simple twist of fate

For some schools, report cards bring about a quick turn in luck

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Chancellor Joel Klein said the city would consider schools' new grades before deciding which ones to close.

For a few high schools, the grades they got on this year’s progress reports could make the difference between life and death.

Though most schools’ grades didn’t change dramatically from last year, several schools the city tried to close last year saw improvement this year while others that had once been good schools have fallen to the bottom.

Of the 19 schools the city unsuccessfully tried to close for poor performance last year, two schools had their grades jump multiple rungs. W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School and the Choir Academy of Harlem, both of which got D’s last year, and got B’s this time.

Chancellor Joel Klein said the Department of Education would take the new, higher grades into consideration when deciding whether to try and close the schools it had once deemed “failures” a second time.

“We put great weight on the grades,” he said at a press conference this morning at Manhattan Bridges High School. “We announced those schools based on the information we had at the time.”

“I’m not making any decisions here today,” he added.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew, who made defending Maxwell against closure a special focus last year, said he’d always known the school was good.

“The city doesn’t want to recognize it for being a good school, but it has some top notch career and technical programs inside of it,” he said. “They really did a number on the school with how they treated it. They disseminated some of the programs like graphic arts.”

While some schools may find themselves suddenly removed from the city’s closure list, others may be just as surprised to land there.

Long considered to be one of the city’s best remaining behemoth high schools, Herbert Lehman High School experienced a precipitous fall this year. In three years, Lehman has gone from being a B school to getting an F. Schools that receive a grade of F or D, or get three C’s in a row, are at risk for closure.

The school’s principal, Janet Saraceno, arrived in the fall of 2008 after the school’s veteran principal resigned in the wake of a financial scandal. As part of a Department of Education program to lure principals to the city’s most challenging schools, Saraceno was given a bonus and the title “executive principal.” Soon after, teachers reported that she was changing dozens of students’ grades in order to increase the school’s credit accumulation and graduate rates.

Klein said today that the city’s investigation into Lehman is still unfinished. He said the city decided to release the school’s progress report this year — unlike last year, when it was withheld — because the investigation only covered grades and Regents scores from the 2008-09 school year.

Mulgrew blamed the city for allowing Lehman to go downhill. In the last year, safety has become a problem at the school and the city installed metal detectors over the summer.

“You had a large functioning high school, so why would you sit back and allow it to decline?,” he said. “Take her [Saraceno] out of there and get a safety team in there!”

City officials also announced today that next year’s high school progress reports will include new data such as the number of students who enroll in college and how many graduate able to meet the City of New York University’s standards.

Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky said this data won’t be included in schools’ grades until 2012, but it will show up on progress reports next year. Another factor the city will track and report is how many Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes the school offers.

“We want people to have time to gear up and focus on this,” Suransky said.

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.