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6 posts from June 2010

June 30, 2010

MAP UPDATE: Closed Schools v. Charter Schools Since 2003

Last week I posted a map of the schools that have been phased out by the DOE since 2003. (Note: not all of these schools were initially proposed for closure under Mayor Bloomberg.) After your feedback, I added some new information: the charter schools that have been opened since 2003 (in blue), new schools that have been opened since 2003 (in green), and economic data about the neighborhoods in which these schools are located. As always, I'd love your feedback as I move forward with this project!

CMOs Need Philanthropy, TFA, According to Report

The National Study on Charter Management Organization (CMO) Effectiveness: Report on Interim Findings

A recent national study on Charter Management Organizations, or CMOs, by non-partisan Mathematica Policy Research, sheds some light on the role that these organizations play in the national educational landscape. According to my own measures, CMOs ran 37 of the 77 charter schools in New York City during the 2008-2009 school year – and they have plans to open dozens more in the next decade. While CMOs attract large amounts of philanthropic support, anti-charter critics charge that they are opaque and run their schools more like for-profit institutions. This interim report offers fodder for both supporters and detractors. I found five points to be particularly interesting:

  • CMOs need philanthropy to exist: All 44 CMOs in the study relied on philanthropic dollars to support operations. The average CMO relied on philanthropy for 13% of total operating revenues. CMOs funded by NewSchools Venture Fund report that 64 percent of their central office revenues come from philanthropy. The report concludes: “At least for now, these CMOs are unable to support their central offices (which often comprise 20 percent or more of total CMO spending) and facilities costs on per pupil revenues alone.”

  • CMOs rely on alternate certification programs, like TFA, for talent: According to the report, almost 20% of teachers at CMO schools come from alternative certification programs like TFA. In addition, many of the people in managerial and leadership positions are TFA alumni. CMOs claim that teachers trained in the TFA mode are accustomed to longer hours and “No Excuses” approaches and therefore require less training in the culture of the CMO. The authors question the ability of CMOs to expand if they rely so heavily on one source of talent.

  • CMOs have had problems expanding to high schools: Across the country, CMOs operate a disproportionate number of elementary and middle schools. CMO leaders say that expanding to high schools has proven difficult, both because the students arrive with an array of problems that the schools are ill-equipped to deal with and because "a highly prescriptive education model that works for middle school students may become a liability in high school... [S]tudents accustomed to highly structured courses can become too dependent on their instructors. If that happens, these students are unlikely to acquire the skills needed to navigate the more independent educational environment they will encounter in college.”
  • CMO growth alone will not be able to improve entire school districts: Although CMOs have expanded rapidly, the recent pace of new CMO creation has slowed dramatically. The report notes that Arne Duncan’s goal of turning around the lowest performing 5,000 schools by 2014 can’t be reached by the current CMO crop alone, since these CMOs only plan on opening 336 new schools in that timeframe. Furthermore, the report points out that expanding often puts CMOs into shaky financial terrain: “Expansion may not equal sustainability: According to our survey, CMOs with two to six schools draw an average of 9.6% of their operating budgets from private funds. That proportion increases to an average of 14% for CMOs with seven to ten schools, and to 16.3% for CMOs with more than ten schools.”
  • The majority of CMOs are clustered in five states and a handful of cities in those states: More than 80% of CMOs are clustered in a handful of places: California, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, New York, and the District of Columbia. They make up a large share of big charter markets, but are relatively sparse in smaller markets. Furthermore, CMOs tend to open schools in regional markets—that is, there are very few CMOs that have national ambitions.
CMOCitySchools List of NYC CMOs Counted in Study:
  • Achievement First
  • Beginning with Children Foundation – not included in survey because it had less than 3 charters open in 2007.
  • Green Dot
  • Harlem Children’s Zone - not included in survey because it had less than 3 charters open in 2007.
  • Harlem Village Academies - not included in survey because it had less than 3 charters open in 2007.
  • Lighthouse Academies Inc
  • St. Hope
  • Uncommon Schools

Not Included in Study but Included in My List: (Most were not included in the Mathematica study because they had only one school open in 2008-2009)

  • Ascend Learning Inc
  • Believe High School Network
  • Boys and Girls Harbor Inc
  • Explore Schools Inc
  • Hyde Foundation
  • Icahn Associates Corporation
  • Public Prep
  • Ross Institute
  • Success Charter Network

June 22, 2010

KIPP Study Shows High Rate of Retention

A report released today by Mathematica, a non-partisan policy research center, examined the impact of 22 KIPP Charter Schools on student achievement. The report found that KIPP students performed better than their traditional public school peers and that their performance halved the black-white achievement gap.

Another interesting finding is that KIPP schools retained students—that is, made them repeat a grade—more frequently than their traditional public school counterparts. They write:

 “KIPP’s commitment to high expectations of students does not encourage social promotion. KIPP expects students to meet their standards for being academically prepared for the next grade before they will be promoted. Consequently, KIPP middle schools retain students at significantly higher rates than other public schools in the same districts.”

Indeed, while the researchers found the evidence inconclusive with regards to relative attrition rates and relative achievement levels of incoming students, they found strong evidence that KIPP holds back 5th and 6th grade students at a rate far higher than traditional public schools.

This result augments my earlier report, which found that the majority of cohort “attrition” detailed in the UFT report on “Vanishing Students” was actually due to retention at charter schools. Let's hope that there is further research into the impact of retention and achievement at charter schools.

June 18, 2010

MAP ALERT: School Closures, 2003 - Present

As summer approaches, I’ve decide to tackle some big projects - one of which is to look at the effects that school closures have had on the remaining schools in the surrounding area. To get started, I’ve created a map that plots all 111 schools that Chancellor Joel Klein has closed since 2002, including the 19 schools whose fate is still up in the air. Take a look and let me know how you think it can be improved. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on how to best approach this issue!

Buried in the New School Report, the Start of an Answer

In its focus on school leadership, the New School's recent report, Managing by the Numbers, provides a partial answer to a question I’ve long harbored: what happens to incompetent principals?

Teachers  accused of incompetence or misconduct have been sent to notorious “rubber rooms,” where they await a hearing, known colloquially by its paragraph number in the Education Law, 3020a. While waiting, teachers are paid their full salary until the dispute is resolved. (For more on teacher termination, these articles are particularly detailed.)

Yet for principals, the process is less commonly discussed. Are there principal rubber rooms? Who is in charge of documenting principal incompetence? And just how hard is it to terminate a principal?

Managing the Numbers offers some answers. Each principal signs a contract with the DOE in which they agree to be held accountable for academic results. Principals are then evaluated based on a principal performance review, which weighs student progress (in the form of the much-maligned Progress Reports), the student population served, the principal’s compliance with budgeting and school services, and the principal’s ability to articulate and implement five goals for the school. There is a fifth component—an outside quality review—that is optional for schools that do well on their Progress Report. The largest parts of the evaluation are the Progress Report and the self-assigned goals, which basically mean that if a principal does well on the Progress Report, there isn’t much incentive to dig deeper.

As soon as a principal receives a low Progress Report grade, he or she can be transferred to another school, moved into an administrative position, or, if the conduct was particularly bad, terminated. The procedure for termination for a principal is similar to that of a teacher in that it includes a 3020a hearing, but the principal is suspended without pay until the hearing is resolved.

Under this new accountability framework, there has been an enormous turnover in the principal ranks. Over 80% of the current crop of principals started with the DOE after Klein took office.  More recently, though, principal turnover has declined. Annual retirements have decreased from 11.8% in 2002-2003 to 3.8% in 2007-2008. 

To be clear, there is a distinction between principal removal and principal termination. The report suggests that principals whom the DOE wishes to remove from schools are simply sent into DOE staff positions – not fired, and not sent to rubber rooms.  Anita Gomez-Palacia, executive director of operations for the principals' union, is quoted as saying: “It’s very hard to prove incompetence based on test scores in the school building. It’s hard to prove the administrator is the cause of the problem.” In other words, it’s easy to get a principal out of a school, but there is less incentive or less drive to get a principal off the DOE’s payroll.

This information is helpful, but still leaves me with more questions. Just how many principals get removed from their classrooms? Is it possible to remove a principal that students and teachers may dislike but who has achieved good test results? How many principals have actually been terminated? What is the hearing process like—and how is it different from a teacher’s 3020a hearing? I would love feedback from principals and teachers to get a better sense of how principal accountability differs from teacher accountability.

June 17, 2010

The Good Old Days

I highly recommend reading the new report released by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs on "Empowerment and Accountability in New York City's Schools".  It is detailed, balanced, and extremely educational.  Reviewers have focused on the report's conclusion that the DOE's grading system is "deeply flawed", perhaps the report's most important conclusion.  Within the report's 68 pages, though, are some powerful reminders of our system's recent history:

"When I [author Clara Hemphill] visited 30 schools in District 7 in the South Bronx as a reporter for the Insideschools.org website early in Mayor Bloomberg's first term, the schools, with a few noteworthy exceptions, were in a sorry state.  I met principals who routinely called for an ambulance to take an out-of-control child to the nearest psychiatric emergency room because they didn't know what else to do.  The middle schools were chaotic, with children wandering aimlessly in the hallways as teachers lectured to half-empty classrooms.  Some of the elementary schools were sweet, warm places with kindhearted teachers doing their best -- but the children didn't know how to read.  While I saw pockets of good instruction, some parents complained to me that their children were taught mostly in Spanish for as many as five or six years, learning almost no English.  Books and supplies were scarce.

Returning to a dozen of those District 7 schools recently, I found much has changed.  Books and supplies are abundant.  Most of the schools I visited were orderly, with children in classrooms rather than roaming the corridors.  Instruction is mostly in English... Principals are now appointed from the applicant pool selected by Tweed, rather than by the district office.  Some of these new principals have a wealth of talent and experience... The principals... say it's easier to recruit and retain staff largely because teacher salaries are substantially higher than they were before the Bloomberg-era increases...  District 7's test scores started at the absolute bottom in 2002 and made some of the most dramatic gains of any large district in the state..."

Looking even further back, the report tells of the dark side of past governance:

"... District 7 had a long history of hiring driven by patronage and nepotism... According to a 1996 report by the city's special commissioner of investigation, the district superintendent, Pedro Crespo, hired unqualified friends and relatives of school board members and approved expensive junkets and perks.  In one instance, Crespo appointed a principal with a poor command of English who had failed eight licensing exams.  Teachers and principals were pressured to buy and sell tickets for large parties organized to raise campaign funds for local politicians.  School board meetings regularly erupted into shouting matches during which, for example, school board members were accused of stealing computers from the district office.

Reports of corruption and nepotism declined after a 1996 state law limited the powers of the city's community school boards and expanded those of the chancellor.  Still, achievement in District 7 remained pitifully low.  Although overt political influence declined, principals still paid homage to elected officials: In 2002, five District 7 principals made contributions to the re-election campaign of Carmen Arroyo, a longtime member of the state Assembly; in 2005, six principals did, according to financial disclosure reports filed with the state Board of Elections."

To be clear, the report suggests that there is much work still to be done:

"Yet for all these gains, significant problems remain.  While some schools have a rich curriculum, others offer bare-bones instruction narrowly designed to help children pass standardized tests.  Many of the newly hired principals have had minimal teaching experience and almost no administrative experience, and struggle mightily with basics like student discipline.  While middle school attendance has improved, attendance in District 7 elementary and high schools has not improved significantly since 2002... Little progress has been made in special education... and, while high school graduation rates have increased markedly, a number of principals openly acknowledge that their students have met only the bare minimum requirements for graduation and are poorly prepared for college."