When they came to office, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña called for an end to the Bloomberg-era focus on identifying and closing ineffective schools. Instead, they promised to try as never before to turn these schools around. The city's Renewal Schools program, which designated some very low-performing schools with extra funding, community support, and social services, is a big bet on that approach.
Thus far, the media has deemed Renewal Schools a failure because several have not met their performance targets. That's unfair. Meeting arbitrary targets is inconsequential. What matters is whether the schools are better than they would have been otherwise and relative to pursuing alternative approaches with the same resources.
In a forthcoming Manhattan Institute report, I show that renewal schools have gotten better. But these gains come at a high cost relative to alternatives.
I compared test scores in Renewal Schools before and after the intervention to those of other schools in the city over the same time period. I find evidence that being designated a Renewal School is associated with increased average math scores in the school. (I also find gains in ELA scores, but rescaling on that test makes those results suspicious.)
Renewal Schools are better than they would have been otherwise. But don't be fooled: They aren't good schools. And both kids and taxpayers likely would be better off had the administration simply continued on the previous course.