on the scene

Live-blogging the reconstituted Board of Education meeting

I’m conveying live reports from Philissa and Anna, who are at Tweed Courthouse, where the reconstituted Board of Education is having its first meeting in seven years. UPDATE: As of 1:30 p.m. the show moved to City Hall, and we’re still updating from there.

2:15 p.m. Meeting adjourned.

2:11 p.m. Bloomberg: “This is so obviously right, that’s why there’s unanimity.” He also just declared that New York City offers a model for how government should work.

2:05 p.m. Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx borough president, said he might want to convene the Board of Education before September 10. The Board earlier voted not to meet again until that date. “I’ve never had a problem with telling the chancellor what’s on my mind,” Diaz said.

That prompted Queens president Marshall to step in and announce she’s already convened a parent advisory panel. She said she dislikes Bloomberg’s third-grade retention policy. The last time school board members opposed that policy, Bloomberg voted them off the board as it was known under mayoral control, the Panel for Educational Policy.

2:03 p.m. “If we disagree with the mayor, there isn’t a borough president here who wouldn’t stand up and do something,” Scott Stringer, the borough president of Manhattan, said. Stringer’s appointee, Jimmy Yan, is a former attorney for Advocates for Children, the nonprofit that supports students with disabilities. He now serves as Stringer’s legal counsel.

2:01 p.m. Asked what he’ll do about community school boards, which are also supposed to resurrect under the pre-2002 law, Bloomberg punted. “How can we convene them?” he said. He said officials have not considered what to do about school boards yet.

1:59 p.m. “We’re trying to continue on as though mayoral control were approved,” Bloomberg said.

1:52 p.m. Bloomberg earlier thanked Helen Marshall of Queens for appointing Walcott. She smiled and laughed. Now the mayor is warning of a significant risk that the Senate will drag its feet, since the law has expired. He also declared that no chancellor ever lasted more than a year and a half under the old governance structure. That’s not true. Harold Levy, the previous chancellor, served two years; his predecessor, Rudy Crew, served for four.

1:47 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg is now flexing his foreign-language muscles, summarizing the situation en Espanol. Of his riot threats, he said, “It’s a euphemism.” Huh?

1:46 p.m. Randi Weingarten: “So I guess I should have resigned effective June 30.”

Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. offered the lone voice of (some) dissent at today's City Hall press conference.
Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. offered the lone voice of (some) dissent at today’s City Hall press conference.

1:42 p.m. Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz fumbled, referring to the Department of Education. He then paused and said “Board of Education.” Even the DOE legally was called the Board of Education.

Bronx borough president, speaking at City Hall, was the only person to foreshadow possible disagreements inside the new Board of Education. “It doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree,” he said.

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Parent activist Jane Hirschmann of Time Out From Testing temporarily stole the mayor's podium, demanding more voice for parents.

1:40 p.m. Before the mayor spoke, parent activist Jane Hirschmann stole the podium. “We want the voice of the parents to be heard,” she said. She has since been escorted from the room by City Hall staff.

1:35 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg, at a press conference at City Hall, said of the revived Board of Education, “These are Band-aids, not solutions.” He said, “The temporary school board has attempted to sidestep the worst consequences” of mayoral control’s expiration.

1:14 p.m. All board members have waived their salaries, says Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz. The law outlines $15,000 a year for board members and $20,000 for the board president.

1:08 p.m. Why Walcott? “He’s from Queens, he knows a lot about education,” Queens borough president Helen Marshall, who appointed Walcott, told Anna. “He’s still obligated to me, and if he crosses that line…” The borough president gave Anna a meaningful look.

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PHOTO: Maura Walz
Meet the new Board of Education president, Dennis Walcott. (Center)

1:06 p.m. The entire meeting lasted nine minutes, by Philissa’s count.

1:01 p.m. The Board of Education voted to endorse the Assembly’s mayoral control bill, passing a motion, 6 to 0, to support the Assembly’s version of the revised law. (Fernandez abstained.) Then it voted to adjourn until September 10.

12:58 p.m. Chancellor Joel Klein will remain in office, following a 7 to 0 vote of all Board members. Fernandez voting in favor this time.

12:57 p.m. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott was just voted president of the new Board of Education, and Department of Education counsel Michael Best was voted secretary. The Bronx appointee, Dolores Fernandez, abstained from voting both times.

12:52 p.m. Carlo Scissura, the Brooklyn borough president’s Board of Education appointee, served on a community school board in 1999. Then he “led the district in making the transition to mayoral control” as president of District 20’s Community Education Council in 2004, a press release stated.

12:48 p.m. Meanwhile, James Merriman, executive director of the city’s charter school advocacy center, is in the room.

12:47 p.m. A Community Education Council president, for District 1 in Manhattan, is among those unable to get inside the meeting. Lisa Donlan’s CEC passed a resolution this morning asking that it transform into a community school board. The CEC also requested that its superintendent be appointed the community district superintendent under the pre-2002 rules.

A crowd of people who aren't being let into the Board of Education meeting. Philissa reports that police shut the door as soon as she snapped this photo.
A crowd of people who aren’t being let in to the Board of Education meeting. Police shut the door to the meeting right after Philissa snapped this photo, she reports.

12:44 p.m. A crowd of parents and others are waiting outside the room, unable to get in. See the photo on the right. Police shut the door to the meeting just after Philissa snapped that picture, she reports.

12:36 p.m. The meeting is in the same Tweed Courthouse room as Panel for Educational Policy meetings were held. But this time the audience gets fancy plush chairs with wheels. Used to be folding chairs. Philissa says Department of Education staffers are dressed extra-nice.

12:30 p.m. Weingarten to reporters: “The ironic part here is there were a lot of checks and balances in the Assembly bill that would have gone into effect starting today.” The checks would have specifically given superintendents more power in their districts, she said.

12:19 p.m. I just got a call from two parent activists who aren’t being let in and wanted to see if I could help. I can’t.

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Randi Weingarten, city teachers union president, arrived at the Board of Education meeting and was immediately thronged by reporters.

12:16 p.m. Famously tardy Randi Weingarten, who’s still president of the United Federation of Teachers for one more month, just walked in smiling. But no more people will be let in; staff say the room is full.

12:14 p.m. The meeting will start late. The Bronx borough president’s appointee, Delores Fernandez, is stuck in traffic. She’s the only appointee who’s indicated, via borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., that she’ll criticize mayoral control and Chancellor Joel Klein.

12:07 p.m. There will be no public comment at the board meeting. Haimson, with a laugh: “This is the real Soviet Union!”

12:02 p.m. Reporters and new Board of Education members have settled in their seats. Leonie Haimson just placed the book she and other mayoral control critics produced at every member’s seat. No one stopped her.

12:00 p.m. The room at Tweed is so packed that Department of Education employees have been asked to listen on loudspeakers outside.

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”