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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Raymond Domanico: De Blasio Fails Students in Failing Schools

As the mother of four children, I do not now, nor have I ever, bought into the New York City Department of Education policy of  dumping large numbers of children into categories labelled with where they live, race, ability or emotional needs.
I am a twin, and I and my sister went to a private school in NYC where we had to wear a uniform. Whenever I raised my hand the teachers would say "oh, one of the twins". So annoying. We both did very well in school and we were put into the high achiever group of about 7 girls, so our teachers easily could have called on me by my name. Nonetheless,  my label bothered me a lot. I laughed about it, but we got an amazing education.  Thank goodness my twin and I went to different colleges.

Of course this is not the same as an "ED" (emotionally disturbed) label on an IEP for kids with unique needs, or teachers carrying around a "PC" Problem Code on their personnel file. Teachers who are reassigned after 3020-a charges or after being excessed get labelled "ATR" (Absent Teacher Reserve"), a relatively new label, with new meaning for anyone inside and outside the NYC DOE ("Department of Education") which is that there is something wrong with this person.

But it sort of is the same. Labels never say anything about an individual's unique talents, character, great acts of kindness, hardships, or relationships with other people, yet almost everyone puts people into categories when they meet.  
When my youngest got into PS 6's Gifted and Talented Program, I was very happy, because this is the track that I saw would be the best for her. When she was in 3rd grade Principal Carmen Farina, who later became Chancellor, ended the G&T Program because she wanted all kids to get the same education like cars on a Ford assembly line. Her goal was to flatten the bell curve of achievement so that any child at Level 1 would be able to reach a high 2 or even a level 3, while those students who routinely did level 3-high 4 work would be brought down to a level 3. Parents were furious. Kids are not cars. Carmen was removed from PS 6 as principal on or about February 1, 2001.
Under Chancellor Carmen Farina and Mayor Mike Bloomberg many schools were closed in order to make the public school pipeline more narrow, and squeeze children into pre-determined categories and groups that took away the individualized educational priorities needed, and limited school choices for parents in order to get to the Middle Level 3 where every student is 'Equal' to everyone else. This kind of thinking has spurred the opposition to the Stuyvesant-like specialized high schools, because these schools pick the top kids from a single test....and the kids are mostly white or Asian.
The solution? Don't take away anything, but expand the choices. Have more specialized high schools  in every borough, and put Gifted and Talented Programs in every borough, school and class, woven seamlessly into the curriculum and programming so that no students feel "different", but all students receive the challenges they need to reach their personal best.

More is better. Give every child an opportunity to take the test and get a seat in the school that is right for him or her. Not all children belong in a specialized high school or want to go if accepted.
The current pandemic is destroying all that was, and all that could be. We have no idea what the new normal will be. What we do know is the budget for NYC's public schools has been reduced. On April 16, 2020, James Eterno published on his blog "ICEUFT" the new NYC Department of Education budget, and the numbers show deep cuts which will force limits on everyone and in all programs.
But what does "failing schools fail students" mean? In a struggling school do kids not show up on time because they have been up all night at a job? Is there a sick or abusive family member at home? Is the child homeless? Does a "failing school" mean that there are no good teachers or administrators who are trying to create good programs for "failing students"? Who are these failing students, and why do they have this label? Who defines who is a "failure"? Who defines "good"?

As Mayor de Blasio and Richard Carranza are now implementing a no-grade pass-fail system for students, how are we going to know what any school or student needs? Charters are still giving grades.

Not that grades, which are labels, tell what a child's abilities, strengths and weaknesses are, etc. Grades are a number that must be couched into a context which defines their meaning. Inside the NYC Department of Education, however, there seems to be a lack of accountability everywhere you look.

We may see more "failing schools fail students" when schools re-open or before. Let's stay focused and fight for our kids' rights not to be labelled as a convenient measure for some political need.
Mayor Bill de Blasio

How de Blasio failed students in failing schools

The mayor of New York City should have followed on his predecessor’s path in education policy.
By RAYMOND DOMANICO, City and State,
MARCH 24, 2020

Student achievement in New York City public schools, on average, has improved under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Students in the city now score higher than the average for the rest of New York state on annual state tests. This school year may well be lost to the COVID-19 crisis and the state of New York has cancelled the 2020 state assessments, so we won’t be able to know how things stand at the end of this year. But when schools return to normal, there still will be a crisis in the New York City school system: the persistent failure of schools in certain areas of the city (and see the NY POST article in 2015). These individual failing schools and unlucky communities deserve bold action, something that the mayor has failed to provide, despite rosy promises of renewal early on in his mayoralty.
In the final two years of his tenure, de Blasio should admit defeat in one critical area of education policy and bring back an approach that worked well for his predecessor.
New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that if each of the city’s boroughs had its own school system, and if each borough were compared as a county against the other 57 counties in the state, four of the city’s boroughs would be among the top seven highest performing counties in the state in “English language arts,” and among the top nine counties in math. The exception, as I document in a forthcoming Manhattan Institute issue brief, is the Bronx. The Bronx is among the six lowest performing counties in math and is 23rd from the bottom in English.
While the Bronx is at the epicenter of the city’s educational challenge, unacceptably low school performance is found in other schools and neighborhoods around the city. Seventy-one city schools (including 30 in the Bronx) have English proficiency rates below 20 percent and 100 (37 in the Bronx) have math proficiency rates below 16 percent.
De Blasio came into office promising to fix these schools like these, rather than closing and replacing them as his predecessor Michael Bloomberg had done. He poured hundreds of millions of dollars into his Renewal Schools program, which delivered little to no improvement in participating schools. When Richard Carranza became chancellor in 2018, he looked into this initiative, then four years into operation, and reported that it lacked “tight, cohesive” guidelines describing what exactly the Renewal schools were meant to be accomplishing and how New Yorkers would know if they were succeeding. Later that year, The New York Times uncovered and reported that in 2015, the city Department of Education staff had warned the mayor that “about a third of those [Renewal] schools were likely to fail.”
Despite those warnings, the program continued for four more years before de Blasio finally threw in the towel on this ill-conceived effort at the end of the 2018-19 school year. Enrollment in the Renewal schools had been declining prior to the program’s inception – families were avoiding these schools before they were even enlisted in the Renewal effort – and continued to decline as the program rolled out. Still, tens of thousands of youngsters trapped in the failing schools lost the only chance they had at a decent elementary, middle, or high school education due to the mayor’s stubbornness in pursuing this lost crusade.
It's not that more promising approaches were unknown. In the Bloomberg years, 109 low-performing schools were closed and the Department of Education empowered teams of community groups and teachers and supervisors to produce plans for new, innovative, and smaller schools to replace those closed; 484 such brand-new schools were opened. Not all of them worked; some were among those closed when it became clear that they were lacking what it takes to succeed.
However, rigorous research from the Research Alliance for New York City Public Schools at New York University found that the Bloomberg-era efforts to close and replace low-performing high schools produced positive effects for future cohorts of students while creating no negative impact on those students who were in the low-performing schools as they closed. The city’s own Independent Budget Office found similar results for future students, while also uncovering small negative effects on some students who remained in the schools as they were being phased out. Those negative effects suggest that perhaps students should have been dispersed to other schools immediately rather than being allowed to remain in schools as they phased out.
As the Department of Education was creating these new schools, it also encouraged and facilitated the start-up and physical placement of over 170 new charter schools during Bloomberg’s time in office. These schools provided over 100,000 seats, largely in elementary and middle schools, in neighborhoods that sorely needed viable school programs. And their success rates became well-documented. My own analysis, for example, demonstrates that while achievement gaps exist between black and Hispanic students and white students in the city as a whole, these gaps narrow in public charter schools. What’s more, students in New York City’s charter schools outperform their peers of the same race in district schools. This holds true for every major racial group in the citySome critics argue that charters obtain these results by “cream-skimming” higher-performing students or because they receive higher funding than traditional public schools, but a substantial body of research, which I summarize in a 2019 issue brief, refutes these claims.
Yet despite the proven success of the charter sector, de Blasio has steadfastly refused to continue the approach of removing students from failing schools and providing them with better opportunities. Today, growth of charters in the city has been frozen by the state Legislature, with de Blasio vocally supporting this suspension.
Bloomberg did not leave behind a perfect school system, but he did put in place a dynamic process to respond to parental demand, close failing schools and encourage the growth of new and improved schools, both charter and district. His successor, meanwhile, tried to fix failing schools and failed.
Now, under his diversity initiative, de Blasio wants to rearrange students among low and high-performing schools, apparently under the impression that there is a ceiling on the number of good schools that the city can have – but this is simply not the case This initiative sprung from local efforts in Park Slope and on the Upper West Side to better integrate a number of academically screened middle schools. It has since met strong community opposition in District 28 in central Queens and is now on something of a hiatus
As the school system continues to respond and adapt to the current public health crisis, it will need to address the lack of well-functioning structures in the lowest-performing schools. There are limitless opportunities for improvement in our city’s schools, especially under leadership willing to embrace innovative new approaches, even when some may entail expanding school choice. Let’s hope the next mayor sees this clearly and acts accordingly.

Opting for failure

Post Editorial Board, February 24, 2014

Anyone who’s read The Post exposé on Murry Bergtraum HS won’t be surprised to learn how badly its students write. The question is, why is a school so manifestly failing its students still open?

Alas, Murry Bergtraum is all too typical of a public-education system that looks the other way so long as it’s black and Latino children who aren’t learning. Here’s just a small taste of the rotten status quo:
At 53 city-run public schools, zero African-American students passed the state’s most recent math tests.
At 48 schools, zero Latino students passed those tests.
At one Bronx middle school — MS 203 — not one of the 210 Latino or 75 African-American children who took the tests passed.
At PS 194 in Harlem, none of the 50 African-American or 46 Latino test-takers was proficient in English Language Arts.
There are 105 schools where the math proficiency rate is 5 percent or less.
There are 69 public schools where the ­English Language Arts proficiency rate is 5 percent or less.

So what’s Mayor de Blasio doing? He’s punishing the public schools that prove these kids can be taught: charters. And he’s doing it by taking away their space and making it all but impossible for them to give more children the benefit of a good school. After a Saturday morning meeting between charter officials and ­schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, the head of the New York Charter School Center, James Merriman, posed the only question that should matter about the mayor’s approach:

“Can [the mayor] look every parent in the eye who expects to send their child to these schools in the fall and say to them, ‘The school that I will now force you to go to is going to be better than the school I am taking away from you’? ”

The answer is that de Blasio is going to keep failing, traditional public schools open no matter how badly they do — and make it difficult to expand charters no matter how well they do. You can call this many things, but you can’t call it progressive.