National News

New York City Will Close or Merge 14 Schools From Renewal Program

Posted December 18, 2017 10:37 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — With $582 million committed, New York City’s Education Department on Monday gave its first indication that it is planning to wind down its Renewal program for low-performing schools, an expensive initiative that has struggled to show results.

The department said it intends to close or merge 14 schools in the program, while moving 21 other schools, which have shown progress, out of the program. Coming after smaller rounds of closings and mergers, the changes will leave 46 schools in the program, less than half the number at its inception three years ago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the program in November 2014, pledging to flood the city’s lowest-performing schools with support, to lift the performance of struggling schools where the previous administration preferred to shut them down and replace them. Renewal is budgeted to have cost a total of $582 million by the end of this academic year, and there is scant evidence that the schools have made significant improvement.

At a news conference at the Education Department’s headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse on Monday, the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said that the 46 schools would receive support and oversight for the rest of this school year and that she expected that most of them would improve sufficiently to graduate from the program in that time.

Notably, the department did not add any schools to the program. Asked why, Fariña said it was unnecessary to add schools because many schools that might be eligible were already being helped by other initiatives, including an increase in literacy coaches and 3-K, the city’s new prekindergarten program for 3-year-olds.

Fariña denied that the city was ending the Renewal program or had concluded that it was not cost-effective.

“This is a constant review process,” she said, adding, “We’re not giving up on it at all.”

In any case, parents appear to be avoiding schools in the program. Enrollment at 52 Renewal schools fell by at least 10 percent from the 2014-15 school year to the 2016-17 school year. Only six schools saw their enrollment increase by at least 10 percent during that time.

Many of the schools the city plans to close have seen their enrollment precipitously. The Coalition School for Social Change, for example, had 311 students in the 2013-14 school year and 161 students during the last school year. Such a small population can make it difficult for principals to create a workable budget, because schools are funded in part by how many students they have.

In total, the department is planning to close nine Renewal schools, while another five will be combined with other schools. When he announced the program, de Blasio said that schools would have to make progress within three years, and that if they did not, they could be shuttered.

The department said on Monday that it also planned to close five schools that are not in the Renewal program, a decision Fariña suggested was largely based on enrollment.

Among those schools is KAPPA IV, a middle school in Manhattan, where last year just 9 percent of its students scored as proficient in English on statewide tests and 2 percent scored as proficient in math. Those scores were unchanged from the 2014-15 school year, and the school’s enrollment declined in that time from 198 students to 145.

Also targeted for closing is the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, where this fall a high school student who said he felt bullied stabbed two other students, killing one of them. A middle-school student said he tried to hang himself in February because he had been tormented by his peers. Fariña said that students were requesting to leave the school and that very few students were selecting it for next year.

Students in New York City can apply to a variety of middle schools, and a department spokeswoman, Toya Holness, said that as of Thursday, only 15 students had selected the school as their first choice on sixth-grade applications. The 21 schools that will begin their transition out of the Renewal program will be called “Rise” schools. The Education Department said these schools had each met at least 67 percent of the goals set and as a group had seen growth in measures like graduation rates, attendance and college readiness. Among those schools are the Renaissance School of the Arts in Manhattan and John Adams High School in Queens.

Schools in that group will no longer be in the Renewal program as of the 2018-19 school year, but they will still have a series of targets to meet that year, and the city said they would keep a variety of extra supports.

Graduating schools will retain the partnerships with social service organizations that they have established under Renewal to help with matters like attendance and supporting the social and emotional needs of students. They will also continue to receive 100 percent in the city’s funding formula for schools. In the last school year, only 23 percent of schools were fully funded, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

In addition, the Education Department said it would eliminate the middle school at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Visual Arts in Harlem, leaving the high school in place. The goal, the city said, was to make it a sought-after arts high school by providing it with extra money and support from the Office of Arts and Special Projects, a new arts curriculum and partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Harlem School of the Arts.

The department said it would work closely with students and families to ensure that each student is offered a spot at a higher-performing school for next year. It said that in some cases it would open new schools in the buildings where schools were being closed. Fariña that the department would provide more information in the coming weeks.

Two significant analyses have been conducted of the Renewal program, and the results have been lackluster.

One study, by Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, compared Renewal schools’ performance over time with that of schools that were never in the program. He found modest improvements, but described them as disappointing given the cost of the program.

The other study, by Aaron Pallas, the chairman of the department of education policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College, was less encouraging. He compared Renewal schools with similar schools outside the program, and found there was no added benefit to being in the program.

“You can cherry-pick instances where Renewal schools are doing better or Renewal schools are doing worse, but when you look at the evidence in its entirety, it’s about the same progress,” Pallas said. “The comparison schools are doing just about as well in terms of growth.”

Pallas said that many Renewal School principals have been ambivalent about the program. They’ve been happy to have the extra resources that come with it, but the label has been somewhat stigmatizing.

So what will those schools look like when the program goes away?

“That is an interesting longer-term question about sustainability,” Pallas said. “To what extent does this program really hinge on the influx of dollars, and if those dollars are removed, what is going to happen?”