Friday, May 8, 2015

Why the Renewal program will likely fail, without attention to class size and space

The de Blasio administration and NYC Department of Education recently announced they would expand the community school system to 200 schools by 2017, by supplying them with a “suite of social services.”  Eighty-three of these “community schools” would be sited at the struggling Renewal schools, as already announced (though there are 94 Renewal schools, all of which were supposed to get wraparound services.) 

In addition, forty five “community schools” will be schools with low attendance rates; forty are already existing “community schools” (where?) and another sixteen are supposed to be new schools that are not low-performing.   
Yet there are many problems with this plan.  In many of the Renewal schools, the DOE is going ahead with co-locations, inserting new schools into their buildings rather than leaving them with the space needed for a counselor’s office, medical office, or other social services.  When Norm Fruchter, mayoral appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy asked about how co-locations threaten the space needed for community schools during a co-location vote at the February PEP meeting, Chancellor Farina responded that “community schools are a state of mind.”  

Of the ten schools targeted for co-locations and voted on during the April PEP meeting, five were Renewal schools.  And the problems don’t just lie in space for social services. Many parents and teachers at the PEP hearing talked about how class sizes were already too large, and that these co-locations would prevent them from being able to reduce class size, and that they feared class sizes would increase.  And yet all the co-locations were approved. 

The Success charter Academy Bronx 3 proposal was the most contentious, to be co-located in JHS 45 in the Bronx; where three Renewal schools are already located.   At JHS 145, there are many classes as large as 29, according to DOE data.  At Millennium Business Academy in the same building, many classes at 28 and 29 students, and Urban Science Academy many at 25-26 – both far above what would be optimal and the Contract for Excellence goals for 23 per class in the middle grades that the city promised to achieve in 2007. 

During the April PEP meeting, two other co-locations were voted on for Renewal schools:  P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio with class sizes of 31 in 2nd grade, and a seventh grade inclusion class with special needs students at 33.  At August Martin high school, many classes run as high as 34 or 35. 
And yet all of the co-locations were approved.   The vote on the Success Academy Bronx 3 co-location co-location to be inserted into the JHS 145 building was the closest, with 7-5 in favor.  

Voting yes were mayoral appointees, Isaac Carmignani, Roberto Soto-CarriĆ³n, D. Miguelina Zorilla-Aristy,  , Vanessa LeungLori Podvesker, Kamillah Payne-Hanks - Staten Island Representative, and Ben Shuldiner (the new mayoral appointee who just a few weeks ago put his name forward for the NYS Board of Regents seat in the Lower Hudson region—where he claimed to be a resident.) 
These class sizes are simply unacceptable for struggling schools facing possible closure.  No matter what wrap-around services these schools receive – their academic results will likely falter with class sizes this large. 

Every year the DOE gets more than $500 million as part of the Contracts for Excellence funds from the state; in return they are supposed to be reducing class size.  Instead, class sizes have risen steadily since the program was introduced in 2007. 

In their response to public comments to the C4E plan this year, the DOE wrote in December 2014 that “To better align with the Chancellor’s priorities, C4E’s class size reduction plan will now focus on the 94 schools in the School Renewal Program. More information about the schools may be found here: School Renewal Program.” 

Yet on that page, and in the press release  in which the city announced that $32 million more funds would be allocated to the Renewal schools, there is no mention of reducing class.  
Instead, lengthening the school day, professional development and more counselors are cited, none of which are likely to have the same impact on academic achievement or student engagement in the learning process.  Instead the statement proclaims:  

 “Schools will be able to use the new funding to hire guidance counselors, bring on teachers for special academic intervention programs serving students who have fallen behind, extend the school day, or add advanced placement classes. To qualify for funding, schools must submit detailed plans for approval that demonstrate precisely how the new funds will be spent …” 

None of these measures are likely to have the same positive impact on academic achievement or student engagement in the learning process.  Yesterday, the DOE apparently raised the amount for the 130 struggling schools, presumably including the Renewal schools, to $50 million in 2016 and $76 million in 2017.   The Chancellor said again, the funds would go towards extended school days, guidance counselors and more teacher training,, but still has made no commitment to reduce class size.  

Our analysis shows that over 60% of renewal schools have at least some class sizes of 30 or more.  To punish students, teachers and schools for their huge class sizes without doing anything about this is simply unacceptable.

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