Bill de Blasio Stays in the Slow Lane on School Improvement

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Chalkbeat reports today that New York City Bill de Blasio’s $400 million plan to improve the city’s 94 worst high schools and middle schools is on the slow track, although I suppose that depends on your speedometer. Originally, these schools, labeled “Renewal Schools,” were to reach certain targets within a year, aided by an average of $1.6 million each per year to add wrap-around services, longer school days, and various interventions. But now the schools, which rank in the bottom 5%, have three years to reach those goals and, unlike other city schools, they won’t be pushed further even if they reach those goals which, indeed, some already have.

But it’s all kind of a mystery because the city isn’t sharing most of the goals with families.

The city has previously refused to release lists of the goals it gave Renewal schools, and education department officials have not publicly discussed how they were created. In response to questions from Chalkbeat on Wednesday, they acknowledged that the Renewal goals were one-year targets spread out over three years.

So much for accountability. The NYC DOE’s website still sternly notes a “key element” of the plan for renewal schools includes “increased oversight and accountability including strict goals and clear consequences for schools that do not meet them.” Well, maybe in a few years. Very un-Bloomberg. Maybe that’s de Blasio’s point, although his lumbering school improvement vehicle may not satisfy families stuck in schools that have failed for decades.

CEO Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools told the Daily News that “Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to publicly release improvement goals for the city’s 94 Renewal Schools suggests that the administration never intended to hold these failing schools accountable,“ Kittredge’s group has demanded an audit of the renewal school program because the targets remain invisible. (The DOE says it will release the targets “soon.”)

As I’ve noted before, one of the 94 Renewal Schools is Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, part of District 26. That’s the school I would have attended if my parents, both UFT members, hadn’t had the luxury of school choice: they could afford to relocate our family to a better public school district.

According to the most recent NYC DOE data, 16% of students at Martin Van Buren graduate college-ready and 39% don’t graduate at all. Half the students don’t feel safe in the hallways, locker rooms, or bathrooms. The school has failed to reach even a single city-wide target metric. The specific renewal goals also remain a mystery because the De Blasio Administration isn’t telling. The  consequences of not meeting targets also remain amorphous.

Turning around a school isn’t like driving a hotrod; as many have pointed out before, it’s more like navigating an ocean liner. But how long is long enough?  That’s another question yet to be answered by Mayor de Blasio.

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