Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The egregious failure of DOE's Renewal program - and the likely illegal proposal to close JHS 145

Since Sunday, the NY Post has run an excellent series on DOE’s Renewal program for struggling schools,  describing the stunning lack of services provided students and instead, millions spent  on consultants, bureaucracy and other unspecified programs   Here is Part I,  Part II is here, here, here and here, followed by Part III and Part IV.  

I have been watching the Renewal program with special attention, especially since the DOE has repeatedly promised the state to focus its class size reduction obligations under the Contract for Excellence law on these schools, but has failed to do so. In May 2015, I wrote about how the DOE’s insistence in co-locating  charter schools in Renewal school buildings would undermine their progress – and make it more difficult for them to have sufficient space to reduce class size or be provided with wrap-around services.  

In November 2015 I testified at City Council hearings about the failure of DOE to reduce class size in these schools.  This fall, I again  blogged about how two of the most persistently struggling Renewal schools in the Bronx, JHS 162 and IS 117, have been on the city's priority list for class size reduction since 2007, when the Contract for Excellence law was first passed; JHS 22 since 2009.  Yet neither when Bloomberg was mayor nor  now under Bill de Blasio has the DOE ever bothered to cap class sizes in these three schools at levels that would guarantee their students a better chance to learn.  

I have also repeatedly critiqued expensive Renewal contracts for problematic CBO’s and consultants for professional development ,  including here and here.  One of the most egregious contracts was awarded retroactively to Scholastic in December 2016, to hold “family workshops” at Renewal schools -- at a cost of $2,291 per hour. 

Now the DOE has announced its intention to close six renewal schools and merge six others – a year before the three years they were promised.  Here are the schools they intend to close, which include JHS 162 and five others:
  • J.H.S. 145 Arturo Toscanini, District 9, Bronx
  • Leadership Institute, District 9 high school, Bronx
  • Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design, District 12 high school, Bronx
  • M.S. 584, District 16, Brooklyn
  • Essence School, District 19 middle school, Brooklyn
  • J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodriguez de Tio, District 7, Bronx
Here is a list of meetings on the proposed closures at these schools.  The Panel on Educational Policy will vote on the proposals at its March 22 meeting.  

Of the six schools slated for closure, only JHS 145 in District 9 is a zoned school.  Because JHS 145 is a zoned school, it is not clear to me how the DOE can close it without a vote of Community Education Council in District 9, which has not occurred.

A little history first: In February 2009, then-Chancellor Joel Klein announced he would close three zoned elementary schools:  PS 194 and PS 241 in District 3 and PS 150 in District 23, and put charters in their place.  Eva Moskowitz had asked Klein the year before to give her the two D3 buildings in Harlem for her Success Academy charter chain.

The following month,
the NYCLU/UFT sued DOE, on behalf on CEC 3 and CEC 23 as well as parents at these schools, pointing out that the decision to close a zoned school must first be put to a vote of the CEC because it involves changing (or eliminating) zoning lines. Joining as plaintiffs were Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.  The legal complaint is posted here.  Less than two weeks later, Chancellor Klein dropped his plans to close these schools.

In 2012, then-Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg and the office of Portfolio Planning tried to persuade CECs throughout the city to eliminate their school zoning lines, presumably so he could close more of them and put charter schools in their place.   I wrote a memo on this at the time, warning CEC District 6 and others against allowing DOE to take away the only legally recognized power they had. (See:  Article 52-A - § 2590-E Powers and Duties of Community District Education Council)  Only CEC 7 and CEC 23 agreed to eliminate their zoning lines – but not District 9.  (District 1 had removed its zoning lines years before.)  

Sternberg departed DOE the next year, at the end of Bloomberg’s last term in office,  shortly after announcing  23 proposals to open new charter schools and co-locate new and existing charter schools in public school buildings.  He left to become Education Program director at the pro-privatization Walton Family Foundation, where he has funded many of the charter schools and pro-charter advocacy  organizations in NYC and throughout the country.  

There are many reasons to challenge the closure of JHS 145 and other Renewal schools.  As early as December 2014, DOE promised to focus its class size reduction efforts according to the Contract for Excellence law on these schools, writing: “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.”  

DOE repeated that promise in the 2015-16 Contract for Excellence plan and again in the C4E plan for this school year, while closing several of these schools without reducing class size.  Indeed, there are still classes as large as 30 at JHS 145 as well as at about 40% of the Renewal elementary and middle schools, and nearly all the Renewal high schools.  

According to our analysis, about 40% of the elementary and middle schools and nearly one third of the high schools in the Renewal program did not decrease schoolwide average class size one iota between 2014-2016. Only two or 3.5% of the elementary and middle schools capped class sizes at 20 students per class in grades K-3 and 23 students or less in grades 4-8, the goals of the city’s original C4E plan. Only one of the Renewal high schools (Orchard Collegiate Academy) has capped class sizes at the C4E HS goal of 25 students per class.  

I believe that the refusal of the DOE to follow through on these promises will doom many of these schools to failure, as I said to the NY Post .  It is especially unconscionable given the high-needs student population at the schools on the Renewal list. 

According to Marilyn Espada, President of CEC 9, the JHS 145 student population is composed of 53 percent English Language Learners, 20 percent students with special needs, and 53 students in temporary housing. Yet there was no ESL Teacher last year, and only one ESL Teacher for 140 ELL students this year. There are no bilingual teachers for the 7th and 8th graders.

In addition, many of the extra services and resources the school was promised as part of the Renewal program never happened. The health clinic built for the school has yet to open, and instead of gaining more space,  17 or 18 classrooms were given over to a  Success Academy charter school one year into the Renewal process,  scattering students across 3 floors of a building,  and causing the school to lose its computer room.  There is no science lab, no textbooks last year, and nearly 14 percent of teachers were teaching subjects last year in which they were not trained or certified.

The lack of bilingual services is especially disappointing and appears to violate the NYSED consent decree signed by Chancellor Farina in November 2014.  Here is an excerpt from this consent decree:

NYSED followed up in 2015 with a Parent Bill of Rights, which, among other things, states that parents have the right to have their children “in a Bilingual Education (BE) program when there are 20 or more grade-level students that speak the same home/primary language.”  This statement was footnoted with the fact that in NYC schools, a bilingual program is required for students in grades K-8 if 15 or more grade-level students speak the same language in two contiguous grades. 

JHS 145 is not the only Renewal school deprived of funds and the necessary support.  Check out the NY Post story describing how another Renewal school, the Coalition School for Social Change. lacks certified teachers and copy paper, while the principal redecorated her office and pushed out struggling students:

The high school’s classrooms are starved for supplies and qualified teachers, with unlicensed interns leading one class and the kids in others left to learn from videos, sources said.

Meanwhile, the dean who dealt with discipline problems was replaced with a “business manager” described by staffers as a close friend of the school’s new principal, Geralda Valcin, who arrived in March 2016.

Rather than provide the necessary resources and class sizes to this and other Renewal schools,  the DOE has spent millions on more bureaucracy and consultants, , some  with questionable records and backgrounds.  

Here, for example, is the 2007 investigative report from the Special Investigator Richard Condon explaining why he recommended the firing of Frederick Douglass Academy principal Gregory Hodge, a recommendation ignored by DOE.  This was apparently the sixth investigation into Hodge’s activities– the fifth was in 2001 and concerned allegations that he had fixed the grades of basketball players at the school.  A former teacher described Hodge’s leadership style in a harrowing account in the Indypendent in 2010:

The worst part of working at FDA was the principal, whose management style was described by the district United Federation of Teachers representative as “abrasive.” In my experience, shouting was the norm, often peppered with derogatory words and phrases. Neither children nor teachers were spared the kind of verbal abuse one expects from a drill sergeant, not a school principal. But seeing most of my colleagues cowed or resigned to it, I rolled along, until he threatened me one day — saying, “teachers are gonna get their throats cut” — shortly after I and a couple other teachers had called the city and the state to complain about the lack of a certified special education teacher for the sixth grade.

Yet in 2015, Hodge was assigned as the “Leadership coach” at two Bronx Renewal schools.  For his services, DOE is paying $660 per day.  One of the two schools he was assigned to, the Young Scholars Academy, is now being merged with another school, the North Bronx School of Empowerment for failing to “show meaningful progress,” according to the DOE.

The annual cost of the program has risen to $186.5 million this school year, with total spending through the 2018-2019 year estimated at $754.2 million, according to the latest figures from the Independent Budget Office.  The Department of Education will not say where all the money goes. The Post has learned that $8.5 million is paid to 72 Office of Renewal Schools “directors” and “instructional coaches.” Since last school year, another $3.7 million went to “leadership coaches,” including many retired principals, each making $660 to $1,400 a day.

Given all the lack of resources and support at JHS 145– from overly large class sizes, lack of ESL and bilingual teachers, to missing science and computer rooms and even books, the students at the school have done surprisingly well, according to this account by three teachers:

Despite years of neglect, our students have won the Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition 8 times, more than any other school in the citywide tournament.

Our students have won the BronxWRITeS Poetry Slam more than any other school in the city, recently sharing the stage with Mayor De Blasio and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in an exhibition at Goldman Sachs. 

Surely, the students at this school and other Renewal schools deserve a better chance to excel, by providing them with smaller classes, sufficient bilingual and ESL teachers, and all the other services and programs that all children need and deserve, but especially students with such disadvantaged backgrounds – instead of the DOE continuing to spend millions on an army of overpaid consultants and bureaucrats.

1 comment:

gloria said...

Thanks you for this excellent overview of an ongoing and despicable situation. The only thing I would add is that now Eva Moskowitz can get additional space to expand her Charter Empire.