New York

Despite state law, Bronx charter school tests students for entry

The Academic Leadership Charter School, founded in 2009, is housed inside Mother Hale Academy, a district school in the South Bronx. A South Bronx charter school is screening children for admission based on their performance on academic tests, according to parents and several current and former employees of Academic Leadership Charter School. As a charter school, Academic Leadership is required by New York state law to admit students through a random lottery. But multiple parents and staff members described a process designed by the school's director to weed out low-performing students. Four parents who tried to enroll their children at Academic Leadership, an elementary school, this year or last year said that school employees tested their children before deciding whether or not to accept them. "They took my son to a class to watch him in the class and see if everything was okay. He was in the class an hour," said Khalilur Munshi, describing his experience with the school this winter. Dissatisfied with his neighborhood school, Munshi had taken his son, a second-grader, to Academic Leadership to try to enroll him in the middle of the school year. An employee told him that the second grade had open slots and no waiting list, and then his son was taken to sit in on the class, Munshi said. When his son returned, a staff member told Munshi that there actually was a waiting list and that school officials would let him know if a spot opened up. "I could tell they weren't going to take my son," he said. After the visit, he called the school three times to check on the status of the waiting list and never heard back. Several former and current school employees said that the school's director and founder, Norma Figueroa-Hurwitz, a long-time New York City educator, orders teachers to test applicants in order to admit the most advanced students. The employees all asked to remain anonymous out of concern that speaking on the record would jeopardize their careers in education. Reached by phone, Figueroa-Hurwitz denied that students were tested before they were admitted and declined to answer further questions. The same day, her husband and the school's co-founder, Ted Hurwitz, called GothamSchools to respond on Figueroa-Hurwitz's behalf. He said that the school tests students only after they have been admitted through the lottery for the purpose of "placement." Asked why parents would say otherwise, he said, "I don’t know why. I don’t understand that. We do anything and everything we can. We might do that to get a head start, but I can’t understand that personally." Hurwitz said that he now spends one day a week at the school.
New York

Regents give districts choice of tougher teacher evaluation

Deputy Commissioner John King, who will soon become commissioner, said that for a teacher to earn a rating of developing, effective, or highly effective, there should be some evidence of student progress on state tests. Introducing a new option for how to change teacher evaluation, the Board of Regents voted today to allow districts and unions to increase the weight of student test scores on those evaluations to 40 percent. According to the law passed last summer, which changed how teachers in New York State are evaluated and introduced their students' test scores as an element for consideration, state tests would count for 20 out of 100 points. Another 20 points would come from local assessments, which school districts could devise on their own. Yet the set of regulations approved in a vote this evening will allow school districts, with the approval of teachers unions, to count students' progress on state tests for 40 points of a teacher's evaluation score. The board voted 14 to 3 to approve the regulations. Regents Betty Rosa, Roger Tilles, and the board's newest member Kathleen Cashin, voted against the proposal. The increased emphasis on students' progress on standardized tests turned up in the final draft of regulations after Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped into the discussions last week. In a letter to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the governor said he believed that students' scores on the annual math and reading tests should carry more weight in the evaluation of their teachers. Mayor Bloomberg agreed, saying that an earlier draft of the regulations did not place enough importance on the tests. Yesterday, a group of 10 prominent education researchers sent the Regents a letter asking them not to place more weight on value-added scores, which measure students' progress on tests against that of similar types of students.
New York

Cuomo: Test scores should play a bigger part in teacher evals

If Governor Andrew Cuomo angered Mayor Bloomberg by batting off his calls to end seniority-based layoffs, perhaps the governor redeemed himself in the mayor's eyes today. Cuomo sent the chancellor of New York's Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, a letter saying he believes that student test scores should count for a larger portion of teachers' annual evaluations. His comments are a critique of a set of regulations put out by the Board of Regents that they will vote on next week. The regulations are to be used by New York City and other districts as a guide to implementing the state's new teacher evaluation system. In a statement today, Tisch vowed to support Cuomo's recommendations at the meeting next week, saying that they "will lead to an even stronger teacher and principal evaluation system for New York." It's not clear if the other members of the board will agree with Tisch. A recent appointee to the board, the former city school official Kathleen Cashin, is a quiet critic of Bloomberg's. Another hurdle involves getting the teacher evaluations implemented in school districts. The new state law revising the evaluation system granted final power to local collective bargaining talks between districts and unions. That means that no evaluation system will become final without local unions' approval. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded to Cuomo's letter obliquely, saying only: "We look forward to discussing the Governor's recommendations with the Regents." Bloomberg's reaction was more effusive: “The thoughtful recommendations made today by Governor Cuomo will greatly improve the rigor of these new evaluations, and I am heartened that the Regents agreed to adopt them. But it will take the sustained commitment of all invested parties – and perhaps most importantly, the cooperation of the teachers union – if we are to make this evaluation system a reality.” Here's Cuomo's complete letter:
New York

City plans for a management change at nine struggling schools

Unable to convince the teachers union to let school officials fire principals and teachers at a group of low-performing schools, the city is resorting to a another option: changing the schools' management. The so-called "restart" option is one of four programs districts can take on in order to win federal grants aimed at improving the country's lowest-performing schools. City officials announced today that nine public schools will undergo the restart model next year. The plan putting a school under new management — for example, under the guidance of an education management organization like New Visions. A major, and so-far unanswered, question is how this plan will differ from the relationships schools already have with support networks, whose job it is to offer academic and operational guidance. Another question is what organizations would apply to partner with these schools on such short notice. Three other schools that are eligible for the federal improvement grants will not receive them next year. Plans to overhaul the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Harlem Renaissance High School, and W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical High School, all of which could begin any of the improvement models next year, will be put on hold for another year while the city decides whether to close them or improve them as they are. Department of Education officials said they intend to announce their plans for 31 other schools that are eligible for the grants tomorrow. Some of those schools will undergo the restart strategy, but the officials did not say how many.
New York

City to renew $4.5 million contract with Wireless Generation

New York

City panel votes to close three more schools, bringing total to 27

New York

The disadvantages that indie charter schools do and don't face

New York

In a first, city plans to end contract with a support organization

For the first time since introducing school support organizations in 2007, the city plans to end its contract with one of them. But unlike when the city closes failing schools, it has refused to publicly release data showing how the network has performed. (Update 4/20: City officials now say they are planning to publicly release the data next week.) Replications — one of several non-profit organizations that provide schools instructional and administrative assistance — will not be able to contract with schools next year, a Department of Education official confirmed today. Every year, the DOE ranks how well support organizations and networks are doing based largely on the test scores and graduation rates of the schools they work with. These rankings have been used to close low-performing networks, but this is the first time a support organization has lost its contract because of them. Replications' founder John Elwell said today that the decision to cut ties with the DOE was a mutual one. "I was going to ask them to let us out of the contract," he said. Elwell said that for two years, DOE officials have been threatening to end the department's contract with him based on his network's ranking at the bottom of the list. He said this year 20 other networks placed lower than his in the rankings, but Replications did not do well enough to keep its contract. DOE officials have refused requests for the rankings, though they have shown them to principals. Former Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern disagreed with the DOE's decision not to release the rankings showing how Replications' schools had performed.
New York

Linked to test scores, principal ratings took a hit last year

Principals who worried that new, toughened state math and English exams would hurt their performance reviews had good reason: Far fewer principals earned high marks from the city last year. Data on principals' performance ratings, which GothamSchools obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, show that the number of principals who "substantially exceed" expectations fell by roughly 60 percent from 2009 to 2010. (A full list of all principals and how they scored is at the end of this post.) The decrease parallels a drop in test scores and fewer schools earning "A" grades on their progress reports. The percentage of elementary and middle schools to get A’s on their city-issued report cards fell from 84 to 25 percent — a drop precipitated by more students failing the exams and the city grading schools on a curve. With fewer principals earning the city's highest rating, more fell into the middle. Principals can earn one of five ratings: does not meet expectations, partially meets, meets, exceeds, or substantially exceeds. The number of principals rated as "exceeding" expectations rose from 465 to 608 and the number who "meet" expectations climbed from 114 to 376. The number of principals earning substandard marks also rose. In 2009, only five principals were rated "does not meet" expectations, but that number more than quadrupled to 21 in 2010. Even with the increase, the percentage of principals earning the lowest rating is now only 1.4 percent of the 1449 on the city's list.
New York

Education commissioner approves waiver for Dennis Walcott

New York

Queens school resists changes but not funds tied to them

Hundreds of Bryant High School students in school t-shirts and jerseys came to a meeting last night to insist their school isn't failing. At a public meeting at a Queens high school last night, students and teachers found themselves caught in the quandary that often accompanies school change. They want the money that accompanies a set of federal improvement plans, but they don't want the plans themselves. Students and staff have worried that the city will try to close William Bryant High School since it landed on the state's "persistently lowest achieving" list in December. Instead, the city is considering two other options dictated by the Obama administration's school improvement grant program. The options would send millions of dollars to Bryant over the next several years in exchange for dramatic changes to the school's staff. At the meeting last night, audience members alternately supported the turnaround plans and pushed back against any proposed disruptions to their school. Told that Bryant was eligible for up to $2 million over the next three years, they applauded. But when Queens high school Superintendent Juan Melendez mentioned the two improvement options that Bryant might undergo — both of which call for the principal's removal — they told him to leave Bryant be. "Don't change the formula," said State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, a Bryant alumna. "I am confident that this is a school on the rise." According to the city, Bryant had a graduation rate of nearly 60 percent last year. That was among the lowest in the city, but an improvement over the school's graduation rate of 56 percent the year before. Teachers said that the latest figure excludes six students who graduated after summer school and are contesting the school's "persistently lowest-achieving" designation.
New York

Pressure on top high schools shuts more eighth-graders out

New York

Kindergarten wait lists lengthen as more families apply

New York

Comptroller finds city underreported high school drop-outs

City school officials have underreported the number of students who dropped out of high school in the past by reclassifying some of them, according to a report released by the State Comptroller today. The report, which comes out of an audit completed by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office in January, examines a group of students that are labeled as "discharged," meaning they have left the school system for legitimate reasons, such as moving to another state or deciding to enroll in a G.E.D. program. It finds that some of these students should actually have been labeled as drop-outs, but because of paperwork errors or school officials' failure to follow state regulations in certain cases, they were counted as discharged. Students who are discharged don't count towards the city's drop-out rate and some advocates have argued that principals can misuse the discharge code, entering students who simply dropped out in order to inflate their graduation rate artificially. Overall, the comptroller's report found that even with the improper discharge classifications taken into account, the city's graduation rate was "generally accurate." To determine whether the city's Department of Education was improperly classifying drop-outs as discharges, auditors in the comptroller's office examined the records of students who started high school in 2004 and should have graduated in 2008, but were discharged along the way. They randomly chose 500 of the 17,025 general education students who were discharged and 100 of the 1,923 discharged special education students.
New York

What to expect when you're expecting layoffs (again…)