“No Bad Schools,” Mr. Mayor? Do the Math.

The Wall Street Journal and Chalkbeat report today on a new report by Aaron Pallas, an education researcher at Teachers College at Columbia, who finds that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s much-vaunted Renewal Schools Program isn’t actually helping students.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Two and a half years ago, early in his first term, the Mayor announced his plan for school improvement, recalled here in New York School Talk:

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.

According to Professor Pallas, however, those 86 Renewal schools aren’t performing any better than non-Renewal schools matched by demographics and socio-economics, and in some cases are doing worse. No matter how you measure it, the Renewal Program isn’t helping kids, despite de Blasio’s promise of a “bold” plan with “profound impact” backed by a “major investment” — almost a billion dollars by 2019 — that will “shake the foundations” of NYC’s school system and “turn every Renewal school into a successful school” within three years or he would shut it down.

So, as the late former Mayor Ed Koch used to say, “how’m I doin’?”

“Based on the best evidence I see,” Pallas said, “the program is not having a meaningful impact on academic outcomes.”

Sean Corcoran, associate professor of education policy at New York University, said: “I would hope to see bigger gains from schools that received so much attention and resources.”

“This research shows that positive gains by Renewal schools were not better than schools with similar demographics,” said Jonah Rockoff, an education researcher at Columbia University who has studied New York City schools in the past and reviewed Pallas’s data.

For Renewal middle schools, the Journal reports, student improvements were “almost identical” to those at matched non-Renewal schools. At Renewal high schools, “graduation rates lagged slightly behind that of the matched schools… four-year graduation rate rose to 59% last year, from 52% in 2014.” Chalkbeat sums it up this way:  “Graduation rates at the city’s 31 Renewal high schools have increased 7 percent since 2014, more than the 4.2 percent average boost across all high schools over the same timeframe. But the schools also graduated far fewer students, and dropout rates went up at nearly half the schools.

Example: at my (almost) alma mater, Renewal school Martin Van Buren in Queens, high school graduation rates were plopped square in the middle of the non-Renewal schools that Prof. Pallas matched for fair comparison, dipping to about 60% in 2013 and then rising to about where it was in 2009, about 70%.

City officials dismissed the results, telling Chalkbeat that the analysis “does not account for differences in school performance beyond test scores and graduation rates.” But, really, what could be more important to NYC families, the most important stakeholders in this grand plan, than student outcomes? And if the de Blasio Administration was really committed to measuring the progress in its signature school improvement project, why didn’t it create a control group to prove unequivocally that the taxes and time expended by those stakeholders are actually making a difference in the academic lives of kids consigned to long-struggling schools?

As a side note, the Post reported this afternoon that of the 3,371 high school graduates from the City’s 31 Renewal high schools, 242 earned diplomas through a new “appeals process [approved by the Board of Regents] that allows for lower scores on exams or other side-door routes…This led to a tripling of the number of students graduating using the appeals process in 2016 over 2015, city data show.”

Sometimes it just comes down to math.

What do you think?

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