There has been much criticism of the misplaced spending priorities and bureaucratic overload of the Renewal school initiative, including on this blog here, and here, as well as the huge cost of the program at $582 million so far. Also often noted are the ambiguous and often seemingly arbitrary decisions made by DOE officials about which struggling schools were placed in this program to begin with and which schools they have decided to close, with uncertain and often shifting rationales and timelines. Nothing said yesterday by the educrats from Tweed put any of these concerns at rest.
Pallas also looked at the most recent school Quality Reviews, because the DOE said that that was part of the selection process, but these Reviews didn't seem to be associated with their selection into the program either, once performance and demographic factors were taken into account.
Also left unclear was the status of the numerous and sometimes conflicting directives confronting Renewal school principals. CM Inez Barron stated that Renewal principals had complained to her about how they were forced to send staff to off-site Professional Development sessions, which play havoc with their teachers' scheduled classes and assigned responsibilities. Feijoo insisted that the decision as to whether to send staff to these trainings was left completely up to the principal's discretion.
I focused in my testimony on the fact that the DOE has repeatedly promised the state to reduce class size in a subset of struggling schools since 2007, as part of its Contract for Excellence plans, but has never followed through in a systematic manner. Since 2014, the DOE more specifically has pledged to the state to focus its class size reduction efforts on Renewal schools, and this hasn't happened either.
Instead, we found that 42% of Renewal schools haven't reduce average class size at all since 2014, and several have substantially increased class size. But of the schools that did lower class size, most saw improvements in student outcomes and learning.
In fact, we found a substantial and significant correlation between the average class size of Renewal schools and their positive impact on student achievement, a rating that DOE calculates after taking account the need level of their students.
Rather than lower class size in all these schools and allow them a real chance to succeed, by closing them instead, DOE will merely ensure that many more capable teachers will be placed on the Absent Teacher Reserve, which is already costing the city an estimated $152 million per year. In the ATR, they will be used as substitutes or roaming teachers and never assigned to a permanent class where they could be used to reduce class size.
This is an entirely self-defeating and damaging policy. My testimony is posted here and below; please take a look and let me know what you think.