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8 posts from March 2010

March 30, 2010

Race to the Top Redux

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education named its winners for the competitive Race to the Top education funds. Unsurprisingly, New York was not one of them. New York, in fact, came in 15th out of 16 finalists and was one of the few states to actually lose points after their final round presentation.

To better understand the results, we reviewed the judges’ evaluations of New York’s application. We were curious to find out where the State lost the most points and what it would need to do to improve its chances in Round 2. Of note is the emphasis that the judges placed on school turnaround efforts—something that will surely be more of a factor in Round 2 should New York City’s school closure efforts fail in the wake of last Friday’s ruling.

Areas Where NY Lost the Most Points:

  • Data Systems to Support Instruction: Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system.

Points Lost: 14

Why? "Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system – applicant has implemented 5 of 12 America Competes Act elements." (Elements of the act include data on how well students transition from secondary to post-secondary education as well as teacher identifier systems that have the ability to match teachers to students.)

  • General: Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools.

Points Lost: 12.6


  • “NY has a hard cap on start-up charter schools. When asked to comment on the cap, the NY team’s response was not convincing enough to allay fears that, as a state, NY lacks the collective will to make critical changes to existing laws that act as impediments to substantive reform. A limit of 200 start-up charters in a state with over 4500 schools, coupled with the lack of a convincing rational for such a cap, is significant and cause for a further deduction in this area.”
  • “In addition, the seemingly strong pressure applied to applicants to enroll a healthy percentage of subgroups to receive authorization (meaning greater than, not similar to, their percentages in the local district student population), there is concern that the rigor that is being applied to the authorization and monitoring of charter schools, while helping to ensure their success, might be causing the State’s approach to serve as a deterrent to a reasonable number of charters and the growth and types of them.”
  • Great Teachers and Leaders: Using evaluations to inform key decisions

Points Lost: 11


  • “The narrative did not discuss tenure, but the career ladder design that was included shows tenure continuing to be granted after just three years. The proposal was silent on removing ineffective teachers.”
  • “Applicant does not address strategies for agreements that support the new performance evaluation systems. Applicant will need to be successful in securing collective bargaining agreements that support the new performance evaluation systems.”
  • State Success Factors: Securing Local Education Agency (LEA) commitment

Points Lost: 7.8


  • “There is, however, a provision that nothing in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that contradicts language in a collective bargaining agreement shall be binding. While the MOU does stipulate that LEAs and their unions will agree to bargain in good faith around the elements of the state reform plan that are superseded by collective bargaining language, the fact that in the end the collective bargaining agreements can undermine a significant portion of the State’s reform plan is a probable. Despite this fact, NY was only able to obtain 61% of the applicable districts’ union leaders.”
  • Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools: Turning around the persistently lowest-achieving schools

Points Lost: 5.8


  • “Despite the legal authority to do so and the technical ability to identify the lowest achieving schools, the state has been slow to intervene dramatically in enough schools. In a state where there are over 4000 schools, it appears that the state has only made efforts to close a small handful of chronically low performing schools over the past 5 years. As such, when considering the state’s historic performance in intervening and turning around the persistently lowest-performing schools, the credibility of the plan moving forward is undermined. Moreover, the targets set for intervention as a part of this new plan are also not particularly aggressive.”

Overall, these five categories account for 51.2 points, or more than 50% of what was deducted from NY State’s application by the judges. NY’s final score was 408.6 out of 500 possible points. Going forward, if the cutoff were to remain the same for Round 2, New York would need at least 36 points to become a winner.

BONUS: Three of the judges remarked on New York's request for several $550 “Executive Chairs.” One judge wrote: “There are projected expenses (e.g. $550 for executive chairs) that call into question NY’s judgment on responsible stewardship of funds.” We’ll give a prize to the winner who can spot the best budget request in NY’s application—all 350 pages of it.

March 29, 2010

DOE Decreases Amount Spent on "Classroom Instruction"

According to a report released by the IBO today, the percentage of DOE spending on "Classroom Instruction" will be reduced under the new city budget to only 42% of total spending. This comes as system-wide costs, like fringe and central administration, are expected to increase by $261 million. As we detailed in an earlier post, classroom instruction makes up a significantly larger percentage of the average charter school budget.


March 26, 2010

Looking for a home?

Today, New York State Supreme Court Judge Joan B. Lobis ruled that the school board vote to close 19 city schools next year is “null and void.” This decision raises a host of questions, including the fate of schools that were slated to open next year in the newly available space. This will significantly affect four charter schools, which were counting on receiving free space. Public space is a huge benefit for a charter school, as the going rate for leasing private space is around $2,400 to $3,500 per pupil. With the charter school application deadline approaching in less than a week, it is unclear how this new development will affect the openings of these new schools. We compiled a list of the affected schools below. We’d love to hear from charter operators what their plans are in the face of this decision.

Affected Schools:

  1. Dr. Izquierdo Health and Sciences Charter School was supposed to open in the space vacated by New Day Academy.
  2. Harlem Success Academy 2 was supposed to move from its current location in P.S. 132 to the space vacated by KAPPA II.
  3. Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation was supposed to open in the space vacated by the Academy of Environmental Science High School.
  4. Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2 was supposed to open in the space vacated by the Academy of Collaborative Education.

March 25, 2010

NYC Teacher Distribution by Years of Service

Joel Klein recently announced the number of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, including a breakdown of teachers by years of service. One common question is how these numbers compare to the overall distribution of active DOE teachers. Using information from the DOE, I found that younger teachers are underrepresented in the ATR pool at 13% versus 29% of active teachers. Teachers with 15 to 25 years of service are overrepresented in the ATR pool, at 31% versus 19% of the active teaching force. The current breakdown of active teachers in the DOE as well as the breakdown of teachers in the ATR pool are shown in the pie charts below. 

ATRComparison_11954_image001      ATRComparison_11954_image003


March 19, 2010

Charter School Spending Compared to DOE Spending

A longstanding selling point of the charter school movement has been budget independence—that is, schools are given the freedom to allocate resources as they see fit, relatively free from government control. We decided to explore how this freedom is affecting allocation decisions. We analyzed the spending breakdown, specifically as it relates to teacher salaries and classroom instruction expenditures, and found that, on average, charter schools devote 10% more of their budgets to teacher salaries and 14% more of their budgets to classroom instruction as compared to the DOE's budget for traditional schools. A full spreadsheet with individual school budgets, the total DOE budget, and our calculations is available here.

Teacher Salaries at DOE Teacher Salaries, Charters

Overall, the DOE devotes around 41% of its budget to paying teachers, paraprofessionals, and other classroom aids. Charter schools in public space devote around 51% of their budgets to program salaries, which are salaries associated with classroom instruction. Classroom instruction, which includes funds spent on teacher salaries, classroom materials, student afterschool programs, and professional development, makes up 49% of the DOE’s total budget and 63% of publicly-housed charter school budgets. Charts comparing these budgets are below. 
Classroom Instruction, DOE Classroom Instruction,Charters


In order to compare the DOE’s budget to charter school budgets, we used two different methodologies which gave largely the same result. In our first method, we looked at how much the DOE spent per pupil on each of its budget items, as reported on this page. We then compared those amounts to how much charter schools spent per pupil on things like program salaries and classroom equipment. To figure out the percentage of charter school budgets that went to these expenses, we used our calculated per pupil expense (discussed in this blog post) and added to that amount the $3,929 that the IBO estimates charter schools get in in-kind services from the DOE. However, because there have been many criticisms of the IBO report, we decided to compare the budgets a different way: by subtracting the cost of things that charters get in kind, like transportation and food services, from the DOE budget. The results were largely the same: although the percentage of the total budget that was devoted to teacher salaries and classroom instruction changed, the difference between the DOE’s numbers and charter schools stayed constant.

Other Notes:

  1. I left out KIPP Academy because their Statement of Activities included many non-school related expenses, like the KIPP to College costs, which were difficult to parse.
  2. In some cases, items that the IBO listed as charters receiving were not listed on the DOE’s page (like Software and Health expenses). Since these were relatively small additions to charter budgets, I left them out.
  3. Although the DOE budge was for 2007-2008 and the charter budgets were from 2008-2009, I think the comparison is fair, as the percentage breakdown of DOE spending does not seem to change much from year to year.
  4. I think it is important to separate charters that are housed in public space from those who must pay occupancy costs – for that reason, I believe the public charter to DOE comparison is most accurate, but I included the other numbers in the spreadsheet for comparison’s sake. As always, we welcome feedback and ways to improve our calculations!
As always, we welcome feedback and ways to improve our calculations!

March 18, 2010

The UFT Charter School: Reactions to the SUNY Report

We had two questions after reading SUNY’s lukewarm renewal report for the UFT Charter School: What did the UFT Charter School get on its Progress Reports? And, a smaller point – didn’t Randi Weingarten claim that the UFT Charter School was especially good at social studies on Morning Joe? We did some digging, and the answers are below.

Progress Reports. Although scores were not available for the school’s first three years, we found that in 2007-2008, the UFT Charter School received a raw Progress Report score that put it in the bottom 15% of all schools in New York City. In 2008-2009, despite the fact that the school’s grade rose from a C to a B, its raw Progress Report Score actually put it in the bottom 6% of schools citywide. Only two other charter schools—the Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School and Harriet Tubman Charter School—have remained in the bottom 15% for two or more years. This spreadsheet explains our calculations.

Social Studies. In January, Randi Weingarten Morning Joe to defend the union’s role in preventing the charter cap from being lifted. During her interview, she claimed that 95% of 5th graders at the UFT Charter School had aced the Social Studies exam (watch in the clip below). SUNY’s Renewal Report does not list any data for 5th grade social studies results, but it does state that only 38% of 8th graders scored proficient or higher on their social studies exams in 2008-2009, well below the school’s target range.

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March 09, 2010

Spending at Co-Located Schools

Buried on the DOE’s website is a page that lists per pupil spending on a school-wide, district-wide, and system-wide basis. Using this information, as well as expense data from the 2007-2008 audits and the recent IBO report, we compared spending by charter schools and traditional public schools that are located in the same building. We found that charter schools spent an average of $365 less than their co-located traditional public schools. You can see our calculations in a workbook here.

Some notes on our methodology:

  • We did not adjust for charter school demographics, save the case of Opportunity Charter School, which we know enrolls a large number of special education students. For this comparison, we looked at overall per pupil spending.
  • Unlike the IBO's report, we include the total amount that charter schools spent in 2007-2008, which contains philanthropy and federal funding sources, such as Title I monies.
  • For comparison purposes, we looked only at the amount the co-located traditional public school spent per pupil on their general education students (which includes part-time but not full-time special education students).  For reference, we included the numbers for overall per-pupil and full-time special education spending in our database.
  • For charter schools, we looked at how much they spent per pupil, as reported in their 2007-2008 audits. To this number, we added $3,735, which is the estimated value of the amount of in-kind services that charters received from the DOE in 2007-2008. (We decreased the IBO’s amount by 5%, which was how much the DOE budget increased from 2007-2008 to 2008-2009.)
  • Some charter schools did not have audits available for 2007-2008. To correct for this, we looked at their expense numbers from 2008-2009 and decreased them by 13% - the difference in the per pupil amount given to charters in 2008-2009 from 2007-2008.
Finally, in addition to these calculations, we created an accessible Excel database of school-specific spending information available for most traditional public schools.  This data includes breakdowns of specific spending components, such as teacher compensation. It was compiled from pages like this one available on the DOE website. As always, we welcome feedback and suggestions for future areas of research!

March 03, 2010

Charter School Occupancy Costs

A recent IBO report found that New York City charter schools that don't use public space receive around $3,000 less per pupil than traditional public schools. This post reviews how much charter schools actually spend on their space. We created a database using financial information from the 2008-2009 annual financial audits and school siting statistics from the 2008-2009 Blue Book report. We found that the 26 schools not housed in DOE-provided space spent around $2,100 per pupil on occupancy costs, which include rent, utilities, safety, and maintenance. You can see the full spreadsheet here. This database lists every charter school and whether or not it is in DOE space. As an added feature, for those in DOE space, it lists the schools with which they share space and their respective progress report scores.

This $2,100 number only tells part of the story. According to a knowledgeable source, the market average for a charter school to lease space is between $2,400 and $3,500 per pupil. If the rental costs are less than $2,000 per pupil, this probably indicates that the school negotiated a great rental deal, bought the building a long time ago and paid off most of the mortgage, or has some sort of philanthropic money subsidizing part of the cost. This is certainly the case for many of the schools in our spreadsheet, such as the Carl C. Icahn Charter School or Bronx Preparatory Academy—both schools that have some sort of philanthropic entity helping them with their rental and/or purchase needs.

Ultimately, this spreadsheet is intended to serve as a comprehensive resource for those who want to know which charter schools share space, which schools own their buildings, and which schools lease. It includes information gathered from the 2008-2009 Blue Book reports to determine co-located schools, as well as the 2008-2009 fiscal audits and the 2008-2009 Progress Report scores.

As always, we welcome feedback on ways to improve this report!

N.B. Our number of charter schools located in DOE space differs slightly from the numbers listed in this report by the School Construction Authority (SCA). Why this is so remains unclear, as our information was taken from the 2008-2009 Blue Book – a report also produced by the SCA.