Pity the kids trapped in schools the mayor is failing to fix

The city’s Department of Education was forced this month to admit, in effect, that Mayor de Blasio’s signature education initiative, the “Renewal Schools” program, is flailing — with students fleeing in droves.

De Blasio & Co. were supposed to turn around these chronically struggling schools. But they’ve failed. And now, data released this month shows that enrollment has been dropping sharply — indeed, it’s been plummeting ever since the mayor announced the program with much fanfare two years ago.

The nosedive comes at a time when demand for seats in charter schools is skyrocketing, and charter waiting lists are bursting at the seams. Families in underserved communities throughout the city are left to ask what it will take for the mayor to put aside his narrow political agenda and expand school choice for our most vulnerable children.

Among the 86 Renewal Schools citywide, enrollment has dropped from 44,000 to 38,000 — a stunning 14 percent drop in just two short years; 24 out of the 86 schools saw more than a 10 percent decline from just last year to the start of this one.

Families are pulling their children out of these schools because the mayor’s misguided approach isn’t working. City Hall has poured millions of taxpayer dollars into his Renewal School program and designated them “community schools” — meaning, in part, they’ll qualify for washing machines and dryers. That’s great, but chronically struggling schools need a real turnaround plan that focuses on actually boosting academic achievement.

The stark reality is that district schools are failing their students, and parents want better options. And while performance at Renewal Schools continues to lag, charter schools serving the same communities are far outperforming traditional district schools.

Drilling down on specific neighborhoods highlights the core problem. Take District 9 in the South Bronx, with its 13 Renewal Schools — the most in the city. Schools in this district collectively lost nearly 400 students in the past two years.

It’s clear why: The schools are not successfully teaching kids. Just 5 percent of students perform on grade level in math and 10 percent are proficient in reading.

Charter schools in District 9 had far greater success: 45 percent of the district’s charter kids are proficient in reading, and 50 percent are in math. Serving the same population of students, charter schools proved much more effective in achieving better academic outcomes for kids.

Parents in District 9 are smart: They understand the difference between the schools and want the best for their kids — which means trying to get them into a charter.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough charter seats. So close to 4,000 kids from District 9 alone are stuck on charter-school waiting lists.

Here’s the most tragic part: Despite the clear evidence of how charter schools outperform regular public schools in their districts, and despite the overwhelming clamor for more charter seats, de Blasio has fought tooth and nail against expanding charters and school choice for New York City families.

For the mayor, it’s all about politics and his reelection campaign: He needs the help of the powerful teachers’ union to prevent a primary challenge next year, and the union opposes charter schools (which are largely not unionized and put the union-run schools to shame). So he’s willing to disregard the needs of families in low-income neighborhoods.

De Blasio’s political strategy, of course, won’t help Pedro Augusto, whose daughter, Lea, attends PS 463 in The Bronx.

Lea is one of nearly 2,000 students enrolled in the six Renewal Schools in District 12 and one of 700 in that district stuck on a charter-school waiting list.

Proficiency rates in District 12 are dismal (16.3 percent in reading and 14.7 percent in math). But charter schools there provide hope (nearly 40 percent proficiency in reading and math).

Pedro hopes to one day get a spot for his daughter in a high-performing charter.

Here’s the bottom line: Families of students in “Renewal Schools” are trapped by the mayor’s failed policies every day. They’re fed up with the empty rhetoric and are hungry for real change.

Enrollment at the mayor’s schools will continue to nosedive until he starts to put their needs ahead of politics. And that means expanding charters and school choice.

Jenny Sedlis is the executive director for StudentsFirstNY, an education reform organization.

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