Tag Archives: Center for NYC Affairs

Should the New York State Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Accountability Plan Punish Schools for High Rates of Chronic Absenteeism?

In the summer of 2013 the state released the Common Core state test results, students moved from 2/3 proficient to 2/3 “below proficient,” aka, failing the test. The public outcry was loud and sustained, the commissioner decided to travel across the state on a “listening tour.”  The tour began in Poughkeepsie, a standing room only auditorium listened for a while, began to interrupt, the meeting became raucous. (Watch the highlights here) Commissioner King was booed off the stage.

As the “tour” moved from city to city the meetings became more and more disorderly and were discontinued, the New York Times wrote,

In a series of public forums across the state, John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, has become the sounding board for crowds of parents, educators and others who equate his name with all they consider to be broken in schooling today. Some blame him for too quickly imposing more rigorous academic standards tied to what is known as the Common Core. Parents call him deaf to the misery of pupils taking standardized tests and too open to commercial involvement in the system; teachers blame him for sapping what joy they had left in their craft.

This school year, after months and months of meetings the new commissioner presented a draft of the federally required Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) school accountability plan. The first listening/public comment meeting took place Thursday night in the Half Hollows School District on Long Island. About fifty in the massive auditorium, eleven speakers, eight in favor of the plan,  Newsday writes,

Thursday night’s turnout by about 50 educators and parent activists was quiet and mannerly — a marked contrast to the crowds of angry teachers and parents who showed up at state conferences in 2013 to boo Elia’s predecessor, former Commissioner John King Jr.

The Common Core/King induced anger resulted in 200,000 parents opting their kids out of the state tests. Now, a few years later, the massive restart, the ESSA plan, is treated with a yawn.

Read a 60-plus page summary of the ESSA plan here. The first section of the plan creates metrics to measure school performance and moves from NCLB test scores only to the ESSA plan, a combination of test scores, growth and a non-academic metric combined on a dashboard. The second half of the plan describes how progress is defined for schools in the lowest five percent.(Read pages 24 – 26 in the summary for you eduwonks!).

The plan is aspirational, in the perfect world the plan would bring all schools to proficiency; however, as Regents Brown, Young and Johnson have raised again and again, how does the plan deal with equity?  The property tax-based funding formula embedded in state law is grossly inequitable. The ESSA plan acknowledges the inequities; however,  the law does not allow for desegregating metrics. We can’t measure different schools by different metrics.

The non-academic metric the plan chose was chronic absenteeism.

I abjure.

Obviously coming to school is essential. In the fall of 1968, a 40-day strike, later in the school year kids took citywide tests, and the scores dropped. The media asked Albert Shanker for  comment, “Thank goodness.”

Over the last few years studies have tracked the impact of absenteeism: guess what? Kids who are chronically  absent, defined as absent more than 10% of the school year: higher dropout rates, higher “everything negative” rates.

Read articles here and here.

Yes, attending school regularly is crucial; however, punishing schools for high absentee rates is akin to punishing people because they’re poor.

Ed Week writes,

… as states put a largely untested policy idea into practice on such a large scale, implementation is everything. If states select indicators that can’t be accurately measured or influenced by schools, or if they fail to provide schools with the resources they need to carry out new mandates, the indicator requirement could lead to unintended consequences or pushback from educators, K-12 groups and researchers have warned.

In 2010 in New York City Mayor Bloomberg convened the “Mayor’s Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement,” (Read the detailed description of the Task Force here). I was not a fan of the ex-mayor’s education policies, his interagency approach is an exception. Reducing chronic absenteeism must involve all the social service and health agencies that impact the family.

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School issued a superb report that is the basis of the Bloomberg interagency approach.

Read a summary of the report here and the full report here.

I urge you to read the report, aptly entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About New York City’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.”

The report identifies 18 Risk Load factors that impact chronic absenteeism:

Measuring A School’s Total Risk Load

School Factors:

  1. Students eligible for free lunch
  2. School’s with children in temporary housing
  3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources Administration
  4. Students in Special Education
  5. Black and Hispanic students
  6. Principal Turnover
  7. Teacher Turnover
  8. Student Turnover
  9. Suspension Rate
  10. Safety Score on Learning Environment Survey

Neighborhood Factors:

  1. Involvement with Administration for Children’s Services
  2. Poverty Rate
  3. Adult education levels
  4. Professional employment
  5. Adult male unemployment’
  6. Public housing in school catchment area
  7. Homeless shelters in school catchment area

The report contains interviews with school leaders, many who are doing “all the right things” with their schools showing little or no improvement.

Schools in the Interagency Task Force initiative did show a modest improvement in rates of Chronic Absenteeism – reductions from 23% to 19%.

“Punishing” schools for rates of high chronic absenteeism or not lessening the rate without acknowledging poverty risk load is simply unfair and smacks of the NCLB “test and punish” approach.  I am betting that student attrition rates in charter schools include many chronically absent kids.

Small numbers of schools are “beating the odds,” usually led by extraordinary school leaders and staffs, sadly, the successes are too frequently short lived.

The community schools project in New York City, and, hopefully around the state offers hope. Community schools engage with the social and health services in the community and this multi-faceted, multi-agency approach has shown progress.

Let’s hope the final ESSA plan does not condemn schools for “poor geography,” and let’s acknowledge the impact of poverty risk load factors. These are not excuses, these are realities. Currently inequality is embedded in the law and I hope the final plan loudly condemns the governor and the legislature for not acting to correct. Highly effective leadership and teaching coupled with support from the district and the state, of course, are essential elements in any plan.

Ignoring inequality is foolish and destructive.

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Reshuffling the Deck: Why Growth-Based Accountability School Metrics Are Fair to Schools, Teachers and the Public

If you overlaid poverty by zip code with school accountability metrics, no surprise, high poverty geographic areas closely match low performance on standardized tests, as well as rates of chronic absenteeism, numbers of suspensions, number of students in foster care or living in shelters, etc.,

If you overlaid education levels of parents with school accountability metrics, no surprise, levels of parent education closely align with student achievement.

Schools Watch, part of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School published an enlightening study, A Better Picture of Poverty.

‘New York City’s ‘truly disadvantaged’ public schools. urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects.

The study  devised a new metric that the Center called “risk load factors.”

“…18 school and community “risk load factors” that closely align with scores on Common Core tests … From teacher turnover to the number of students who are homeless, our analysis shows that the connection between chronic absenteeism and the characteristics of deep poverty are clear.”

“A 2013 study in Philadelphia concluded that homelessness, child maltreatment and a mother’s level of education were the strongest predictors of a child’s school achievement.”

In spite of the undisputed links of poverty to test results New York State uses a proficiency metric – a cut score, a proficiency grade, set by the state psychometrician, solely based on test scores.

High income, high tax, high parent education districts are overwhelmingly proficient while low income, low tax, low parent education level districts are overwhelmingly below proficient, or, to use the state term, are “approaching proficiency.”

As I described on a recent blog New York State, as part of the new ESSA law is crafting a new accountability metric, with wide discretion.

A core question emerged: should the state continue utilizing proficiency metrics or move to a growth metric. A growth metric utilizes growth regardless of proficiency.

Mike Petrilli is the President of the Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education think tank; however, you can’t place Petrilli in the “(de)reformer” camp; he is an independent thinker.

In his Flypaper blog  “Why states should use student growth, and not proficiency rates, when gauging school effectiveness,” Petrilli and his co-author, Aaron Churchill write,

Our goal with this post is to convince you that continuing to use status measures like proficiency rates to grade schools is misleading and irresponsible—so much so that the results from growth measures ought to count much more—three, five, maybe even nine times more—than proficiency when determining school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Status measures are the metrics I refer to: geography, parent income and education, etc.

The authors make a cogent argument

The blog argues:

  1. In an era of high standards and tough tests, proficiency rates are correlated with student demographics and prior achievement. If schools are judged predominantly on these rates, almost every high-poverty school will be labeled a failure. That is not only inaccurate and unfair, but it will also demoralize educators and/or hurt the credibility of school accountability systems. In turn, states will be pressured to lower their proficiency standards.
  2. Growth measures—like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—are a much fairer way to evaluate schools, since they can control for prior achievement and can ascertain progress over the course of the school year. They can also differentiate between high-poverty schools where kids are making steady progress and those where they are not.
  3. In contrast with conventional wisdom, growth models don’t let too many poor-performing schools “off the hook.” Failure rates for high-poverty schools are still high when judged by “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—they just aren’t as ridiculously high as with proficiency rates.

:Petrilli and Churchill don’t shy away from their critics,

Probably the strongest argument against using growth models as the centerpiece of accountability systems is that they don’t expect “enough” growth, especially for poor kids and kids of color. The Education Trust, for example, is urging states to use caution in choosing “comparative” growth models, including growth percentiles and value-added measures, because whether students are making enough progress to hit the college-ready target by the end of high school, or whether low-performing subgroups are making fast enough gains to close achievement gaps. And that much is true. But let’s keep this in mind: Closing the achievement gap, or readying disadvantaged students for college, is not a one-year “fix.” It takes steady progress—and gains accumulated over time—for lower-achieving students to draw even with their peers….. An article by Harvard’s Tom Kane reports that the wildly successful Boston charter schools cut the black-white achievement gap by roughly one-fifth each year in reading and one-third in math. So even in the most extraordinary academic environments, disadvantaged students may need many years to draw even with their peers (and perhaps longer to meet a high college-ready bar). That is sobering indeed.

The article should be required reading for every policy-maker and the conclusion is dramatic:

Using proficiency rates to rate high-poverty schools is an unfair practice to schools that has real-world consequences. Not only does this policy give the false impression that practically all high-poverty schools are ineffective, but it also demeans educators in high-needs schools who are working hard to advance student learning. Plus, it actually weakens the accountability spotlight on the truly bad high-poverty schools, since they cannot be distinguished from the strong ones

Read the entire blog: https://edexcellence.net/articles/why-states-should-use-student-growth-and-not-proficiency-rates-when-gauging-school

The failure to acknowledge and learn from high growth schools is disturbing:  the Department assigned a principal to phase out a low performing school that shared most of the poverty “risk load factors.”  In the last two years the school growth scores were impressive, although far, far below proficient.  The school closed and the teachers scrambled to find jobs or end up in the ATR pool. No one seemed interested in what the school did in the last two years – why was the school making progress?  Among low proficiency schools there is a considerable difference in growth. Did the positive growth schools alter their structure; use Title 1 dollars differently, collaborate effectively,? what was the role of the school leader?:  bottom line – why didn’t the Department take a deep dive into the leadership and instructional practices in higher growth school regardless of overall proficiency rates?

There are also high proficiency, low growth schools; should we give them a pass? A friend toured a high proficiency high school and viewed mediocre instruction; He asked the principal why he wasn’t working to improve the instruction. The principal replied, “Why mess with success?”

The move from proficiency to growth is reshuffling the deck and will be discomforting too some schools; however, it will be fair to schools, teachers and the public.

Thanksgiving in the Hood: A War on Poverty is More Productive Than a War on Principals, Teachers, Families and Kids.

Teacher in a suburban school: “I can’t wait until Tuesday, I need the Thanksgiving break.”

Ed: “Tuesday, isn’t your school open on Wednesday?”

Teacher: “Most of my kids took Wednesday off, families flying somewhere for the holiday, visiting relatives, and a few days in the Caribbean, the school board decided to close on Wednesday.”

At the other end of the economic spectrum, in an inner city school, Tuesday was a thrilling day; a principal had a contact with a clothing company who donated fifty winter jackets to the school.

“We had to construct a consent form for the parents so they didn’t think their child stole a coat, the kids looked stunned, one of the kids asked, ‘Is it Christmas?'”

The school was deep in the hood, the principal tells me all his caregivers receive some type of public assistance, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) or food stamps, very few have intact families, usually a single female parent or grandmother or relative; its commonplace for a child to be shuttled from house to house. Some kids live in shelters, group homes or in the foster care system.

“We’re do lead the city in something,” the principal told me, “It’s homicides, plenty of my kids have someone in their family incarcerated, the only white people they know are cops, social workers and teachers, few have ever traveled very far from the projects.”

“For most of my kids the best meals of the day are school breakfast and school lunch, there are no supermarkets in the neighborhood, lots of Chinese take outs and fast food places, I thought about giving out turkeys until I realized that many apartments in the projects didn’t have working ovens.”

I told the principal about the school in the suburbs in which kids flew off for Thanksgiving. He replied, “I have to give the parent roundtrip metro cards to get them to come to School Leadership Team meetings – bus fare – five dollars is a lot of money for my parents.”

And the gangs, “All of my kids have some sort of gang connection, some are active members, others live in a Blood or a Crip building, gang membership is generational, kids belong to the same gangs their parents belonged to.”

Over the Bloomberg years the city created two categories of schools, “winners” and “losers” based on the geography of poverty and policies that separated the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

David Bloomfield, in Chalkbeat writes,

In his renewal plan for struggling schools, Mayor de Blasio has mistakenly fallen for a myth usually promoted by his conservative adversaries: that failure is the fault of individual schools, not the school system.

But the main reason the myth is attractive is because it is an easy way to avoid looking at systemic problems. Research demonstrates that the scale of New York’s “failing schools” is caused by district policies that lead to concentrations of highly mobile, low-achieving students. Too often, New York City has pre-determined “winners” in its school policies without admitting that other schools will lose in a trumped-up competition to cast the central administration in a positive light.

Inexorably, the city opened charter schools that attracted parents with greater social capital and concentrated poorer students in fewer and fewer schools; creating a downward spiral of low achieving schools.

Education Week, reporting on a study by the Center for NYC Affairs writes,

Poverty is not just a lack of money. It’s a shorthand for a host of other problems—scanty dinners and crumbling housing projects, chronic illnesses, and depressed or angry parents—that can interfere with a child’s ability to learn.

Researchers found that 18 factors in a student’s school and neighborhood strongly predicted his or her likelihood of chronic absenteeism and the student’s scores on New York’s accountability tests that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Taken together, these indicators create a measure of the “risk load” in each of the Big Apple’s elementary schools.

If you think about the community context, you would be able to better understand when students come into the school building, what they are carrying with them,” said Kim Nauer, the education research director of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, and an author of the study.

18 Risk Factors
The Center for New York City Affairs identified 18 school and neighborhood indicators that contribute to high risk in urban schools with high concentration of poverty. The indicators are intended to help administrators and policymakers find areas for improvement, such as high teacher turnover or student suspensions.

School Factors:
1. Students eligible for free lunch
2. Students known to be in temporary housing
3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the city 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 district’s Learning Environment Survey
11. Engagement score on the Learning Environment Survey

Neighborhood Factors:
12. Involvement with the city’s Administration for Children’s Services
13. Poverty rate according to the U.S. Census for the school’s attendance area
14. Adult education levels
15. Professional employment
16. Male unemployment
17. Presence of public housing in a school’s attendance area
18. Presence of a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance area

The New York study also recommends that Mayor Bill de Blasio work with all schools to analyze child-welfare agencies system-wide in light of the indicators. “I hope it will be helpful in making [school] principals aware of the questions they should be asking,” Ms.Nauer said. “The whole endgame here is to make school as positive as possible for the little guys and make sure they are not in a cycle of failure by the time they get to middle school.”

I am not implying that poverty is an excuse; poverty is a culture that impacts the lives of children and families. Schools cannot be expected to thrive when the community around the school is in chaos. Yes, we need the finest principals and the best teachers, professionals that commit to a career, not a few years before they flee to law school or roles in school policy creation. The state has created examinations to separate the wheat from the chaff, to set a higher standard for prospective teachers; the problem is we have no way of knowing if the exams will produce that result. We do know that prospective Afro-American and Hispanic teachers fail the exams at a considerably higher rate than white aspirants.

The results of a decade-old study are disturbing,

… we actually know very little about how differences between a teacher’s race and those of her students affect the learning environment. This study makes use of data from a randomized field trial conducted in Tennessee to produce higher-quality information on this controversial subject than has been available previously. The results are troubling. Black students learn more from black teachers and white students from white teachers, suggesting that the racial dynamics within classrooms may contribute to the persistent racial gap in student performance, at least in Tennessee.

(Read more about the study here and here).

At the same time our political and educational leaders ignore the disparity in education funding across the state, children in the highest wealth districts receive the highest per capita funding, New York State, disgracefully, leads the nation in the inequitable funding of schools.

Mayor de Blasio’s emphasis on Community Schools is a beginning, not a solution. Until the feds, the state and the city change verbiage to deeds schools will struggle. A beginning is jobs. A beginning is removing the moats that isolate the poorest of our neighbors. The lesson of Finland should not only be the quality of teachers, the lesson of Finland should be the absence of childhood poverty.

The rate of childhood poverty in our nation is pitiable,

A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty … the United States ranked 34th out of the 35 nations, beating out only Romania.

Governor Cuomo, sadly, fails to understand that blaming teachers, or tweaking the teacher evaluation plan will have no impact, aggressively leading a new “War on Poverty,” is the only path to severing generational poverty.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, an opportunity to reflect on the bounties of our nation, and an opportunity to sit down at the table with our family and be thankful. Yes, sadly, some of us can fly away to white sand beaches while others shiver in cold of the oncoming winter.

Instead of seeking solutions our leaders are obsessed with test scores, an obsession that is pathological.

The Campaign for Educational Equity report, “How Much Does It Cost? Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low -Income Students,” provides a pathway for schools, I suggest the governor and the commissioner commit themselves to a comprehensive approach that acknowledges that spanking principals and teachers or threatening parents is futile, the governor appears to be changing our state motto from “Excelsior” to Dante’s description of the Inferno, “Abandon Hope All Yee Who Enter.”

Small High Schools versus Large High Schools: Burnishing and Tarnishing Reputations or Creating/Supporting School Structures That Work for Kids, Families and Teachers

“In the three decades since the release of the Nation at Risk report, the U.S. education reform effort has failed to achieve lift-off. Why is that so? Regardless of the reform strategy—whether new standards, or accountability, or small schools, or parental choice, or teacher effectiveness—there is an underlying weakness in the U.S. education system which has hampered every effort up to now: most consequential decisions are made by district and state leaders, yet these leaders lack the infrastructure to learn quickly what’s working and what’s not. They launch new initiatives with no detailed analysis of their effects. At best, they track aggregate measures such as overall proficiency and graduation rates, which can hide the consequences for the specific schools, or grades or subjects actually affected by their initiatives … For their part, philanthropists fund new initiatives in their local schools, and never know whether their funds have made a difference for children.

We are not lacking innovation in U.S. education. We lack the ability to learn from our innovations.” (Thomas J. Kane, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University)

A prime example of the paucity of meaningful analysis is the “small high schools of choice” (SSA). Small high schools, primarily created through the closing of large high school were not “invented” by the Bloomberg administration; in fact, small high schools have their roots in the 60’s. City as School, a collaboration between the Board of Education and the teachesr union was called an alternative high school and, it has flourished for half a century. Over the ensuing decades other small high schools opened and the Department created an alternative high school superintendent to service the atypical needs of these new models of schools. The Performance-Based Assessment Consortium was formed and the State granted a waiver from state exams for many of the alternative schools – in lieu of state exams (Regents and RCT) students were assessed by a portfolio of student work and a demonstration of proficiency at a roundtable – a group of teachers, critical friends and outsiders.

In the late eighties the Department began to close large high schools, Andrew Jackson High School became Campus Magnet and in the nineties the Department created the Chancellor’s High School District, a process to close dysfunctional large high schools and replace with small schools tied to community organizations. The seventeen small schools replaced four large high schools (Eastern District, George Washington, Taft and Theodore Roosevelt). A superintendent oversaw the schools and with a common school design. Each campus had a teacher center with an intensive emphasis on staff development. The Bloomberg administration ended the Chancellor’s District.

The Gates-funded New Century initiative invested $50 million into a large school closing/small school creation model. The grant was managed by New Visions for Public Schools and concentrated in the Bronx superintendency.

The Bloomberg team accelerated large high school closing under the portfolio model and there are now hundreds of small schools and education option programs in large schools around the city.

MDRC, a national organization, has released a succession of reports praising the so-called Small High Schools of Choice (SSC) initiative, their latest reports are equally praiseworthy,

… small schools of choicer have markedly increased graduation rates for disadvantaged students of color, many of whom start high school below grade level … it is widely accepted that enrollment and success in postsecondary education is necessary for young people to be prepared for the world of work.

New York City’s SSC’s are well positioned to meet this challenge because of their focus on providing academically rigorous curricula and personalized learning environments for their students. As noted above, this approach has led to success: SSC enrollees have experienced large, positive effects on high school graduation rates compared with their control group counterparts, regardless of students’ family income, race/ethnicity, or prior academic achievement. … students who enrolled in SSC’s consistently outperformed their control group counterparts in each of the years studied. Furthermore, SSC’s achieve these gains at a lower cost per graduate than that of the high schools attended by their control group counterparts, in large part because more SSC enrollees successfully graduate from high school and fewer SSC enrollees need to attend a fifth year of high school.

The MDRC reports suffers from the fatal flaw referenced by Thomas J. Kane in the intro quote, the lack of a detailed analysis: why are the small high school graduation rates higher than the control group? More personalized instruction, widespread use of faulty credit recovery, sympathetic state exam grading, etc. Are the SSC graduates more “college ready,” as measured by the State college and career readiness metric? Are graduates of small high schools more likely to succeed in college than the control group? Were the student bodies of the small high schools comparable to large high schools as far as English language learners and student with disabilities? All unanswered by the MDRC report.

The MDRC has published a number of research reports supporting SSC, are the MDRC Reports examples of “advocacy research,” research with the predetermined goal of supporting a specific program or initiative?

Diane Ravitch, in a blog post entitled, “Are Small Schools the Magic Bullet?” begins the post explaining that she is neither for nor against small high schools. An anonymous Department of Education employee (Think “Deep Throat”) from time to time sends Diane detailed accounts of Department programs, he/she is sharply critical of MDRC reports,

Is there any truth to these claims? Does the data support any of this? The answer is “no.” The papers self-published by the MDRC are shoddily researched with clear biases and poor grounding in reality. It order to keep the size of this essay to a manageable length let’s limit ourselves to a Top 10 list of the paper’s flaws. (Read all 10 flaws here)

The two flaws listed below are serious enough to question the entire report,

1. The Gates Foundation provides the funding for these papers. The Gates Foundation also funded many of the new small high schools in New York City. What we have here is a circular process of self-congratulation. The peer-review process might be expected to uncover the biases produced by this unholy alliance. But these papers have, of course, never been peer reviewed. They are self-published by MDRC on their website and then touted in press releases and newspaper editorials.
2. It is becoming standard practice for researchers to publicly post data-sets used in such studies. MDRC has refused to release the data-set. This makes it impossible for their results to be independently verified or questioned.

The most interesting report assessing the small high schools was published five years ago by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, “The New Marketplace:
How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City’s High Schools
” (Read report here)

The authors visited numerous small schools and interviewed scores of students, parents, teachers and school leaders, the findings,

* Attendance and graduation rates are higher at new small schools than at the large schools they replaced. Principals and students report the new schools are safer. Yet many small schools remain fragile, with attendance and graduation rates declining

* As the city closed the lowest-performing large schools to make way for small schools, thousands of students, including many new immigrants and children with special education needs, were diverted to the remaining large schools. Many of those schools suffered overcrowding and declining attendance and graduation rates. Some were subsequently closed

* Twenty-six of 34 large high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx saw their enrollments jump significantly as other high schools were closed. Of these, 19 saw their attendance decline and 15 saw their graduation rates decline between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2007. Fourteen saw both attendance and graduation rates decline.

* However, the school-choice system depends on well-informed adult guidance. Many students lack adequate support in choosing and ranking their schools, and guidance counselors are under-equipped to support them. Special needs students and children of immigrants have a particularly difficult time getting the information they need to make an informed choice.

* Thousands of students have been assigned to schools they did not choose or that are not appropriate for their educational needs. Students are assigned to schools up to 90 minutes from home, each way, by bus or subway. The more extensive the system of school choice, the more it sorts children into those who can navigate the admissions process and those who cannot.

The Report concludes with three reasonable recommendations,

* The city should not limit its high school reform efforts to the creation of small schools. Midsize and large schools can be effective and should be supported.

* The DOE should recognize that large high schools still serve the majority of students in New York City, and support them accordingly.

* The city must ensure that the “default schools”—schools where kids who are not picked by the school choice process wind up—get the support they need to be successful.

In an interview in 2013 Bill Gates was asked whether the education reform movement was changing American schools for the better, he answered,

“If you said to me, are we making progress on [U.S. education reform] or not, I could talk for a long time, but I wouldn’t be able to give you a number.” –Bill Gates

Are small high schools better? Better than what? Some are better than low functioning large high schools while high functioning large high schools are better than many small high schools? Personalization versus extended course offering and after school activities, neighborhood schools versus extended travel across the city, experienced counseling staffs versus newer untried staffs; the models offer a wide range of pros and cons.

The Department should be supporting small, medium size and large high schools, and, primarily offering all schools the supports that they need to be effective. Too many small schools have had inexperienced school leaders and distant school support, too many large schools were reservoirs for English language learners and students with disabilities: credit accumulation and scores on state exams rule, dooming large high schools.

For too long we have had an unrecognized triage system, allowing schools with “difficult” populations to fail so that we can replace them with small high schools. Basically the prior administration accepted that cohorts of kids would not be supported and accepted the dropping out, or, the pushing out of kids with academic challenges. A former superintendent in a comment on a prior blog got it right,

“Past administrations have failed to provide schools with the most essentials: credible curricula, instructional guidance, meaningful professional development, and encouragement … If you want an organization structure that makes sense, first define explicitly what great instruction looks like, be willing to design curriculum and long term training to support the vision by competent personnel who have some successful experience under their belts and who can actually do the work, and then figure out the most efficient and effective system to support schools in improving their craft.”

Should Poverty Be Acknowledged in Measures of School Accountability? If We Acknowledge Poverty How Do We Avoid a Two-Track System?

After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:

The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.

Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?

About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.

For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.

The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
.
Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?

A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?

Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.

Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?

A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?

On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.

Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.

Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?

The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?

If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.

What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?

Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?

Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.

Vergara Comes East: Tenure, Graduation Rates and Searching for Answers: How Do We Improve the Odds for All Kids?

Vergara come East.

The same folks who won the lower court litigation attacking tenure in California will be suing in New York State (see Chalkbeat report here)

In my view the suit has no legs; I believe the courts will dismiss the suit as not “ripe,” the suit is prematurely filed. The New York State teacher evaluation law has yet to fully rolled out, we only have scores from year one and it will take a couple of years before we have any data on the effectiveness of the process.

As I described in a previous post the law expedites the time frames and establishes a process in which supervisory assessments, student test scores and a locally negotiated tool combine to create an overall score – the law requires that the implementation details (number of observations, Measures of Student Learning, etc.) are subject to collective bargaining.

The law determines teacher competency and sets processes for dismissal with an expedited due process hearing.

On the same day the new litigants announced their intent to sue State Education announced the graduation rates. (See a detailed PowerPoint)

There is nothing surprising – graduation rates report the 2009 cohort – students that entered high school in 2009 (if a student transferred to another school they are not counted in the cohort – if they dropped out they are counted). Graduation rates in “high tax,” meaning high tax school districts (wealthier districts that spend much more per student) have higher graduation rates and low tax (districts that spend less per student) – primarily rural school districts and the “Big Five” (NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers) have lower graduation rates.

Statewide 74.9%
NYC 61.3
Buffalo 53.4
Rochester 43
Yonkers 66.4

English language learners ELL), who are primarily in the “Big Five” had declining graduation rates, no doubt to the elimination of the local diploma.

What the report does not do is investigate the 25.1% who did not graduate – who are they?

The answer is not surprising: English language learners, students with disabilities, Afro-American and Hispanic males, and, students with histories of poor attendance.

At the same meeting that the graduation rates were released the Regents began the process to approve changes in the regulations that govern English Language Learners – Part 154 – the first time the regs have been changed in thirty years. Unfortunately the regs are compliance regulations that will have little impact on actual classroom instruction. In fact, the regs will place additional financial burdens on the small, low tax districts that are already teetering on the edge of educational bankruptcy.

While the regs are an improvement, measuring minutes of instruction will not improve outcomes. Kids who exit (“score out”) ELL programs do at least as well as all other students. Students who enter school, especially in the middle and high school years, with interruptions in formal education, not surprisingly, do poorly, and “ever-Ls,” kids who never score out of ELL programs do poorly.

There are programs that have been successful, i. e., the International and Newcomer High Schools in New York City that teach English in the content areas instead of pull-out and/or push-in programs that essentially treat ESL instruction as a separate course. Counting minutes of instruction has no bearing on successful outcomes.

ESL students in schools with portfolio waivers have much higher graduation rates as well as high completion rates in college.

What is so frustrating is that we not only know why kids drop out of school we can identify the individual kids in the sixth grade. John Balfanz, a researcher at John Hopkins reports,

In high-poverty schools, if a sixth grade child attends less than 80 percent of the time, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, or fails math or English, there is a 75 percent chance that they will later drop out of high school — absent effective intervention.

There are schools that understand the issues and have instituted supports that have been highly successful; unfortunately these schools are the outliers.

Kathleen Cashin and Bruce Cooper, professors at Fordham University point to another key – the drastic reduction in guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists in New York State,

… attention and time devoted to the “whole child” are now much less likely because teachers working alone in their classrooms are assuming more and more responsibility. And we see less staff who are trained and hired to help students — socially and emotionally — with a reduction in social workers, guidance counselors, athletic coaches, and school psychologists.

As a consequence, what are the effects of this drop in guidance counselors, now fewer in number in many schools, on children’s growth, stability, school attendance, as well the impact on levels of bad behaviors, such as physical bullying, and cyber-bullying? Those staff, specifically trained to address these students’ needs and problems, have diminished and thus are no longer around — or have so many students to serve, that they are not able to counsel students fully for college and career readiness.

We can identify students in elementary school who are dropout candidates simply by looking at chronic absenteeism. The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School points to specific schools,

In many neighborhoods, the challenges of child and family poverty are immense. Addressing these issues directly, alongside absenteeism, may not only improve school success in the long-term, but also strengthen families and improve the quality of children’s lives. The report suggests a targeted approach to addressing chronic absenteeism and family instability in 100 city schools with the goal of strengthening schools by strengthening families.

We know who is not graduating, we know why they are not graduating, and, our only approach is punitive. We identify priority and focus schools, schools with poor data, send in teams to write negative reports, and fail to address the core problems.

The Regents (although there appears to be some pushback) and the Commissioner have been fixated on the Common Core as the prime path to increasing student academic competency in New York State. It would be helpful if the focus on the Common Core was accompanied by a content-rich curriculum.

Around the state there are model schools and model clusters of schools that effectively serve all students. Regent Tilles calls them “hybrid” schools – public schools with a university or not-for-profit support organizations; examples are the International High Schools Network, the Expeditionary Learning Schools and Columbia Secondary School.

Towards the end of the monthly Regents meeting the board, once again, for the umpteenth time, began a discussion about eliminating the Global Studies Regents exam – the reason – it’s “too hard.” Mindless!! The feds only require exit exams in English, Math and Science, and, State Ed has been suggesting that the Regents consider adopting the federal standards and abandon the hundred year old requirement of five Regents Exams. Gee, what a novel approach, give fewer tests.

Why not a radical approach – encourage, cajole, arm twist or require school districts to adopt approaches with a proven track record and support with content rich curriculum.

If we get that sixth grader to school every day six years later s/he will graduate high school college and career ready. What a surprise!!!

Will Presidential Politics Trump Fairness and Justice for Undocumented Immigrant High School Graduates? Is the Governor Sacrificing Undocumented Immigrant Students for Personal Ambition?

The path to the middle class leads through post-secondary education: a trade school, a community or a 4-year college. President Obama convened a community college summit in Washington this week.

In an increasingly competitive world economy, America’s economic strength depends upon the education and skills of its workers. In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as those requiring no college experience. To meet this need, President Obama set two national goals: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, and community colleges will produce an additional 5 million graduates.

Attending college costs money and for many of our kids paying rent and putting food on the table precludes paying college tuition. There are a range of programs to support high school graduates, both grant and loan programs to assist in paying for college.

To access the grants/loans students must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. The form is enormously complex, perhaps as complex as the Affordable Care Act application form. The Center for NYC Affairs has published a wonderful guide for families and students,

We have … created a new website for educators and families available atwww.understandingfafsa.org. The website features PDFs of the guide in English and Spanish as well as a presentation version suitable for classrooms and large groups. Print copies are available while supplies last. Please go to http://www.freefafsaguide.com to order.

There is a substantial glitch: undocumented students are not eligible for financial aid – aid is available at some private colleges.

New York State provides grants through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), except for undocumented students,

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) helps eligible New York residents pay tuition at approved schools in New York State … annual TAP award can be up to $5,000. Because TAP is a grant, it does not have to be paid back.

TAP is available for students attending SUNY, CUNY and not-for-profit independent degree-granting colleges on a part-time basis. To be eligible for TAP, you must:
 Be a United States citizen or eligible noncitizen
 Be a legal resident of New York State

You may ask, didn’t New York State pass a Dreamer Act that would allow undocumented students access TAP, the answer: no, and the reason, Governor Cuomo does not support the bill, that’s right, the leading liberal candidate for the presidency, a governor who supports a wide range of liberal causes does not support opening a pathway to college for undocumented students who have graduated from high school and met the admissions requirements for college. Unbelievable!

Around the state youth organizations are mobilizing to lobby the legislature and the governor.

Over a year ago Governor Cuomo formed a blue-ribbon 25-member panel, the Cuomo Commission on Education Reform. The Commission held hearings around the state, issued a preliminary report and, four months after the expected date released their final report; without fanfare, almost in the middle of the night, the tepid report supported early childhood education, merit pay for teachers and called for a ballot imitative approving a $2-billion bond issue to purchase technology.

There was no mention of the pitiable graduation rates of English Language learners or support for the Dreamer Act.

* The graduate rate in NYS is 74%, only 34% of ELLs
* The college and career readiness rate is 35%, only 7% for ELLs
* The grade 3-8 ELA scores on the 2013 state test was 33% passing, only 3% for ELLs.

However, there are highly successful models in the state. The fourteen International High Schools in New York City, public high schools that only accept students who have been in country four years or less have a 64% graduation rate – twice the rate of ELLs around the state.

Part of the problem is the State Education Department; the regulations governing the education of English Language learners are basically unchanged for the last thirty years. The Department has been trying to rewrite the regulations for over a year – advocates are sharply critical of the drafts (i.e., compliance regs written by lawyers).

The governor’s callous disregard for students who have struggled through high school, passed courses and Regents exams, and gained acceptance to college is incomprehensible.

The State Education Department must accept the Italian proverb, Il pesce puzza dalla testa, the successes are schools that have created their own models, schools that have basically shunned the rigid, compliance-based state regulations.

As you leaf through the names of the 2014 Intel Competition semi-finalists you see name after name of students who are immigrants or children of immigrants – they are the future of America, as they have always been. To place obstacles in the path of a next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and artists is fool-hearty and short-sighted.