Editor's note: The following is article by education reporter Elizabeth Harris of The New York Times
Even as New York City’s schools opened their doors for the new year this month, the clock was ticking on the future of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s boldest education initiative.
His Renewal School program, which pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to turn around the city’s most troubled schools, has entered its fourth school year, and Mr. de Blasio has said that decisions will be made in November about shutting down or merging schools that have not sufficiently improved. There are currently 78 schools in the program.
When Mr. de Blasio announced the program in November 2014, he outlined a vision in stark contrast to the policies of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg. Where Mr. Bloomberg closed schools that had performed poorly, opening hundreds of new, smaller schools in their place, Mr. de Blasio said that troubled schools would be wrapped in supports. He promised “fast, intense progress.”
Each school in the program has had an additional hour added to its school day. Teachers receive extra instruction in how to teach. Schools are paired with community-based organizations to address the needs of students and their families outside the classroom, like mental health counseling, dental care and help making sure students come to school. By the end of this school year, the city will have spent $582 million on Renewal.
But researchers, including Aaron Pallas, chairman of the department of education policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who have looked at the program’s results so far say they range from mixed to disappointing.
Mr. Pallas looked at test scores and high school graduation rates for Renewal schools during the program’s first two years and compared them with the results at other low-performing schools. His results were discouraging.
Educational trends in New York City are generally positive, Mr. Pallas said, with high school graduation rates and test scores both rising. “Renewal schools have not been improving any faster than the system — and that’s what he promised,” he said, referring to Mr. de Blasio.
Mr. Pallas cautions that it is early in the life of the program to be making judgments. “On the other hand,” he said, “it’s an expensive program and the city has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in it. And at this moment, the payoff has not been very great.”
A paper written by Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, examined how Renewal students in third through eighth grade scored on state tests. Mr. Winters found that the Renewal program afforded schools a meaningful, if modest, improvement, depending on the time period under consideration.
Liz Harris is an education reporter at The New York Times