The Renewal school program RIP & what could have saved it

The NY Times front-page article by Eliza Shapiro about the disappointing results at the Renewal schools is here.  I have written and testified about the deeply flawed strategies used in these schools since at least 2015, advocating that instead, DOE should be reducing class sizes in these schools, as they have promised the NY State Education Department each year for the last five, as part of their Contract for Excellence plans.

In the fall of 2015, I testified to the City Council about the class size increases at PS 111, the same Renewal school Eliza Shapiro focuses on in her article, where class sizes increased sharply and in Kindergarten class sizes actually violated the UFT contractual limits:

This fall I received complaints from parents and CEC members about the increase in class sizes at their schools, including PS 111, a Renewal school in District 30 Queens where Kindergarten class sizes increased to 27 and first grade class sizes to 31.  Though the CEC co-chair communicated with the Aimee Horowitz about this, the Executive Superintendent of the Renewal Schools, Ms. Horowitz refused to express any view or to take any action to lower them. On October 19, the UFT also reported that there were hundreds of classes in Renewal schools that violated the union contractual limit of 34 students per class in high schools, and 30 in Title I middle schools.

… Class Size Matters and parents have repeatedly asked DOE officials at CEC meetings and by email for the list of Renewal Schools in which class size has been lowered, what funds are being used to accomplish this goal, and what oversight DOE is exercising to see that this goal is accomplished.

On November 12, I attended an hour long briefing at City Hall by Ms. Horowitz about the various programs the DOE was implementing in the Renewal schools.  She made no mention of class size.  When I asked her specifically which Renewal schools had reduced class size, and what funding and strategies were employed to accomplish this, she said that all 94 Renewal schools were expected to have “proper” class sizes through the use of their additional Fair Student Funding.

When I followed up with an email asking what the definition of “proper” class sizes was, I received no response.

After the DOE released their annual class size reports on November 15, we analyzed the average class sizes at the 94 Renewal schools this year compared to last year. We found that 36 out of 94 schools (about 38 percent) did NOT reduce average class size this year. 

The highest rates of non-compliance were in Queens, where 50 percent of Renewal schools failed to reduce class size, and in the Bronx, where 40 percent of schools failed to reduce class size. We further found that 56 schools (about 60 percent) had at least some classes at 30 or more, and only seven schools  (about 7 percent) capped class sizes at the C4E goals of 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 per class in grades 4-8, and 25 in core high school classes.

In February 2018, I testified to the City Council about the Renewal schools again, and showed how those schools that did lower class size were far more likely to have improved, based upon the significant correlation we found between their average class sizes and their DOE “impact scores,” which control for student demographics and need:

DOE had promised the state since at least 2013 to reduce class size in at least one of the Renewal schools currently planned for closure, PS 50 Vito Marcantonio in District 4, according to the city’s Contract for Excellence plan.[9]  Yet the DOE never followed through. Instead, this fall, class sizes at PS 50 are 28 in 1st grade and 30 in 2nd grade, which are far too large, especially for a struggling school that has 32 percent of its students with disabilities, and an 89 percent economic need index.[10]

In contrast, another Renewal school, PS 15 Roberto Clemente in District 1, has seen great strides and has moved off the Renewal list.  This school, which the New York Times called the Renewal program’s “best performer,” reduced class sizes from an average of 18.3 students per class in November 2014 to 15.7 in November 2017, with most classes far below 20 students this fall.[11] According to the DOE’s performance dashboard, PS 15 also demonstrated the second highest positive impact of any public elementary school in New York City in terms of achievement, when adjusted for the need level of its students.[12]

Our analysis of Renewal school data reveals a significant correlation between each school’s positive impact as measured by the DOE’s Performance Dashboard and its average class size,  at -.33, meaning the smaller the class size, the larger the school’s positive effect on achievement, adjusted for the need level of its student body.[13]




Sadly no one at DOE would listen, probably because Farina was ideologically opposed to lowering class size – despite the fact that our class size lawsuit vs. the state and the city cites the DOE’s refusal to comply with their promises to the the state to lower class size at the Renewal schools.

Though Carranza has expressed more sympathy in general to the importance of class size, nothing in the new UFT contract relating to the new “Bronx Collaborative” plan seems to indicate a real change in strategies, as I’ve blogged about recently:

“Schools in the Bronx Collaborative Schools Model will have priority consideration for centrally funded initiatives such as Equity and Excellence initiatives, air conditioning, physical education and others that align to the schools’ goals.

But apparently not class size reduction, which actually might help them improve.

Instead these schools will be provided with a bunch of new higher paid, out-of-classroom teaching coaches, similar to positions that the Renewal schools also received, to no avail:

“The Teacher Development Facilitator shall receive additional compensation in the amount of $3,000 per school term for the term of this Agreement above the applicable teacher salary in accordance with this Agreement… The possible expansion of this role to include the support of new, in-service teachers will be determined by Joint Committee on Teacher Leadership Initiatives.

“The Teacher Team Leader shall receive additional compensation of $14,000 a year for the term of this agreement above the applicable teacher salary in accordance with this Agreement.”

Eliza Shapiro in the NY Times suggests that firing teachers and principals would likely work better in these schools, yet this was tried and failed in many Renewal schools, as I noted in my 2018 testimony:

The turnover in teaching staff has not helped either. In October of 2017, the DOE announced that at two of the Renewal Schools, Flushing High School and DeWitt Clinton High School, all teachers would have to reapply for their jobs.[7] That both schools are still struggling is not surprising, given that the previous year, these schools had the highest and third highest class sizes of any in the Renewal program, with classes as large as 43 students per class in science, and 39 in English respectively, according to DOE data.[8] Hiring inexperienced teachers and large classes are a surefire way to undermine a school’s progress and this policy reveals a profound lack of vision on behalf of this administration.

I don’t know where charter school conversions has worked either, as Shapiro writes.   Certainly closing these schools is a lousy idea, because it causes even more disruption in the lives of students and leads to teachers at the closed schools going into the Absent Teacher Reserve.

The ATR is already costing the city $136 million per year and instead of being used to reduce class size, more than a thousand teachers are employed as occasional substitutes or assigned to other tasks – a terrible waste of their talents. A recent City Limits article about the craziness of the ATR system  is here.

FYI, the DOE is still promising to “focus on the Renewal Schools in its class size reduction efforts” this year in their latest C4E briefing here :

Yet I expect they will not pay any more attention to their promise to the state than they have in past years — unless our lawsuit is successful, which in now in the process of appeal.

Why the DOE won’t attempt the obvious solution, which is capping class sizes at the struggling schools at far lower levels, I have no idea.   It is all very sad.

Categories State Class Size Programs, Uncategorized, Updates | Tags: | Posted on October 26, 2018

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