NYC: More authority to achieve

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Empowerment schools get a mixture of carrots and sticks to prod principals to act like entrepreneurs.

Perks offered to empowerment schools:

Extra funding. On average, an additional $150,000 in discretionary funds per school. The district also gave principals the power to shift more money already in their budgets.

Peer support networks. Empowerment schools organized themselves into networks of 20 or so schools, based on common educational interests. Each network has a support team that helps with day-to-day operations, special education services and instruction. Schools in each network weigh in on hiring and evaluating the support team. Networks also have outside partners, usually non-profit educational groups that have experience working with schools. One such partner, Urban Assembly, contracted to provide the support services.

Educational control. Principals now have authority over professional development, curriculum, scheduling, auxiliary programs (such as summer school and Saturday academies) and new teacher mentoring. Schools that opt not to use the district’s curriculum must have their alternative approved by the NYC Department of Education.

Administrative freedom. Principals are freed from board reporting requirements, district meetings and other administrative duties and paperwork. They also have more control over purchasing outside services.

In return for autonomy, principals must:

Sign performance contracts. Principals sign four-year contracts that outline their new powers and specify that their schools will be subject to annual review. Principals can opt out of the deal, but only between July 1 and July 15 of each year. New principals are bound by the agreement, too, unless they opt out during the July window.

Meet performance goals. Schools will receive a grade of “A” to “F” based on student performance and the school environment. Annual achievement targets are set based on a school’s previous performance and the performance of other comparable schools. Progress will count more than overall performance. Schools will also get extra credit if the network they belong to makes progress in raising test scores of students in the bottom third of all students citywide.

Undergo quality reviews. Evaluators will visit schools regularly to assess five areas: effective use of student performance data, setting educational goals, aligning instruction, developing instructional leadership, and revising instruction to meet achievement goals. In each category, schools will be rated “well-developed,” “proficient” or “undeveloped.”

Depending on progress, schools will:

Earn rewards. Schools that receive a grade of “A” and a quality rating of “well-developed” or “proficient” will get even more money and will be designated a demonstration site for other schools. Schools that receive an “A” or “B” and high quality ratings will receive extra funding for each transfer student they accept from a low-performing school.

Suffer consequences. Schools that receive a “D” or “F” in any one year, or a “C” for three consecutive years, will be subject to sanctions, including loss of freedom to do their own academic planning, replacement of the principal, school restructuring or, ultimately, school closure.