rise up

With new ‘Rise’ schools, de Blasio tiptoes through a school-closure minefield

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, center, announced which schools would join the Rise program at a press conference on Monday.

For nearly 20 New York City schools, the news was grim on Monday morning: The city would be moving to close them, shrink them, or combine them with another school.

But for others, Monday’s announcement was a long-awaited boost. Twenty-one schools were named Rise schools, a new designation meant to indicate their progress under Mayor de Blasio’s School Renewal turnaround program.

Officials say that Rise schools will retain the extra social services that had been provided for students and their families, while other extra support will be reduced over time. The Rise program will operate independently, but stay connected to the Renewal one. And the Rise schools will be held accountable for continued improvement, but face less intense scrutiny.

It’s a middle ground that could help answer questions that have vexed the de Blasio administration since it unveiled the program in 2014 as a three-year intervention: What comes after year three? Specifically, can the city reward improvement by freeing the schools from intense oversight without undercutting their progress by pulling out support? And how can the city help schools it labeled as struggling to rebrand so they can attract new students?

“Rise schools are the Renewal schools that have been graduated and promoted,” Chancellor Fariña said Monday. “They will be moving into a different sphere.”

The Rise schools are in four boroughs and include schools like DreamYard Preparatory School in the Bronx, which is still struggling to push its graduation rate over 70 percent, and I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers School in Upper Manhattan, where fewer than one in five students passed the state math and English tests.

But overall, the city says the schools are on an upward climb, with proficiency rates on state English tests jumping an average of 15 percentage points and attendance rates jumping 4 points since the 2013-14 school year. (At the same time, however, the state made tests easier to pass and also made it easier to earn a diploma over the last three years.)

Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College, called Rise a smart political move for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Graduating schools on the grounds that they were successful allows the mayor to declare victory,” he said. 

Despite making gains, students at Rise schools fall below the city average on test scores. About 22 percent of students passed the state English exam and about 17 percent passed math. Citywide, those numbers are significantly higher, with a little over 40 percent passing English and just under 38 percent passing math. The graduation rate for Rise schools — which stands at almost 73 percent — is closer to the city’s projected average at 74 percent. (The city cautioned this number is preliminary and subject to change.)

The Rise program may allow the city to provide these schools — which still need help to maintain and further their gains — with extra support, while allowing them to shed the stigma of being in the city’s Renewal program. Even as the city showered these schools with millions of dollars over the last three years, convincing families to send their children to them was a challenge. Throughout the program, the schools struggled with enrollment, losing thousands of students.

Rise schools will remain “community schools,” a signature piece of de Blasio’s turnaround strategy in which schools are hubs for social and medical services. The schools will also enjoy an expedited roll-out of Equity and Excellence initiatives, including support for computer science, literacy, algebra, and Advanced Placement.

Principal Kyesha Jackson, who runs P.S. 67 in Brooklyn, said she is both excited to maintain the support provided by Renewal and lose the label. Under Renewal, she was able to purchase an online program that assess where students have learning gaps and provides access to lessons that target the area in which a student needs work. She also purchased an electronic literacy program that allows students access to 3,000 books, she said.

Those initiatives and others that she says were integral to improving her school will remain, but when families are researching the school, they will no longer see that it is designated as a struggling school.

“That stigma that a Renewal school is a failing school would be taken away,” she said.

Critics, including longtime de Blasio foe StudentsFirstNY, have pointed out the relatively low rates of students passing state tests at Rise schools.

But at least so far, principals remain hopeful that the new title — coupled with a high level of continuing support — will make a difference.

“We’re not yet where we want to be. But we really are a school on the rise,” said Miles Doyle, principal of Orchard Collegiate Academy in Manhattan at Monday’s press conference. “I welcome this new designation as a Rise school.”  

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.

call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.