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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Post
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Desperate City ‘Out’ to Rescue Schools

Facing a steady decline in student performance through the middle grades and pressure to combat that decline, the city is seeking an outside firm to help it devise a new “middle school strategy,” The Post has learned.

The strategy would look at everything from “school design” to staff experience and per-pupil spending, to determine why students score lower on tests as they get older.

While 61.5 percent of city third-graders were proficient in reading and 75.3 percent proficient in math last year, the percentages fell to 36.6 and 38.9 percent by eighth grade. The pattern reflected a nationwide trend.

The school plan was outlined in a recently issued Department of Education document seeking firms interested in tackling the task, and obtained by The Post. Applications are due next week.

Among the objectives detailed in the document are:

* Understanding whether schools with different grade configurations – like K-8 or 6-12 or 6-8 – have different levels of decline.

* Determining if the slump is concentrated in specific socio-economic and geographic areas of the city.

* Identifying “over-achieving” and “under-achieving” middle schools and pinpointing differences between them.

The document’s quiet release comes as a City Council-appointed task force on middle schools is devising its own recommendations to combat the crisis, suggestions the DOE has agreed to consider.

Task-force members were caught off guard by news of the consultant plan, but were cautiously optimistic that the department would cooperate with others who have a stake in middle-school reform.

“I’m astounded and I hope they’re sincere,” said task-force member Zakiyah Ansari. “My hope is that they look at what the task force recommends and what they find collectively, and implement whatever’s do-able in September to speed up the process.”

The proposal also follows a call from community groups, collectively known as the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (Make the Road by Walking is a founding member), for a “Marshall Plan” for the middle grades.

Department spokeswoman Lindsey Harr said the proposal was not a response to efforts by the task force and the coalition, noting that middle-school reform has emerged as a priority nationwide.

“This study is part of the natural progression of our ongoing commitment to address questions of middle-school achievement and get an analytical understanding of the factors at play,” Harr said.

She declined to say how much the city was willing to spend on the study, citing the ongoing competitive bidding process.