A reader in New York City who studies data carefully has analyzed the latest reports from the state accountability system, which identifies the “best” and the “worst” schools. He finds that the most affluent schools will win “rewards,” and the schools that enroll the neediest students are marked for punishment, not for support.

The coming days will see much more detailed analysis of the new New York State accountability system for public schools. Yes, there is yet another system now in place. Gone are the days of “In Need of Improvement” “Corrective Action” and “Restructuring.” Now we have “Focus” (bad) “Priority” (very bad) and “Reward” (good).

What do the just released new lists tell us about education in New York City?

Although denied time and again by our education bureaucrats, these lists show that not enough is being done to support the schools that serve students from underprivileged backgrounds. Many of the districts in NYC (districts 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 32) had not a single “reward” school.  No surprise, these are some of the poorest districts in the city.

On the other hand, affluent districts ended up with lots of “reward” schools. The two wealthiest districts in NYC  (as measured by the % of students eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch) are 26 in Queens and 31 in Staten Island. Staten Island has only “reward” and no “priority” or “focus” schools.  District 26 in Queens has 6 “reward” schools and 1 “priority” school. The reward schools are all elementary and middle schools that serve local students. The priority school is a high school that serves students from all over the city.

But surely that means that some very poor districts have some excellent “reward” schools? Not really. The “reward” schools in such districts are all specialized schools, either special gifted and talented elementary schools or screened middle schools or high schools that students must test into. In district #10 in the Bronx, the only “reward” schools are the Bronx High School of Science and the High School of American Studies at Lehman. The demographics of these schools do not reflect the demographics of the district. Other such districts include districts 5, 6, 11, and 13.

The lesson: If schools want to get a “reward,” they should screen their students prior to entry.

In fact, in 16 of the 17 New York City High Schools on the “reward” list, students are screened or tested prior to entry. Only a single high school, The Academy of Finance and Enterprise in Queens, on the list is unscreened. Might this school serve as an exemplar for other schools? Not really, because this school appears to screen out students AFTER entry. As the table below shows there is a suspicious pattern of the graduating class size diminishing over time. This has gotten better over the years, perhaps because some of the more challenging students in the neighborhood no longer apply to this school as they know they will be moved out quickly.

Graduation cohort # of students entering 9th grade # of students graduating 12th grade % of students removed from cohort
2010-11 125 103 17.6%
2009-10 123 85 30.9%
2008-09 109 72 34%

A recent story in the New York Post described how the Bronx Health Sciences High School, an “A” rated high school in New York City, expelled numerous students to make their numbers look better. Where do these students go? Maybe they end up in the “priority schools.”

A recent analysis has shown that districts in New York State with priority and focus schools fund schools at much lower levels than districts with schools that are in good standing. That analysis excluded New York City.

An examination of the funding of the “reward” schools in New York City reveals that they receive over 100% of the formula the city uses to calculate how much money to give schools. To place this in context a Daily News article reported that  “The 24 so-called “turnaround schools” — where the city unsuccessfully moved to ax half the staff — are underfunded by more than $30 million combined, more than 10% of their overall current budgets.”

Of course, all 24 turnaround schools are on the ”priority” list. Never mind that they serve the city’s neediest students.  They enroll double the city average of the neediest students with disabilities. It doesn’t matter to the New York City Department of Education that these highly stressed schools have a graduation rate of students with high quality (i.e. Regents or Advanced Regents as opposed to the more basic “local” diploma) diplomas that is better than the average for schools serving similarly situated students. 

The New York City Department of Education penalizes schools that serve students who need the most support. Education bureaucrats are making deliberate decisions to underfund schools that need the most support. The education bureaucrats will blame the schools, the teachers, and the school administrators.

There is one thing we know they won’t do. They will not look at what the data is telling them. They will not figure out what supports students need to succeed. They will not provide the resources and support these students need and deserve. They will not develop a system of school evaluation that is fair. They will not stop sending the most challenging students to only some schools. They will not fund schools fairly. They will not provide schools serving disadvantaged students with additional social workers, guidance counselors, attendance and family workers so that teachers are not expected to play all these roles and teach as well. They will not provide schools with curriculum and programs that have been shown to work for disadvantaged students. They will not support schools and help them improve. Is it because they don’t know how to do these things? Or because they don’t care to?

This is the true civil rights issue of our time.