schools rather than school districts.

In a district with a “Persistently Struggling School,” the superintendent is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a Receiver to make demonstrable improvement in student performance or the Commissioner will direct that the school board appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period.

In the first year the superintendent, with “enhanced authority” has to show that the school has made “demonstrable improvement in student performance” or the school board, with the approval of the Commissioner will appoint an Independent Receiver.

“Struggling Schools,” have been Priority Schools since the 2012-13 school year and will be given two years under a “Superintendent Receiver” (.i.e., the superintendent of schools of the school district vested with the powers a Receiver would have under §211-f and §100.19) to improve student performance. Should the school fail to make demonstrable improvement in two years then the district will be required to appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Independent Receivers are appointed for up to three school years and serve under contract with the Commissioner.

On Wednesday and Thursday the state conducted a workshop for stakeholders: school boards, superintendents, teacher unions and advocacy organizations; leaders from State Ed, the new Commissioner, other top staffers, “experts” (maybe) from around the country, rolling out the receivership model.

Unfortunately “receivership” bumps heads with “renewal.” Earlier this year the NYC Department of Education identified 92 low performing schools, called them Renewal Schools, with a state-approved plan. The schools would have three years, a planning year (14-15) and two additional years to turnaround the school. To the extent possible the schools would become community schools with a wide range of social services and the Department would commit additional funds to the schools.

I’ve met a number of teachers from Renewal Schools, some have been planning for a few months with outside assistance while others, if they are planning, the staff isn’t involved. A new teacher opined, “My kids came into pre-k with the skills of a three year old, they were a year behind the day they walked into my classroom.” Teachers are inherent optimists; the successes are kid by kid; for too many kids the successes are “one step forward, two steps back.” It is inordinately difficult to extinguish the burdens of poverty. Receivership only deals with measuring progress.

Most of the Renewal Schools fall under the receivership designation – 62 of the schools are in New York City. Can the schools transition from Renewal to Receivership easily? Or, are the processes different?

At the core of the receivership model is “demonstrable improvement,” and the task seems almost insurmountable.

The law requires that the schools “demonstrate improvement”: in the following areas:

i. student attendance
ii student discipline
iii student safety
iv student promotion, graduation and dropout rates
v student achievement and growth on state measures
vi progress in areas of under performance
vii progress among subgroups
viii reduction in the achievement gaps
ix development of college and career readiness including in elementary and middle schools
x parent and family engagement
xi building a culture of academic success among students
xiii building a culture of academic success among teachers and staff
xiv using age appropriate assessment in grades pre-k to three
xv measures of student learning

Additionally the school has to develop metrics to measure “demonstrable improvement” in each of the above areas, a method of attributing a numeric score between 0 and 100. The law requires a “grade” of 67 to demonstrate improvement. Check out the Power Point for a more detailed explanation here .

If the school does not show demonstrable progress under the district receivership the school moves to the Independent Receiver, the school is carved out of the Department of Education and placed under the authority of the receiver, who has sweeping powers, including requiring that all teachers reapply for their positions.

Read a detailed explanation of the powers of the Independent Receiver here.

Bottom line: is there any evidence that the receivership process improves student outcomes?

The Lawrence receivership is a district model, the district has improved; however, the district is still in the lowest cohort of schools in Massachusetts.

There are a number of “turnaround specialists” who specialize in taking over low performing schools, for example, Mass Insight and the John Hopkins Talent Secondary Model, both claim success,

New York State is not attempting to improve a handful of schools, 63 schools in New York City and another hundred candidates around the state. 75 million in additional dollars divided over three years and many score of schools is not much … and … where are the hundreds of highly quality teachers and school leaders who are going to restaff the schools? If the receivership model improves schools will the improvements be sustainable?

Over 100 schools both in New York City and around the state will be entering the uncharted world of receivership, yet another magic bullet. The Chancellor’s District in New York City showed success while under the close guidance of talented district leadership and slipped back into mediocrity when the supports were withdrawn. Is the state providing a content rich curriculum with relevant materials, or, are schools totally dependent on the EngageNY modules? Are the modules, the Common Core State Exams and the Regents Exams aligned? Jumping from one “fix the schools” magic bullet to the next is folly and receivership is another chimera.

Reform has become castor oil, not ambrosia.

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3 responses to “Receivership: A Magic Bullet for “Struggling” Schools or Another Chimera, Castor Oil or Ambrosia?

  1. Marc Korashan

    It is hard to see, from a reading of the State’s power point, how an Independent Receiver is any different from the District Superintendent other than in the Receiver’s ability to require Collective Bargaining from the Unions on changes to working conditions. The District Superintendent can request those negotiations and the unions can refuse, but they must comply with a request for negotiation from the Receiver.

    Other than the ability to compel negotiations the district superintendent and the receiver have the same tools available to them to try to improve a school. Of the fifteen metrics listed, six are reiterations of the failed approaches in NCLB.
    iv student promotion, graduation and dropout rates
    v student achievement and growth on state measures
    vi progress in areas of under performance
    vii progress among subgroups
    viii reduction in the achievement gaps
    xiv using age appropriate assessment in grades pre-k to three
    They are invitations to cheat, as they did in Houston, Atlanta and many places in New York City where high stakes are attached to highly flawed measures of student achievement.

    Two of the metrics are beyond the authority or control of any administrator:
    i. student attendance
    x parent and family engagement
    We can try to increase engagement and attendance but the real world will have its say and these are difficult issues in high poverty communities.

    Four of the metrics are so vaguely worded as to be meaningless on their face:
    ix development of college and career readiness including in elementary and middle schools
    xi building a culture of academic success among students
    xiii building a culture of academic success among teachers and staff
    xv measures of student learning

    Which leaves two metrics where educators can have an immediate and positive impact in schools:
    ii student discipline
    iii student safety

    Improving discipline and safety can be accomplished at the local level, without recourse to the district superintendent or an independent receiver, if administration and staff collaborate. The tools for doing both these things are well documented and known. It is merely a matter of having the will to apply them consistently and intelligently on a case-by-case basis.

    The Governor wants to be able to claim he did something on Education even though he has not really addressed the fundamental issues that impede progress for students. This is smoke and mirrors and political hocus-pocus, not sound educational policy.

    UNtil politicians recognize that education happens in schools, as a direct result of the relationship that teachers can establish with students, and the provision of time and resources for teachers to plan, assess, and implement curricula that meet the needs of their individual students, then we will continue to waste time and money on meaningless power struggles like the ones that preceded this new iteration of old failed policies.

    Schools will get better when, and only when, teachers are treated as the professionals they are and given real voice and the authority to serve their students.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Peter Goodman on Cuomo’s Phony “Receivership” Plan | Diane Ravitch's blog

  3. Pingback: Creating an ESSA Accountability Plan Without Re-Creating Another NCLB | Ed In The Apple

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