unchartered territory

Chancellor orders troubled Brooklyn charter school to close

Chancellor Joel Klein signed an order today to close a Brooklyn charter school that city school officials said had some of the most egregious charter violations they’d ever seen.

In June, East New York Preparatory Charter School will become the fourth charter school to close in the city’s history. In his recommendation to Klein that the school close, Deputy Chancellor John White wrote that although the charter school’s new board members acknowledged prior wrongdoing, many problems remained.

“ENYP has not presented any evidence responding to the findings that lower performing students were being involuntarily transferred from the school or discouraged from attending the school,” White wrote.

Klein’s decision marks an end to a contentious closure process that pitted parents who wanted the school to remain open against city officials charged with making sure the school followed its charter.

That conflict erupted at a public meeting in February, where parents pleaded with the department to keep the school open, saying the neighborhood offered few other viable options and the wait-lists for other charter schools were impossibly long.

Students currently enrolled in East New York Prep will have to transfer to other district or charter schools next year. To ease their transition, the department is offering a new option: a one-year program run out of P.S. 323 that East New York Prep students in grades two through five can opt into. According to DOE charter school office head Michael Duffy, the program will take in 162 students and be run by Andrea Whitehurst, a former principal who monitored the charter school.

Opened in 2006 by principal Sheila Joseph, East New York Prep appeared on the state and city’s radar after parents reported that Joseph was expelling high-needs students. Joseph is also alleged to have given herself a significant raise and created an environment so unstable that Teach for America has told its six corps members they can look for new teaching positions at other schools next year. If they were to leave, East New York Prep would have only two remaining teachers.

Recommendation of John White to Close ENYP

CHANCELLOR KLEIN TO CLOSE EAST NEW YORK PREPARATORY CHARTER SCHOOL

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced he would close East New York Preparatory Charter School at the end of this school year after determining that the school has failed to provide all of its students with a high-quality education and was operating in violation of its charter, Department of Education (DOE) policy, and New York State charter school law. The DOE has been working with families to help place the school’s students in new schools next year. East New York Prep is the fourth charter school to be closed in New York City since charters were first created.

“We won’t allow a school to remain open when it persistently fails its students-whether it is a charter or a district school,” Chancellor Klein said. “Unfortunately, East New York Prep failed to meet the standards of its charter and the City’s promise to provide a good education to all public school children. We will work closely with the school’s families to place their children in other nearby district or charter schools where they can receive the education they need and deserve.”

The DOE issued East New York Prep a five-year charter in 2005. In February 2009, the school was put on probation in response to charges that it improperly discharged some students and failed to provide adequate special education services. In a subsequent investigation, the DOE determined the school’s board of directors failed to exercise appropriate oversight of the school and its leadership.

East New York Prep will remain open until the end of the current school year. The DOE has been working with families to find nearby district and charter schools for their children to attend in the fall. Options include a new one-year program in the same building as East New York Prep that will give families additional time to secure places for their children in another school. The DOE will hold an information session for parents on Thursday, April 22nd, at East New York Prep.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.