space debate

New York City greenlights Success Academy middle school after contentious space fight

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Success Academy has repeatedly fought the city for space. CEO Eva Moskowitz and parents protested at a Harlem school earlier this year.

Less than a year after Success Academy lost a battle to open a new middle school in a building shared by a small Brooklyn elementary school, city officials confirmed Wednesday that they plan to give the charter network the green light to open in that space starting next school year.

Success Academy Lafayette, a middle school that was forced to open in a different building this school year, will now likely move into the P.S. 25 building in Bedford-Stuyvesant — a year later than the charter network had hoped.

The decision is a belated victory for Success Academy, though it must still go through a public hearing process and a vote from the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.

But the broader story about Success Academy’s fight for space in the P.S. 25 building is far more complicated and is related to a separate and fraught court battle over whether a district elementary school as small as P.S. 25 should be allowed to remain open. To understand this latest move, it helps to know the complicated backstory behind this single Brooklyn school building.

Why did the city delay Success Academy opening a middle school in the first place?

It’s not uncommon for the city to butt heads with Success Academy over school space, so on some level it’s not surprising that there was a dustup. But in this case, Success had already been operating an elementary school in the building and had decided to move those students elsewhere and replace it with a middle school.

Normally charter schools must go through a public hearing process when they make a significant change like this to the way they use a school building, especially in cases where they share facilities with a district school.

Success assumed there would be no need to go through that process, since it looked as though the school operating in the building, P.S. 25, also known as the Eubie Blake School, would be closed. Then came a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision to close the school — and a judge’s ruling that P.S. 25 should stay open while the case continues to wind its way through court.

That created a problem for the charter network: By the time it became clear the district school would remain open, it was too late for Success to go through the formal public approval process. The network’s CEO Eva Moskowitz and parents called on the city to approve the middle school anyway on an emergency basis, but the education department declined to act. The result: Success wasn’t allowed to open a middle school in the building this school year. Instead, it opened in a building less than a mile away. (The network did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.)

If P.S. 25 closes, another charter school could open in the building

It’s unclear whether the city will be allowed to follow through on its plan to shutter P.S. 25. But if the closure goes through, the education department will likely reserve the space for another charter school, officials said Wednesday.

“We are working with District 16 and Success to meet the needs of our students and families,” education department spokesman Doug Cohen wrote in an email.

NeQuan McLean, president of the District 16 Community Education Council, said that while he does not generally support the growth of charter schools in the district, it is better to allow charter schools to share space with each other instead of with district schools.

“We have agreed as a community and a CEC to make that a charter building,” he said.

What’s up with the court battle over P.S. 25?

The lawsuit to keep P.S. 25 open banks on a complicated argument about how much power local community education councils have in school closure decisions.

Under state law, the councils have the authority to approve any changes to school zones and typically don’t have any power to block school closure decisions. But since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating the neighborhood’s children, forcing students to attend other schools in other districts or to enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

It’s possible that argument will gain traction. A similar lawsuit filed in 2009, and joined by the city’s teachers union, prompted the city to reverse plans to replace three elementary schools with charter schools. (A favorable legal outcome for the P.S. 25 parents could affect the procedure for closing schools in the future, but only if they are also zoned.)

The school’s supporters also argue that the school’s performance makes it an odd choice for closure: its state test scores last year put it among the highest-ranked elementary schools in the city. That stellar performance, however, could partly be the result of natural statistical swings in scores that can occur in schools that serve so few students. (The school’s math scores have shot up from 22 percent of students passing in 2015 to over 70 percent last school year.)

“All those kids will literally be forced to leave an excellent school that has managed to provide small classes and proven itself many times in terms of results,” Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters and a supporter of the lawsuit, wrote in an email.

Just 87 students are currently enrolled in the school, which is projected to spend nearly $50,000 per student this year, roughly double the city average. (That number could fluctuate this year, since more students appeared to have enrolled than the city expected, but final numbers won’t be available until later this fall.)

Still, no matter what happens in court, it is unlikely P.S. 25 will remain open. Even if the lawsuit forces the education department to abide by a vote from the local education council, its members want the school to close, its president said.

“If the question is would we be willing to change the zone lines so that the DOE would be able to close the school? The answer is absolutely,” said McLean, the community education council president.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that spending per student at P.S. 25 is based on a city projection. 

upheaval

Frustrations over principal turnover flare up at IPS School 43

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 43

It began with a tame slideshow presentation about hiring a new principal at School 43. But the Wednesday night meeting soon spiraled into a venting session — as parents and teachers pleaded with Indianapolis Public Schools to send in more staff.

Bakari Posey, the principal of School 43, departed for another job last week in the latest upheaval at the school, which is also known as James Whitcomb Riley. The assistant principal, Endia Ellison, has taken over in an interim capacity, as the district searches for a new leader for the school, which has faced significant turnover in recent years.

“This school needs help,” said Natasha Milam, who has three children at School 43, which serves about 450 students in prekindergarten to eighth-grade. “We need you all to listen. And we need you all to hear us.”

Milam, who volunteers at the school, said that because the building does not have enough staff to handle behavior problems, students are suspended far too often — meaning students are at home doing chores or getting into trouble, instead of in class learning.

Many in the neighborhood had hoped Posey, who is from the community, would be able to turn the school around after the previous two school leaders left their posts just months into the job. But under Posey’s leadership, the school continued to struggle on state tests, with just 7 percent of students passing both the math and English exams last year.

And after two-and-a-half years on the job, Posey left and began working this week as assistant principal at Fall Creek Valley Middle School in Lawrence Township. In an email Thursday, Posey said that he left because he thought the position in Lawrence would help him grow professionally and it was closer to his home.

Posey also disputed the picture of School 43 as a campus in crisis. He said this school year, there hasn’t been “turmoil in the school in regards to student behavior,” suspensions were down, and the campus has been “very calm.” (Suspension numbers could not immediately be verified.) He also said that Indianapolis Public Schools provided “great support” to school staff.

Nonetheless, parents and teachers’ at the meeting Wednesday said the school has serious problems.

Ryesha Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher who has been at the school a little over a year, said there are not enough staff to help with student discipline problems. That makes it hard for educators to teach, she said.

“We have fights almost every day,” Jackson said. “I guess my question is, ‘What are we doing right now to support teachers?’”

School 43 is a neighborhood school, on the north side of the district. More than 75 percent of students there are black, and almost 70 percent come from families with incomes so low that they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals — about the district average.

Indianapolis Public Schools interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said district and school leaders would work together to develop a plan to address the urgent problems at School 43.

“But what I can’t give you right now is the plan for that help,” she said. “That takes time and coordination with the school staff.”

The district is gathering input about what school community members are looking for in a principal before posting a listing, officials said. Finalists will be interviewed by committees of parents, community members, and school and district staff. The goal is to name a new principal by April.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting was a small contingent from the IPS Community Coalition, a group that is often critical of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration, particularly the district’s partnerships with charter schools.

Michele Lorbieski, a resident from the north side who ran unsuccessfully for the Indianapolis Public Board with the support of the coalition last year, said the district cannot just rely on the next principal to fix the school.

“What I’d hoped to hear tonight was what the school district was doing to put things in place to stop this revolving door of principals,” she said.

District officials did not directly address why turnover has been so high among principals at School 43. But Brynn Kardash, a district official who recently began working with the school, said that the central office is doing more to support it this year.

School 43 was added this year to the transformation zone — an effort to help troubled schools that includes dedicated support and regular visits from a team at the central office, said Kardash, the district’s executive director of schools for the zone. Educators in the zone get additional training, extra planning time, and help analyzing student data, she said.

“The goal is to really support Ms. Ellison in work that she’s doing,” Kardash said, “which then leads to, hopefully, teachers feeling that support in the classroom.”

technical difficulties

This personalized learning program was supposed to boost math scores. It didn’t, new study finds

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A student at I.S. 228 in Brooklyn does online work through Teach to One, a program that grew out of the iZone.

A program that Bill Gates once called “the future of math” didn’t improve state test scores at schools that adopted it, according to a new study.

The research examines Teach to One, a “personalized learning” program used in schools across 11 states and which has drawn support from a number of major funders, including the Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings. (Gates and CZI are also funders of Chalkbeat.)

At five schools in Elizabeth, New Jersey, students who used Teach to One didn’t improve any faster than similar students who didn’t use the program, even after three years. The results underscore the limited evidence for claims that such technology programs can dramatically improve student learning, even as they have become magnets for philanthropic dollars.

“The original aspirations, that Teach to One programs were going to have huge positive effects on math scores — we can rule that out with these studies,” said Jonah Rockoff, a Columbia professor who studied an earlier iteration of the program.

Teach to One says its approach is designed to help students steadily learn math skills, regardless of how unprepared or advanced they are. Students spend time on a computer as well as with a teacher and working in small groups. Students receive individualized schedules each day based on their progress, and a computer program adapts the curriculum to students’ strengths and weaknesses in the form of a “playlist.”

New Classrooms, the organization behind Teach To One, suggests that the Elizabeth results aren’t the full story.

It points to a separate analysis released this week that looks at a broader group of schools — 14, from several districts — that used the program. That study shows Teach to One students making above-average gains on a test known as the MAP, which is taken on a computer with questions changing as students answer correctly or incorrectly.

New Classrooms co-founder Joel Rose suggested in a statement that those computer-adaptive tests capture something that state tests can miss: students’ progress.

“What seems to be emerging is a real tension in math between approaches focused on long-term academic growth and state accountability systems,” he said.

Rockoff said there might be something to New Classroom’s argument that the study using adaptive test is better able to showcase students’ gains. “If [students] are at a grade four level but they’re in grade six, teaching them grade four material is going to hurt them on the state test,” he said.

But the author of the second study, Jesse Margolis, and a number of other researchers who spoke to Chalkbeat note that it cannot show whether Teach to One caused any of the students’ gains, though — a major limitation.

“While this study cannot establish causality, it is encouraging,” Margolis wrote. (The New Jersey study is better able to establish cause and effect, but it also has limitations and does not rely on random assignment.)

The New Jersey study isn’t the first to show that Teach to One didn’t improve test scores: so did Rockoff’s 2015 report on three New York City middle schools that looked at both state and MAP tests.

One possible explanation is that Teach to One is helpful to students in some places but not others. Margolis said his study examined the same five Elizabeth schools as the Columbia study and also found minimal gains there, but that schools elsewhere seemed to see larger improvements.

Researcher John Pane of RAND, a leader in studying personalized learning, says the results are important to understanding a field with limited research to date.

“Because we have so little evidence on personalized learning,” he said, “every data point can be helpful for us to start triangulating and piecing together what works and what doesn’t work.”