study says...

Closing schools serve students with greater needs, report says

picture-3The 25 schools the city is trying to close are low-performing, but their students are among the city’s most challenging — and are only getting needier over time.

Those are the findings of a report released today by the Independent Budget Office, the city’s data watchdog.

City officials argue that these low-performing schools should be closed because other schools serve similar student populations with better results. But critics of the closures often counter that the schools were set up to fail after the city sent them comparatively larger numbers of under-prepared, special needs and English language learning students.

The report confirms that many of the schools slated for closure have been enrolling increasingly high percentages of the city’s most challenging students since 2005.

In 10 of the 14 high schools on the closure list, for example, ninth-graders who entered the school in 2009 arrived with lower scores than their predecessors in 2007. The percentage of students entering the schools overage has grown to more than double the citywide average.

For the second time, the IBO report compared the academic performance of the schools slated to close both to citywide averages and to other schools the city says are similar. It also takes a close look at the demographics of the students who attend schools on the closure list, and how those demographics have changed over time.

City officials responded to the report by citing two studies conducted by the research group MDRC and funded by the Gates Foundation that found that the city’s small schools boosted academic performance for low-income students of color.

“Our reform efforts are absolutely focused on our students that need the most help, and independent research shows new small schools that replace large failing schools serve more disadvantaged students on average and help these students graduate at higher rates,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Academic achievement at the schools was much lower than citywide averages. Their performance also  fell below the average performance of the 11 schools the city selected last year to undergo the “transformation” model of school improvement and the three high schools that were on the closure list last year but were granted a reprieve this year.
  • But the schools produced mixed results when compared with other schools that the city says serve similar students. Three schools out of the 14 high schools on the closure list had more students earning course credits than more than half of their peer schools. Just three had credit-accumulation rates that were in the lowest tenth of schools in their peer group. Two of the 14 posted attendance rates that were in the lowest 10 percent of their peer group schools.
  • The schools slated for closure saw an increase in their rates of students receiving special education services or living in temporary housing that was larger than the increase citywide.
  • A disproportionate share of students in closing schools are in the Bronx. Nearly 40 percent of students who attend schools slated for closure do so in the Bronx. That’s compared to just over 20 percent of all city students who attend school in that borough.
  • Of the schools replacing closing schools as they phase out, 23 are new or existing small schools. Eight are new or existing charter schools, and seven are new zoned elementary or middle schools. The city has not yet released the plans for three schools set to open in buildings where a school is closing.

Read the full IBO report here.

(This post has been updated to provide the DOE’s response to the report.)

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.