Columnist

Through hard work, New York City schools are making progress

By Carmen Fariña |  

March 2, 2016 |  

(Rob Bennett / Mayor's Office)

Two years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio and I began the hard work of turning around our school system. Part of whole-system school reform is finally investing in schools that have struggled for years and lacked critical resources, proper training and access to cutting-edge curriculum. While turnaround doesn’t happen overnight, Mayor de Blasio and I are committed to this difficult challenge, and we’re seeing progress.

Last year, the state Legislature named 91 New York City schools as subject to takeover by an outside entity if they didn’t make substantive academic gains. Most of these struggling schools were also selected for our School Renewal Program, where they’ve received extended learning time, new social services, and new targeted teacher training. There are new principals at more than one-third of Renewal Schools to ensure that strong leadership accompanies the new supports and resources. And with better leadership and support comes accountability: We’ve set rigorous student achievement benchmarks for every Renewal School to meet.

Last week – a year into the Renewal Program – the state released this year’s list of low-performing schools. The number of city schools on the possible takeover list plummeted – from 91 down to 27. Of the schools that have exited the list, 44 were removed for academic progress and 20 due to closure or consolidation. We’re already seeing our aggressive reforms at Renewal Schools yielding progress, and if they don’t, closure does remain an option.

New York City also saw a 25 percent drop in its number of Priority Schools – another classification the state Education Department uses to identify the lowest-performing schools – from the original list of Priority Schools announced in 2012-13.

Student achievement is increasing at our Renewal and struggling schools, but not just there – we’re driving reform across all our schools. A new Independent Budget Office analysis shows that New York City schools are performing better now on standardized exams compared with the rest of the state than at any time in the last decade. And, when it takes into account the high needs of city students, the IBO finds that our schools are actually doing better than schools in the rest of the state.

Our high school graduation rates are the highest they’ve ever been – rising above 70 percent for the first time – while the dropout rate fell to 9 percent, the lowest it’s ever been. We saw both of these improvements across all ethnicities.

These numbers are not a coincidence. New York state has the highest standards in the nation and students in New York City are rising to the challenge.

These are critical gains, but we have so much work to do. We’ve laid out a vision in our Equity and Excellence agenda to increase the graduation rate to 80 percent and ensure two-thirds of students are college ready. We’re changing the way we teach English and math by starting earlier with Universal 2nd Grade Literacy Support and Algebra for All. And we’re putting students on a path to college and careers with Computer Science for All, AP for All, and College Access for All.

We’ll see these innovations across all of our city’s schools. And when it comes back to struggling schools – including the 27 remaining schools on the possible takeover list – we are laser-focused on turning them around. We’re making the investments that are going to make a real difference, and we will continue to hold ourselves accountable for better student outcomes.

Over the past two years, we’ve instituted an aggressive array of reforms focused on improving learning in the classroom and we’re seeing real, concrete progress. However, this work is far from over – and we’re committed to lifting up all our schools and seeing all students achieve. Together, we will continue this progress and make New York City the best urban school district in the country.

Carmen Fariña is the chancellor of New York City schools.

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