RENEWAL SCHOOL FAIL: The city dumps Renewal Schools

Stephon Johnson | 3/7/2019, 11:02 a.m.
A hailed part of Bill de Blasio’s agenda will meet its demise.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza Bill Moore photos

A hailed part of Bill de Blasio’s agenda will meet its demise.

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that the much-heralded Renewal Schools program was coming to an end. After five years and $773 million spent on almost 100 public schools, the city concluded there was barely any improvement in grades and test performance.

During a recent news conference, de Blasio said that despite it ending, the program still had some merit.

“Well, first of all, 45,000 students benefited from the Renewal initiative,” said de Blasio to reporters. “I want to make this very clear, because I think, I think some of what has been written about it misses the fact that over four years the money that was spent was helping students in real time to have better outcomes. So, 45,000 students—what did the money go to? It went to 100 percent fair student funding in all of those 94 schools; it went to community school initiatives at all 94.

“It went to summer programs, tutoring programs, mental health clinics that were available to kids in those schools, all sorts of things that we would like to see in more and more schools, and a lot of kids benefited, which is why you see across all 94 schools in total a lot of progress that was achieved in terms of increased graduation rates, better test scores, better attendance,” continued de Blasio.

The Renewal Schools program served as a “Shock Doctrine” of sorts to the city’s failing schools. De Blasio and other officials sold the program as an alternative to closing schools outright figuring a flood of money and resources could change things in a three-year span. Since the program’s inception in 2014, 21 schools have shown enough improvement to leave the Renewal Schools initiative, 14 schools were closed and nine just left the program outright.

De Blasio and Carranza both agree that there were flaws to Renewal Schools.

Carranza also said that not tailoring the program to the needs of the school and the neighborhood, instead implementing a one-size-fits-all approach, doomed it from the start. He asserted that not enough time was taken drawing up the program to make sure it worked for all parties involved.

“And I feel that I have the ability to say that, because I’ve lived and worked in five different school systems, in five different states from the West Coast to the East Coast,” said Carranza. “So, anyone tells you that they found the silver bullet, they’re going to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge next. It does not exist.”

But some aren’t leaving the announcement of Renewal Schools’ demise to stand on its own. New York State Assembly Member and former New York City mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis called for the New York City Department of Investigation to look into what she deemed “wasteful” spending of education dollars on the program.

“After $773 million dollars have been wasted by Mayor de Blasio’s Renewal Schools program, it has finally been cancelled after only a quarter of the 100 schools targeted by the program were reported to have seen any improvement at all,” stated Malliotakis. “All along I have said that these failing schools should have been closed and reopened as smaller learning institutions where more attention could be given to students. These precious education dollars could have been used to add classroom seats and supplies, make the learning experience more personalized, and foster greater opportunities for our students, yet a good portion of it was spent on lucrative contracts with vendors and high salaries for consultants, some of whom were friends of then-Chancellor Carmen Fariña.”

Despite the alleged failure of his program, the mayor remained steadfast in his belief that Renewal Schools did its job, citing a report from the state.

“…the State of New York when they came out with their most recent schools in need, for the first time more schools outside of New York City were on that list, than inside New York City,” said de Blasio. “Now, a lot of us had been here for quite a while. If you had said to me 10 years ago a day would come when there would be more troubled schools outside of New York City than inside of New York City, I would have said that was a very lofty goal.”