A grant to create community schools makes strange bedfellows

The last time he led a New York City project, Geoffrey Canada, the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone, had the teachers union as his opponent. Now the two are partnering on a grant proposal that would take struggling elementary schools and surround them with the support services that barely exist outside their doors.

Naturally, the two have a buffer: Good Shepherd Services and the Children’s Aid Society, which is the lead applicant for an Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant — money that was set aside as part of the federal stimulus package. The grant proposal calls for $30 million to be used over four years to reduce absenteeism in nine schools in low-income neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx, and Central Brooklyn.

All of the schools that are eventually chosen for the grant will have low-performing students, but they must also have a large number of students who don’t attend class. At least 30 percent of their students must be chronically absent, meaning they miss a month or more of school, hence the grant’s name: “Attend, Achieve, Attain,” or “a3.”

The idea is to keep more children in school for longer by lengthening the school day, adding after-school and summer programs, and turning the school into a community center and medical clinic their parents will want to come to as well.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the group is currently vetting six schools and will pick three to begin working with next year once it’s clear whether they’ve won the funding.

Mulgrew said the plan to create more community schools in New York began long before the stimulus bill and the i3 grant, with a report the New School published on chronic absenteeism. After talking with Children’s Aid, Mulgrew met with Canada and the two agreed to partner.

“We were going to go to outside funders,” Mulgrew said. “We always had the idea that this group could attract a mix of funders.”

The group’s political diversity is likely to be attractive to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, but it’s not a perfect partnership.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Education said they intend to sign on as a grant supporter, but that didn’t stop Mulgrew from suggesting the DOE was less than sincere.

“The chancellor talks about the obstacles that children who live in poverty face as being excuses,” Mulgrew said. “There is just a philosophical difference between us and them. We say children can perform as long as they recognize that they have additional obstacles.”

The DOE and the UFT plan to submit their own i3 grant proposals this month.

UFT to join with Harlem Children’s Zone, Children’s Aid Society, Good Shepherd Services in seeking federal funding to reduce chronic absenteeism

Program would provide medical and family assistance, along with afterschool instruction in schools open until 6 pm

The Harlem Children’s Zone, Children’s Aid Society and Good Shepherd Services will join with the United Federation of Teachers in seeking a $30 million federal grant for a program to reduce chronic student absenteeism at nine schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The “community schools program,” to be announced Saturday at the UFT’s annual Spring Conference, could include medical, dental and vision services on site, along with a wide range of family and social services, from GED and English as a Second Language classes to financial planning, legal assistance for eviction and other emergencies.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “We need to create schools as places for families, not just children.  Many of our kids struggle with a huge range of medical and social issues, and our schools should be where families turn for help with all the problems that might affect their children’s academic performance.”

Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, said, “I deeply believe that we must all work together to improve NYC’s students chances of graduating high school and continuing their post secondary education.  I’m pleased to be working with this team, the UFT, The Children’s Aid Society and Good Shepherd Services to accomplish this mission.”

Richard Buery, President and CEO of The Children’s Aid Society, said,  “The Children’s Aid Society is excited to submit an application for the i3 federal grant with our diverse group of partners. The grant will address two issues we’re all so concerned about:  chronic early absence and improving student achievement.  When schools are transformed into community schools, the combination of integrated student supports and high-quality, professional development will turn schools around, improve student outcomes and validate the benefits of a model that can be replicated across New York City and throughout the country.”

Sr. Paulette LoMonaco, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Services, said, “Good Shepherd Services is thrilled to join in this critically important effort to demonstrate the effectiveness of the community schools strategy in turning around struggling schools, reducing early chronic absenteeism, improving student achievement and ensuring that vulnerable children, and their families, have access to the full-range of preventive, intervention and enrichment opportunities that are critical to their educational and developmental success.”

One in five elementary school children missed a month of more of the 2007-2008 school year, a chronic absenteeism rate that is clustered in the lowest-achieving schools and districts in New York City.  The goal of the collaboration is to increase student achievement in the targeted schools by significantly increasing attendance rates, particularly in the early grades.

Under the proposal, the schools selected for the program would be eligible for federal Title 1 funds, have a chronic absenteeism rate for more than 30 percent, and would be in the bottom third of all city schools in terms of math and reading performance.  Three schools would be selected for the first year of the program, and six more would begin in the program’s second year.  Total funding would amount to $30 million from USDOE Investing in Innovation (i3) grants.

Harlem Children’s Zone is a non-profit organization that has created a comprehensive network of education, social-service and community-building programs within 97 blocks in Central Harlem. HCZ works to break the cycle of generational poverty by supporting children from birth through college and working to strengthen the families and communities around those children.

The Children’s Aid Society is an independent, not-for-profit organization established to serve the children of New York City.  Founded in 1853, it is one of the nation’s largest and most innovative non-sectarian agencies, serving New York’s neediest children in community schools, neighborhood centers, health clinics and camps.

Founded in 1857, Good Shepherd Services is a leading youth development and family service agency that serves over 23,000 program participants a year.  It provides comprehensive, integrated community- and school-based preventive and intervention programs which focus on positive family and youth development, including foster care and foster care prevention programs.

The agencies taking part will form a local advisory council whose membership will also include the Coalition for Educational Justice and the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School.

Final proposals must be submitted to the federal authorities on May 11; the collaboration’s goal is to start the program this fall.

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.”