a thousand cuts

Saved from "turnaround," Grady faces new threats to existence

Grady Principal Geraldine Maione stands in front of a mural painted by students in a "transformation"-funded arts program.

In a normal year, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School would be preparing to enroll a ninth-grade class of about 350 students. But this hasn’t been a normal year.

The high school directory distributed to eighth-graders in September listed the school as having a “D” on its city progress report, even though Grady’s 2010 grade would be updated to a B in October. In December, the school’s federal funding was cut off after the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations. The next month, Mayor Bloomberg surprised school staff by announcing that Grady would be one of 33 schools to close and reopen under an overhaul program known as “turnaround.”

Then, in April, after months of raucous protests and appeals to the state’s top education leaders, Grady was yanked from the turnaround list, along with six other schools that had top grades on their city progress reports. The school would open this fall as usual.

Except that it won’t. Grady has just 150 students on its ninth-grade roster for the fall, and fewer students means fewer dollars to spend — in Grady’s case, about $3.5 million. Officials at Grady are planning to cut teachers loose, cancel after-school programs, and dismantle some of the supports that Principal Geraldine Maione said helped the school improve enough to stay open.

No longer will there be after-school clubs in robotics and chess, and teachers won’t be able to be paid to work an extended-day program for students who want to take additional courses in music and dance. With a career and technical education focus, Grady has never been able to offer a full complement of arts courses, so the clubs offered students a rare chance for a rounded education, Maione said.

Those programs were funded with millions of dollars in federal funds that the school received in 2010 and 2011 to support “transformation,” a less aggressive federally prescribed overhaul process. The funds, which were supposed to continue through next year, were essential to lifting the school’s performance statistics, Maione said. The four-year graduation rate has hovered around 50 percent in recent years, but in Maione’s first year at the school, the school earned heaps of extra credit from the city as more students made faster progress.

After early uncertainly, Department of Education officials now say they intend to replace transformation funds for the nine schools that had been receiving them and are no longer set for turnaround. But schools haven’t seen their budgets for next year, so Maione said she isn’t counting on the extra funds yet. And the $1.4 million in transformation funds would not come close to making up for the enrollment drop. Two hundred students would bring about $3.5 million to the school.

“We still haven’t heard anything about the funding, but for me it doesn’t matter,” Maione said last week. “Half of my staff is going to be gone. I can’t start anything new.”

It’s an issue that many of the schools wrapped up in the turnaround saga are anticipating. Indeed, enrollment is down at 40 percent of the 17 schools set to undergo turnaround this summer, according to the Department of Education. (An equal number are set to see enrollment rise.) Officials declined to provide details about the size of the enrollment changes or about enrollment at schools such as Grady that are no longer set to undergo turnaround.

For many of the schools, enrollment has been slipping for years. But it can’t have helped that the mayor himself identified them as struggling in January and held a series of high-profile public hearings and even raucous demonstrations — even as eighth-graders were finalizing and refining their high school applications.

A schedule of Grady's clubs and activities this year. Only a few of the activities are likely to continue next year amid an enrollment decline.

Declining enrollment costs schools hard dollars — and it also keeps them on the city’s closure radar. The Department of Education frequently cites student demand as a key consideration when deciding which schools to shutter and replace.

But the alternative to losing students isn’t always appealing, either. Students who are new to the city, transferring, or returning from incarceration or drop-out get assigned to whatever high schools have open seats. Several schools that have landed on the chopping block have argued — unsuccessfully — that large numbers of the needy “over-the-counter” students have doomed them to poor performance.

For Grady, there have been a few bright spots. The school’s “Quality Review,” which had been cancelled when Grady first landed on the turnaround roster, was rescheduled — for the first two days back from the Memorial Day break, at a time when high schools have already turned from regular instruction to prep for this month’s Regents exams. Maione was able to convince department officials to jettison the middle school administrator set to review the school in favor of someone with high school experience, then to shift the date to the fall.

But for the most part, school officials are hunkering down for a rough landing this fall. Maione is spending the waning days of the school year helping junior teachers land interviews at other schools. Her top assistants are concerned about the toll the fight for survival has taken on her and fear that she won’t return in the fall, even though she has promised to.

“My greatest worry is the principal,” said Spencer Holder, an assistant principal who said the school had become a more collaborative and student-oriented place to work since Maione’s 2010 arrival.

He added, “She’s been doing turnaround without turnaround. … But she has planted the type of seeds where we will be able to sustain what she put under her tutelage.”


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 Spokane, 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.”

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.