Dear Commons Community,
After considering a new round of school closures, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are preparing to announce that they will not shutter any schools in the city’s Renewal program this year.
De Blasio’s Renewal program has sparked controversy since it launched in 2014. Officials sold Renewal as an alternative to closures, and argued that the city’s lowest-performing schools could rapidly improve with an influx of additional social services and academic supports over just three years. But more than four years and nearly $800 million later, the program has achieved results far short of the mayor’s promise of “fast and intense” improvements.
The politics of the Renewal program have been a problem for de Blasio during much of his first term. The mayor’s critics have argued the program trapped students in schools the city knew were failing, while it gambled on unproven interventions. Research on the program has given those critics some ammunition. One analysis found the program did not seem to have a meaningful effect on graduation rates or test scores; another found only slight gains on tests. And behind closed doors, city officials were much less optimistic about the school’s chances of swift progress.
Supporters of the program have privately acknowledged Renewal was oversold and that dramatic improvements at struggling schools were always unlikely to happen on the mayor’s aggressive timeline. Still, many argue that flooding schools with resources is preferable to shutting them down and opening new ones, the favored strategy under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Some research has found that approach showed promise, but it also drew fierce protest from teachers who worried about shuttering key community institutions in predominantly low-income neighborhoods.
The New York Times reported in October that Mr. de Blasio was preparing to close Renewal, and that city officials had known some Renewal schools were likely to fail but had left most of them open anyway.
As education fads have come and gone, politicians have flipped between school improvement models based on punitive measures like closure and teacher firing and softer approaches that rely on pouring resources into schools.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. de Blasio defended the goals of the program, but said its execution was flawed.
“I’m at peace that with the information we had and the structure we had at the time, it was a sensible approach,” he said. But he added, “I would not do it again that way.”
Mr. de Blasio said the reorganization of the Department of Education’s behemoth bureaucracy, undertaken last year by his schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, would help smooth out the confusing lines of authority that led to frustration among principals and teachers in Renewal schools.”
A few hours ago, Chancellor Carranza sent a memo to his staff announcing a new Comprehensive School Support structure to assist all schools including Renewal schools. Below is the full text of the memo courtesy of Mary Ann Polisinelli, District 75 Director of ELL/MLL Citywide Programs.
Sent: February 26, 2019 12:45 PM
Subject: Supporting Schools: Our Shared Path Forward
Earlier today, Mayor de Blasio and I announced the next steps and evolution of the Renewal School program, and I am excited to share more with you.
As you know, when the Renewal School program launched in 2014, the City put in motion its unwavering commitment to our underserved schools and communities. The major investment in Renewal Schools was built on a belief we hold as deeply today as we did then: that if we truly give schools a chance, they can succeed.
Today, the data is clear: Renewal Schools have improved substantially. We have seen significant growth in graduation rates and test scores, and declines in suspensions and chronic absenteeism. Looking school by school, students are achieving successes that change the narrative of what our schools can do, and how highly they can perform.
Now is the moment to apply the lessons we learned from the past four-plus years of the Renewal program—like how important it is to support school leadership and teacher growth and family and community engagement—and blaze a trail ahead for all schools to receive the supports that they need. I’m excited to move our system forward with a citywide, equity-driven approach to supporting all schools, in place of a binary approach, where you get a “Renewal” designation or not.
As we evolve away from the Renewal and Rise designations for schools, we move toward something I’m calling Comprehensive School Support (CSS). CSS is not a program or a designation, but a strategy for identifying needs and delivering supports to all schools. In forging this path ahead, I am echoing so many voices I have heard across DOE schools and offices that recognize that all schools have room to improve. In other words: every school, Renewal or not, needs to be treated as the unique learning environment and community that it is, and get the tailored, responsive support it needs.
We know that a great school has strong leadership that fosters a supportive environment, and collaborative teachers who deliver rigorous instruction. We know that a great school is based on a culture of family empowerment, and a real sense of trust. But individual schools need a different combination of supports to get there. And this requires us to continually ask: How can we meet schools where they are? What are the assets and successes that schools, students, and communities are bringing to the table each day? And how can we best fit in to accelerate and support their growth?
These conversations have been happening in full force across the DOE over the course of this year. And in many ways, this Comprehensive School Support approach started even prior to this school year, when we began reorganizing the way we support schools and communities, featuring our new borough-based and citywide Executive Superintendents to bring support and supervision together under one roof. Accountability is clearer, and resources and decision-making are closer to students and schools.
A next, important step of CSS will be the development and launch of EduStat, a new performance management system modeled after systems like ACS’s ChildStat. ‘Stat’ tools are one clear way to make our values around equity explicit. This new system will bring Executive Superintendents and other key leadership—including me—to the table around real-time data, and will help the DOE make sure schools are getting the support they need. We are excited to continue in the development of this continuous improvement approach, and will launch EduStat in beta form later this year.
As a former principal, the core of my approach to our system is the knowledge that schools can’t do it alone. Reversing the impact of historic underinvestment will take a team effort. Our approach must necessarily put school needs at the center, and recognize that the strength of our system is in our ability to work with and learn from one another.
By recognizing the individual journey of every school, we strengthen our entire system. Together, we will lift up every child, in every school, in every neighborhood, in every borough. Together, we will deliver equity and excellence for all.