This past Spring, State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia raised the quality ratings of almost half of New York State’s previously identified failing and persistently failing public schools. That sounds like good news, but it’s not.
Of 145 ‘struggling’ or ‘persistently struggling’ schools in New York State, 70 were assigned higher and more acceptable quality designations. Of those 70 schools, most made shockingly minimal progress. Of the elementary and middle schools taken off the persistently struggling list, the average English/Language Arts (ELA) proficiency rate went from 7% students proficient in 2014 to just 9% proficient in 2015. A number of re-designated schools made zero progress in raising student proficiency or high school graduation rates. Some actually saw declines on these outcomes.
The significance of New York State and Commissioner Elia’s questionable re-rating of failing and persistently failing schools is not one simply of truth in advertising. State school quality designations typically drive targeted funding linked to commensurately intensive interventions designed to boost student academic proficiency, raise high school graduation rates, and narrow achievement gaps.
We understand the political pressures the State Department of Education is under to remove “failing” or “struggling” designations from schools. But if New York State continues the practice of limiting policy options for students stuck in abysmally performing schools, the state is almost certain to continue its slump in student academic progress of the past few years. And children, disproportionately low-income and minority children, will suffer the consequences.