“In New York City, the schools that actually prepare kids for college is so small”: Parents and Administrators Bemoan Mayor De Blasio’s School Improvement Failure

“There are probably at most 20 to 25 [NYC] public high schools that are preparing kids for what I would consider rigorous college-level work.”

That’s Rhea Wong, executive director of Breakthrough, a non-profit that provides support to low-income New York City students who strive to graduate from college. And, contrary to even the most modest expectations, the number of students who persist through college is tiny. According to a Breakthrough analysis cited in an article this week in DNAInfo, “fewer than 7 percent of all New York City high schools — or just 25 of the 400 — meet the college readiness bar.”  

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

In November 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a sweeping plan to improve student outcomes called the School Renewal Program. Here he is in a speech at the Coalition School for Social Change in East Harlem two years ago:

I said I would be talking about a plan for turning around struggling schools. Today, I am announcing a $150 million initiative. It’s officially called “The School Renewal Program.” But I like to think of it by a simpler name: “No Bad Schools” because that is what it is about – ensuring no child in the City goes to a school that does not provide a high-quality education…I want to be clear about our vision. We will plan for success, and we will dedicate more resources to achieving it. But we will also hold our schools and educational professionals responsible for failure, and we will use our power under the teachers’ contract, and other means, to do it.

The Mayor chose the  Coalition School for Social Change for his announcement site because it is one of the eighty-six Renewal schools (down from an original ninety-four) that receive extra money (now estimated at $839 million over five years) and supplemental services  — “unprecedented levels of support,” he said — in order to assure “fast and intense improvement.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the Mayor said that the Coalition School for Social Change “was the perfect place to lay out his vision for reform because its energetic leader and dedicated staff‘brought a new vitality.’” So, how’s that going?

Most recent DOE data shows that the four-year high school graduation rate there  is 46%.  Eight percent of students were deemed college or career-ready, i.e, meeting CUNY’s standards for avoiding remedial classes.. Enrollment has fallen from 283 students in 2014 when the Mayor gave his speech to a current 174 students. The principal — that “energetic leader” —  left for a different job and so has many of the “dedicated staff”. This year several parents complained “about the disrespectful atmosphere and continuing vacancies.”

This school, remember, was the Mayor’s model for “fast and intense improvement.”

Yesterday in the NY Post Jeremiah Kittredge noted that  “Mayor de Blasio’s own allies, principals union president Ernie Logan and Public Advocate Tish James, have now joined a chorus of critics slamming his large, expensive gamble with New York City’s Renewal Schools as a failure,” one where only three of schools have met this year’s targets and some have fallen even further behind. Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, says that the Mayor has lost all credibility and “his time is up,” or at least his time for school improvement, and the surest path forward for students trapped in failing schools is a quick expansion of successful public charter schools.

That’s a good goal, especially with families clamoring for scarce charter seats. But it’s only a partial answer. If NYC is to meet the Mayor’s worthy goal of “ensuring no child in the City goes to a school that does not provide a high-quality education,” then it must develop a new strategy for turning around traditional public schools, which will always serve the majority of city students.

Gerald Morales,  who is trying to get his daughter into a decent high school, told DNAInfo, “[t]here aren’t too many options. In New York City, for the amount of schools we have, we noticed that the schools that actually prepare kids for college is so small.”

We know that some of NYC’s charter schools beat the odds. We know that some of NYC’s selective admissions schools (Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech) beat the odds. But NYC’s traditional public school system is on a fast track to  nowhere without a successful strategy to turn around the vast majority of non-charter, non-selective admissions schools that continue to fail to prepare students for colleges and careers.  

What do you think?

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