charter closure

Two Citizens of the World charter schools will close at the end of this year

Two Brooklyn charter schools that were likely to be turned down for renewal will be shuttered at the end of this school year, after their board voted Thursday night not to seek another term.

The two elementary schools, Citizens of the World Williamsburg and Citizens of the World Crown Heights, are part of a California-based network that got off to a rocky start in New York City in 2013 and has struggled to show signs of academic promise.

It is rare, but not unheard of, for New York’s charter schools to close schools for poor performance. The State University of New York, which oversees 160 schools in New York and authorized Citizens of the World, has seen six schools shuttered since 2004. In some instances, SUNY sends preliminary notice that the school’s chances of renewal are slim, as they did with Citizens of the World, and the schools chose to accept the outcome rather than fight SUNY.

“This is one of the most wrenching decisions that any board will ever need to make,” said Erin Corbett, the interim executive director of Citizens of the World Charter Schools New York, in an emailed statement. “This decision is very painful for all of us and even more painful for the families we serve. We love these schools and all that they stand for.” (These are the only two schools run by Citizens of the World in New York City.)

Charter schools buy into an “autonomy for accountability” bargain where they receive freedom from some district rules, and in exchange, agree to hit academic benchmarks. If they fail to show enough progress, the schools risk closure.

In the end, the board decided the schools’ failure to improve their scores gave them a small chance of securing renewal and chose to focus its energy instead on helping families and teachers find new placements for next year, Corbett said.

Both schools — which are located on Leonard Street in Williamsburg and Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights —  serve grades kindergarten through fifth grade. The network’s website says the curriculum includes learning through projects and “personalized learning,” or instruction specific to each particular students’ understanding.

Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, said that while the schools were underperforming, she appreciated the board’s choice to take a responsible route and not fight SUNY’s recommendation for non-renewal.

“While the school did not achieve the promise that they offered in their application,” Miller-Carello said, the charter school’s board “was very honest with themselves and us about both schools’ inability to fulfill the things that they agreed to when they got their charter.”

The network received a cold welcome in New York City, with a group of parents filing a lawsuit opposing the schools by claiming that there was not enough community support for them. The schools also came under fire for an enrollment strategy that targeted affluent families.

Since then, the schools have struggled with leadership turnover at their regional office and within the schools themselves, said Miller Carello. They are also some of the lowest performing schools authorized by SUNY, she added.

At each school, more than 85 percent of students come from homes considered  in poverty and the vast majority of students are either black or Hispanic. Roughly one in five students passed the math or English state test last year. At the school in Crown Heights, only 12 percent of students passed math. Citywide, about 41 percent of students passed English and 37.8 passed math. (Roughly 40 percent of students statewide passed both the math and English tests.)

They also fall far below the overall charter school average in New York City. Among charter school students citywide, 52 percent pass state math tests and 48 percent pass the English test, according to the New York City Charter School Center.

From the beginning, the neighborhood did not need another school while other schools in the community remained under-enrolled. The school’s finances were an “abomination,” and the leadership was ill-equipped to oversee the schools, said Brooke Parker, a parent in the district who fought the schools from the start.

“We did everything we could because we didn’t need the school,” Parker said. “It was going to be a waste of resources.”  

Charter school advocates say the decision is an example of how charter schools can be forced to pay the price if they are not measuring up for students.

“My guess is that there are probably some parents who deeply disagree with the decision because they feel they don’t have a better option for their child and that is heartbreaking and tragic,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. But, he added, “This is the autonomy for accountability trade off playing out, and this is what happens.”

red ratings

Closure is still an option, but a new approach will let struggling Denver schools make their case

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Students in kindergarten on the first day of school at McGlone Academy.

Denver schools with persistently low test scores will have to present detailed improvement plans this fall, but they no longer face automatic closure or replacement.

The Denver school board on Monday night agreed to a more flexible process for intervening in struggling schools. The changes mean the board will have more options and more discretion.

The process also seeks to give greater weight to information about a school’s culture, the demographics of the students it serves, and how school staff support those students socially and emotionally. In past years, school closure decisions were based overwhelmingly on academic factors, such how students fared on state literacy and math tests.

Ten low-performing schools are eligible for intervention this year (see box). The board is set to vote in December and January on which actions to take at each school.

Schools eligible for intervention:
John F. Kennedy High School
West Leadership Academy
Collegiate Preparatory Academy
STRIVE Prep – Excel
Girls Athletic Leadership High School
Lake Middle School
DSST: Cole Middle School
Compass Academy
McGlone Academy
Stedman Elementary School

How to improve struggling schools is a key question for urban school districts across the country. However, Denver Public Schools stands out nationally for adopting a policy in 2015 codifying that it should “promptly intervene” when a school is persistently underperforming and coming up with guidelines that set a clear path to school closure.

But the rollout of the policy was rocky, with critics attacking both the premise that closing struggling schools is good for students and the process the board used to do it.

The idea to change the process was first proposed in June by board member Lisa Flores. She cited several reasons, including frustration from teachers and parents who complained the board wasn’t considering the positive aspects of their schools, and a feeling among board members that the bright-line rules didn’t allow them to exercise their judgement.

Two other board members, Jennifer Bacon and Angela Cobián, spent the past several months working with district staff to come up with a new process. They presented it at a work session Monday night, and all the board members in attendance gave their approval. The 2015 policy will remain the same, but the guidelines for carrying it out will be different.

“I do not think the ‘why’ has changed, and the ‘why’ is incredibly important: It’s about serving our children and serving our children well,” board president Anne Rowe said.

The old guidelines were strict but simple. They said that if a school earned the lowest rating on the district’s color-coded quality scale, denoted by the color red, for two years in a row, and its students did not show enough academic progress on the most recent state tests, the school would be designated for closure or replacement.

A school could also be closed or replaced if it earned a red rating in the most recent year and either a red or an orange rating, the second-lowest on the scale, in the previous two years. The ratings, released each fall, are largely based on state test scores.

Denver gives extra money — as much as $1.7 million over five years — to its lowest-rated schools in an effort to help them improve before interventions are necessary.

The new process is more complicated. It calls for red-rated schools to write an improvement plan with input from teachers and parents. That plan can pull heavily from the “unified improvement plan” every Colorado school must already submit to the state education department each year per state law.

A committee of district staff members, community members, and outside experts that could include retired district principals will evaluate the plan’s strength, as well as data about the school’s academics and culture.

Based on that evidence, plus interviews with school leaders and their supervisors, the committee will recommend an intervention to the superintendent. The superintendent will then make a recommendation to the school board, which will vote on it.

Using previous guidelines, the board voted in 2016 to close one elementary school, Gilpin Montessori, and replace two others, Greenlee and Amesse. In 2017, the only school that met the criteria was a charter school that decided on its own to close.

Under the new process, the board could still vote to close or replace a school that earned back-to-back red ratings. But it has other options, too. It could decide to put the school on a “one-year performance plan,” meaning the school would have a year to show improvement. Or it could choose a “two-year performance plan with one-year monitoring,” which would give the school two years to improve with a formal progress check after one year.

Those same options, ranging from a two-year plan to closure, would also apply to schools that earned an orange rating and then a red one. In that way, the new guidelines are harsher than the old ones, which required two years of orange ratings before a red rating.

The new guidelines also call for the board to intervene in a whole other set of schools: those whose ratings drop from one of the top three colors on the scale — blue, green, or yellow — down to red in a single year. Schools with such a “precipitous drop” would be put on either a two-year or a one-year performance plan, but they wouldn’t face closure or replacement.

Some board members struggled at first to understand the new rules. In explaining them, Cobián and Bacon referred to a graphic that illustrates the changes. Here’s the graphic:

Source: Denver Public Schools

The decision-making timeline is quicker for schools with multiple years of low ratings than it is for those that experienced a precipitous drop. Schools with multiple years of low ratings have until Nov. 12 to submit their improvement plans. The evaluation committee is scheduled to make its recommendations in early December, and the board is set to vote Dec. 20.

The schools in that category this year include two district-run schools, Stedman Elementary School and Lake Middle School, and one charter middle school, Compass Academy.

Schools that experienced a drop in ratings this year have until Dec. 10 to submit their plans. Recommendations are due in early January and the board is set to vote Jan. 24.

Those schools include three charters — STRIVE Prep – Excel High School, Girls Athletic Leadership High School, and DSST: Cole Middle School — and four district-run schools: John F. Kennedy, West Leadership Academy, and Collegiate Preparatory Academy high schools, and McGlone Academy, which serves students from preschool through eighth grade.

A school program developed by McGlone leaders was actually chosen last year to take over low-performing Amesse Elementary, which was one of two schools the board voted to replace under previous guidelines. McGlone was rated yellow last year but fell to red this year.

public comment

Chicago sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C. Sullivan High School