N.Y. Study Advocates Improved Process for Intervention in Schools

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New York state's process for intervening in low-performing schools should be strengthened to address many of the systemwide problems that contribute to school failure, a new study suggests.

Among those problems are high student-mobility rates and large proportions of inexperienced teachers, concludes the study by the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University.

The study looked at the state's Schools Under Registration Review Program, one of the longest-running programs for intervening in failing schools in the nation, and was conducted for the state education department.

After the study's release last month, Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills announced a series of actions the state will take over the next year to strengthen the SURR program. "These initiatives will make a good program better," he said in a statement. "Last year, I was able to remove 21 schools from Registration Review. With these steps, I expect even greater success in the future."

District Role

The study found that the state's efforts to intervene in failing schools are "among the most comprehensive and rigorous of such efforts" in the country. Yet it outlined several areas where improvement is needed.

Between the 1989-90 school year, when the program began, and 1996-97, the state identified 139 schools whose performance was so dismal that they were at risk of school closure. Of those, 40 improved enough to come off the SURR list or were reorganized or closed, and 99 remained on the list as of 1996-97. Currently, 98 public schools in the state, including 94 in New York City, are under review.

The study found that many SURR schools were deeply affected by district policies that contributed to their difficulties. For example, in some cases, feeder patterns funneled all the students from low-performing elementary schools into one or two middle schools.

And many principals and teachers surveyed viewed their districts as uninvolved or uninterested in their schools' improvement.

Where a school's low performance seems closely linked to district actions, or where a district continues to house a large number of low-performing schools, the study suggests, the state should develop stronger sanctions to motivate districts.

The study also found that despite an array of supports and services available to SURR schools, the state had no comprehensive list of what services each school was receiving. It concluded that "support to SURR schools remains a patchwork whose utility is often diminished by staff turnover."

Carol Ascher, the primary author of the study, said its goal was not to excuse failure, ''but to say that if you want these schools to succeed, these community factors have to be taken seriously."

Among the changes outlined by Mr. Mills are better training for the teams sent in to diagnose the causes of a school's failure; greater collaboration with other agencies to address the needs of children and families in SURR schools; and efforts to improve the quality of the teaching staffs at SURR schools.

Since 1995, New York City officials have aggressively targeted the needs of their low-performing schools. The city has created a separate "Chancellor's District" for troubled schools whose districts had been unable or unwilling to help them, and has devised a self-assessment tool for schools.

Vol. 17, Issue 42, Page 22

Published in Print: July 8, 1998, as N.Y. Study Advocates Improved Process for Intervention in Schools
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