shooting blind

Social promotion's effect in New York City still largely unknown

Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to expand a social promotion ban will likely be the first item on the school board’s agenda when they reconvene. But board members will have to vote on the proposal before the results of the only research on the effects of holding back failing students in the city have been released.

The results of a study that the city commissioned from the research institute the RAND Corporation in 2004 are scheduled to be released this fall, according to Department of Education spokesman Andy Jacob. But that will almost certainly come after the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the proposed expansion of Bloomberg’s new promotional standards to include fourth and sixth graders.

(The Panel for Educational Policy was dissolved after mayoral control expired June 30 but will reconvene now that the Senate has re-authorized the law.)

Data provided by the New York City Department of Education
Less than two percent of third, fifth and seventh graders were held back last year under Mayor Bloomberg's tougher promotion standards. Data provided by the New York City Department of Education.

Preliminary results of the RAND study, which looks at the performance of third and fifth graders affected by the Mayor’s promotion policy over time and will include data from the 2008-2009 school year, were delivered to the Department of Education last year, Jacob said. The study was designed to follow students for five years, Jacob said, and so final results of the study will not be available until the research is completed.

The RAND Corporation did release a working paper in 2006 that surveyed promotion and retention policies around the United States and placed New York City’s practices in context.

Even without research findings on the end of social promotion in New York City, Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein insist that holding back failing schoolchildren benefits them unquestionably.

“It’s pretty hard to argue that [ending social promotion] does not work,” Bloomberg said today as he called for the policy to be expanded to include all tested grades. “Sending kids into the next grade unprepared is as mean and cruel a thing as you can do,” he said.

But the success of tougher promotion standards is still hotly debated among researchers. One issue skeptics raise is whether it makes sense to tout a policy that only holds back a small section of students who have failed state math and English exams.

Last year, more than 98 percent of third, fifth and seventh graders were promoted by scoring a Level 2 or higher on their state exams either during the school year or after summer school, or on appeal. The charts above and below show the number of third,fifth and seventh grade students who were promoted, either by scoring high enough on state exams during the school year or after summer school. Promotion data for 2009 has not yet been released.

Under the city’s promotion policies, students who score at least a Level 2 out of 4 on their math and English exams are promoted, even though students at that score do not yet meet state standards.

Bloomberg said that low bar for promotion doesn’t mean the policy doesn’t work.  Holding back still-failing Level 2 students is an eventual goal but one that is currently logistically difficult, he said.

“If we went immediately to Level 3, so many kids would be held back that we’d be overwhelmed,” he said.

Data provided by the New York City Department of Education
Data provided by the New York City Department of Education
Data provided by the New York City Department of Education
Data provided by the New York City Department of Education

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.