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Laura Waters

It's an ‘All-Out War on Failure’ in These Two Bronx Schools

Chalkbeat reported earlier this week that New York City Chancellor Carmen Fariña and New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, equipped with dueling improvement plans, visited two Bronx schools that are among the 50 lowest-performing in the city. The state’s plan would put them both into receivership, which means that they have no more than two years to improve or “face takeover by an outside group.” The city’s more lenient plan would place them in the “Renewal” process, which sets a three-year timeline for less granular measures of improvement and also provides more money. As Chalkbeat explains:
The city and state have not always seen eye to eye on turning around struggling schools. De Blasio portrayed the Renewal program as an all-out war on failure in order to prove that the city is capable of crafting its own turnaround model.

Can’t Not Take It Personal

This is kind of personal for me. I was born in the Bronx and my family lived on Jerome Avenue in a one-bedroom apartment until it wasn’t big enough because my mom was pregnant with her third child. We were lucky to be able to afford the option of moving (my folks both worked for the New York City Board of Education, my dad as a high school social studies teacher and my mom as a social worker), not only to a more spacious residence but also out of the Bronx to Queens. If we had stayed in our neighborhood, I would have attended P.S. 033, also known as Timothy Dwight Elementary School, which serves students pre-K through 5. This school isn’t on the list of New York City’s lowest-performing schools but, trust me, you wouldn’t want to send your kids there. The city’s Department of Education claims that it’s meeting almost all of its proficiency targets. But based on state tests (pre-Common Core-aligned), only 26 percent of students met proficiency standards in English and 18 percent met proficiency standards in math. Of course, the children have many needs: 90 percent are economically disadvantaged, 34 percent are English language learners, and 32 percent are chronically absent. Interestingly, 93 percent of this school’s former fifth-graders successfully passed their sixth-grade courses in math, English, social studies and science. That should tell you less about student achievement and more about district expectations, at least in poor minority sections of the Bronx. Can Mayor de Blasio kick-start his “war on failure” without outside interference? He’s claiming that he can, although schools like P.S. 033 has had decades to improve. We’ll wait with Commissioner Elia and see if he’s as good as his word.

Not To Dis My Own Schoolyard, But...

One other note: according to New York City’s Elementary School Snapshot, 98 percent of parents at P.S. 033 “are satisfied with the education that their child has received.” This tracks with Education Post’s recent survey of parent attitudes on testing, standards, choice, accountability, issues of poverty and parental responsibility. In this poll, parents were asked whether education in the U.S. was “on the right track” and also asked to rate their local schools. The poll’s results are disaggregated, so since P.S. 033 is mostly Hispanic, let’s stick with that demographic. Forty-eight percent of Hispanic parents think the nation’s schools are going in the right direction and 38 percent think they’re on the “wrong track.” But 56 percent applaud their local schools and only 29 percent denigrate them. This juxtaposition of national misgivings with local trust is familiar to those who examine perceptions of educational quality. It’s really hard to dis your own schoolyard, not when your parents played there too. And schools are more than just brick-and-mortar: to some, they’re churches, safe havens and repositories of hope. These sensibilities are both strengths and obstacles to education reform.  
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks and NJ Spotlight. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years. An earlier version of this post appeared on her blog as Duelling School Improvement Plans for De Blasio/Farina and NY Comm. Elia.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years ...

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