De Blasio Pledged Progress for Schools. For $582 Million, Change Is Slow.

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, which were first published by the education website Chalkbeat, 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 grades 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.

When looking at both the 2015 and 2016 school years, the program improved schools’ scores in reading, but not math. If only 2016 is examined, students gained roughly 49 days of extra schooling in reading and 33 days of additional schooling in math, though not all grades benefited.

But even that improvement is tempered by the program’s significant price tag, said Mr. Winters. Mr. Bloomberg’s policies, he said, provided at least comparable gains at less cost in their first year — improving scores by 36 days in reading and 72 days in math.

“Put in context of what could be done at a lower cost, I think it is at least disappointing,” Mr. Winters said.

The Education Department disputed this dim view, saying that many schools were showing progress.

“It’s moving in the right direction,” Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, said in an interview, citing improvements like increased student attendance, academic gains and teacher retention. “It’s not perfect,” she said of the results so far. “This is ongoing work.”

Eric Ashton, the executive director for school performance at the city’s Department of Education, vigorously disputed both studies. He said comparing the trajectory of Renewal schools to ones that were not selected for the program is flawed. Schools that were not chosen, he said, were deemed by the department to be on a different, more promising path.

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Carmen Fariña, the city’s schools chancellor, right, spoke with teachers at the event in August. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

In 2014, before the program began, 6.5 percent of students at the schools chosen for Renewal passed the reading exam; 5.7 percent passed the math portion of the exam. For high schools placed in the program, the four-year graduation rate was 52.1 percent in 2014.

Citywide that year, 29.4 percent of students passed the reading exam and 34.5 percent passed in math, while 68.4 percent of high schoolers graduated in four years.

The New York Times analyzed Renewal test scores by comparing their progress with growth of the city’s scores over all. Most schools failed to narrow the gap between their test scores and the city average.

At some Renewal schools, however, test scores improved more than they did for the city over all, sometimes by a substantial margin. And some principals and community-based organizations say the program has imparted substantial benefits. They say teachers are happy to work in schools where there is support for things like attendance, and where they can focus on academics.

Brian Bradley, principal of the Renaissance School of the Arts in East Harlem, said the additional instruction offered to Renewal School teachers was a significant benefit to his school, especially because he had a lot of new teachers in the fall of 2015. “They moved leaps and bounds,” he said.

Sean Licata, principal of a middle school in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx, recently renamed Leaders of Tomorrow, said Renewal “really accelerated growth” at his school. When he arrived at the school six years ago, previous administrators had decided that students had to stay in one classroom all day for safety reasons. Teachers circulated between rooms, pushing their materials around on carts.

“It was not a kid-friendly place,” Mr. Licata said.

After the 2015-16 school year, Mr. Licata’s school was merged with another school in the building, and he set out to hire 16 new staff members. He said some of the teacher leadership opportunities available through Renewal, which offered additional pay, allowed him to entice highly rated teachers from other schools. This year, the only teacher who left his school retired.

Ms. Fariña said that as the program has moved along, the city has made adjustments. Parent engagement has been broadened from an initial focus on student attendance to a more comprehensive understanding of family challenges. The community-based organizations paired with certain schools have been changed. Many principals have been removed, and more may be. Nine schools have been closed, and nine Renewal schools have been merged into other institutions, leaving the 78 schools. Ms. Fariña said that gathering more schools under the Renewal banner is “under discussion.”

“Keep in mind that many of these schools had been neglected for years and years,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to do all things quickly.”

Amanda Martinez, whose son Raymond Andrews was a student at P.S. 154 Jonathan D. Hyatt in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, decided not to wait for progress. Raymond was a student there from prekindergarten through fourth grade, and had been held back a grade.

“He was falling behind, and every time I raised concerns with the school, there was no communication,” Ms. Martinez said.

The school was declared a Renewal school in the fall of 2014, and Ms. Martinez transferred her son out in the summer of 2016. She said that if changes had been made, she had not seen them. Last year, her son started at Success Academy Bronx 1, part of a network of high-performing charter schools for which families must enter a lottery to enroll. At Success, his performance on the state test scores has shot up. Last year at his school, 85 percent of students passed the reading test and 97 percent of them passed in math.

Though Ms. Martinez said she did not see changes, P.S. 154, too, has shown promising growth. According to The Times’s analysis, the school narrowed the gap between its test scores and those of the city in both reading and math over the past two years. Last year, 26 percent of its students passed the math test and 32 percent passed in reading — more than double the percentage of students who passed in each subject in 2014, the year before Renewal began. Citywide last year, 38 percent of students were proficient in math and 41 percent in English. The education department called P.S. 154 one of the city’s highest-performing Renewal schools, and said educators from across the city and state have come to its classrooms to see its work.

But success, too, can bring a level of uncertainty to Renewal schools. If a school graduates from the program, many of the pieces that helped it improve will go away. How will the schools fare then?

“The thing we’re nervous about is losing any of these resources,” said Mr. Bradley of Renaissance School of the Arts. “Renewal is the bomb. I want to be renewed forever.”

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Source: New York Times

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