Making the grade

More F's and fewer A's mark new high school progress reports

For the second year in a row, the city has awarded fewer top progress report grades to high schools.

Nearly 70 percent of high schools received A’s or B’s on this year’s reports, which are being released today, down from about 75 percent last year and 83 percent in 2008.

And more schools will have to endure a year of having the letter “F” branded on their report cards. Last year, the city gave only one F, but this year nine schools got that grade, and another 23 received D’s. Schools that receive a grade of F or D, or get three C’s in a row, are at risk for closure. The city has indicated that it might try to close more schools this year than in past years.

This year’s high school grades were more stable than those for elementary and middle schools, which were released last month. Elementary and middle school reports are based almost entire on state reading and math scores, and lower scores statewide caused grades to fall this year at about 70 percent of schools. The high school reports are based on a more diverse set of data points — including graduation rates, Regents exam pass rates, and how many classes students pass each year — none of which underwent substantial changes this year.

The new reports assign A’s to 40 percent of high schools, B’s to 29 percent, and C’s to 21 percent. In 2009, 45 percent of schools were given A’s, 30 percent got B’s and 19 percent got C’s. Schools that have not yet had a graduating class or are in the process of closing do not receive grades.

Chancellor Joel Klein and Chief Accountability Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky will present the new report card grades to reporters this morning.

For now, here are some highlights:

  • Five schools scored over 100 points, which means they got extra credit for showing progress with students who aren’t fluent in English or special education students. From highest to lowest, they are Theatre Arts Production Company School, Brooklyn International High School at Water’s Edge, Williamsburg Preparatory School, Marble Hill High School for International Studies, and Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design.
  • Thirty-four high schools got an F grade in the performance category, but only seven of them received the lowest grade overall.
  • The three high schools GothamSchools and WNYC are following through the federally mandated transformation process all received low grades. Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School had the highest score of the three; its 55.8 earned it a C. William Grady Career and Technical Education High School and Christopher Columbus High School both received D’s.
  • Herbert Lehman High School, which had its report card withheld last year because its executive principal Janet Saraceno is under investigation for changing students’ grades, had its grade publicly released this year, and it is one of the nine F’s. Last year, after the city accidentally released Lehman’s report card, teachers learned the school had gotten a low B. The fall from a B to an F in one year came in part from the school’s low score in the environment category — 81 percent of surveyed teachers said they didn’t trust the school’s principal — as well as a D grade for performance and an F for progress.
  • The grade for one school, John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx, remains under review. In the past, grades have been kept under review if the school appeals its score or if the city is investigating the school’s data. Kennedy has been the subject of multiple investigations in recent years.

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.