number crunching

A list of lists about the data beneath the city's progress reports

As any teacher or student can attest, there’s only so much that a letter grade can tell you about the person who earned it, even if it’s an A.

That’s even more true for the city’s progress report grades, released for the 2011-2012 school year on Monday. Schools get a single letter grade after the Department of Education crunches hundreds of data points, using complex algorithms to measure the schools against each other in addition to absolute standards. The department has a small fleet of officials generating the annual grades, and the spreadsheet containing the underlying data for this year’s scores stretched to 240 columns.

We sorted and re-sorted the spreadsheet to look at some of the city’s many measures of school quality in different ways. Here are a few of the most interesting things we found — and leave a comment to share your data-driven observations.

Four of the top five highest-scoring schools also made the top five last year (marked with an asterisk):

It Takes A Village Academy (Brooklyn)*
Manhattan Village Academy (Manhattan)*
Academy for Careers and Television in Film (Queens)
Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design (Brooklyn)*
Brooklyn International High School (Brooklyn)*

Four of the five lowest-scoring schools are in Manhattan:

Academy for Social Action: A College Board School (Manhattan)
Choir Academy of Harlem (Manhattan)
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School (Manhattan)
Boys and Girls High School (Brooklyn)
High School of Graphic Communication Arts (Manhattan)

At 49 schools, less than 5 percent of 2008’s ninth-graders graduated this year ready for college. Of them, six got A’s:

School for Excellence (Bronx)
Unity Center for Urban Technologies (Manhattan)
El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice (Brooklyn)
Pan-American International High School (Bronx)
Frances Perkins Academy (Brooklyn)
The Facing History School (Manhattan)

At five schools, not a single graduate earned a Regents diploma or met CUNY’s basic standards:

FDNY School for Fire & Life Safety (Brooklyn) got a B
Performance Conservatory High School (Bronx) is closing
Multicultural High School (Brooklyn) got a D
Opportunity Charter School (Manhattan) did not receive a grade
Frederick Douglass Academy IV Secondary School (Brooklyn) got a D

At three schools, all highly selective, not a single member of the class of 2012 would need remediation at CUNY colleges:

Staten Island Technical High School
Townsend Harris High School
High School of American Studies at Lehman College

Four schools — three of them transfer schools (marked with an asterisk) — benefited from the rule that prevents schools with relatively high graduation rates from scoring lower than a C:

Frederick Douglass Academy (Manhattan)
Innovation Diploma Plus High School (Manhattan)
W.E.B. DuBois Academic High School (Brooklyn)
Bronx Haven High School (Bronx)

The seventeen high schools that the city tried but failed to close through “turnaround” received mixed grades:

Alfred E. Smith CTE High School (Bronx) got a B
August Martin High School (Queens) got a D
Automotive High School (Brooklyn) got a C
Banana Kelly High School (Bronx) got a C
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School (Manhattan) got an F
Bronx High School of Business (Bronx) got a C
Flushing High School (Queens) got a D
Fordham Leadership Academy (Bronx) got an F
Herbert H. Lehman High School (Bronx) got an D
High School Of Graphic Communication Arts (Manhattan) got an F
John Adams High School (Queens) got a C
John Dewey High School (Brooklyn) got a B
Long Island City High School (Queens) got a C
Newtown High School (Queens) got a B
Richmond Hill High School (Queens) got a C
Sheepshead Bay High School (Brooklyn) got a D
William Cullen Bryant High School (Queens) got a C

As did the 13 high schools the city considered for closure last year but did not try to close:

Academy For Scholarship And Entrepreneurship: A College Board School (Bronx) got a B
Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory School (Queens) got a D
Freedom Academy High School (Brooklyn) got an F
Fordham Leadership Academy For Business and Technology (Bronx) got an F
Herbert H. Lehman High School (Bronx) got an D
High School Of Graphic Communication Arts (Manhattan) got an F
Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (Brooklyn) got a C
Law, Government And Community Service High School (Queens) got a D
Wadleigh Secondary School For Performing Arts (Manhattan) got a C

One charter high school that the city lost a legal fight to close got a grade that works in its favor:

Williamsburg Charter High School (Brooklyn) got a B, up from a C

One school did not get a grade this year because its data raised red flags with department officials:

Bronx Health Sciences High School

Seven schools whose data raised red flags last year got scores this year even though investigations into possible improprieties are not over:

Bronx Aerospace (Bronx) got an A
Bushwick School for Social Justice (Brooklyn) got a B
FDNY School for Fire & Life Safety (Brooklyn) got a B
Foundations Academy (Brooklyn) got an F
PULSE (Bronx) got a B
School for International Studies (Brooklyn) got a B
Theatre Arts Production Company (Bronx) got a B

And five other schools where the city opened investigations after an internal audit of academic data got grades anyway:

Brooklyn School for Music and Theater got a B
Fordham Leadership Academy (Bronx) got an F
Fort Hamilton High School (Brooklyn) got a B
Hillcrest High School (Queens) got a B
John Adams High School (Queens) got a C

Nine charter high schools got progress report grades, three for the first time (marked with asterisks):

New Heights Academy Charter School got an A for the third straight year
International Leadership Charter School (Bronx) went from a C to an A
Renaissance Charter School (Queens) got a B
Harlem Village Academy (Manhattan) got a C
Williamsburg Charter High School (Brooklyn) got a B
Bronx Preparatory Charter School (Bronx) fell to a D after two straight C’s
Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy Charter School (Manhattan) got an A*
Green Dot Charter High School (Bronx) got an A*
NYC Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries (Bronx) got a B*

Thirty-seven high schools got progress report grades for the first time because they graduated their first classes. Their grade distribution exactly matched the city average. One school got an F:

Foundations Academy (Brooklyn)

Eighty-four schools did not get progress report grades because they are less than four years old or are phasing out.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”