Study Shows State’s SURR Process Misses District-Level Causes Of Low School Performance

New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy today released Schools on Notice, a report to the State on the results from year one (1996-97) of a 2-year policy study of the New York State Education Department’s Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) process, which targets the state’s low-performing schools for assistance and possible closure.

Comparing New York’s process to those across the nation, the study found that the New York State Education Department’s 11-year effort to intervene in failing schools is among the most comprehensive and rigorous in the nation. (New York has identified 140 schools since 1989, of which 40 have either improved sufficiently to be removed from the SURR list or were reorganized or closed.)

According to NYU researchers, New York’s SURR schools are all neglected schools serving low-income children of color. Moreover, there are “SURR corridors” through which many of these children move throughout their entire public school education.

The report focused on the gap between the resources the State currently provides and the scale of effort necessary to improve these schools sufficiently.

The researchers also found that, despite the commonality of low test scores, the sources of neglect are different in SURR schools, and require different strategies to create genuine improvement.

The study also revealed 2 key areas for needed change in the current SURR process:

1) SURR Process Needs to Address District-Level Factors in Low Performance

The SURR process puts the onus for improvement on individual schools. However, particularly in New York City, many of the root causes of low-performance stem from neglect at the district level. For example, nearly 30 percent of the teachers at SURR elementary schools, compared to only 7.6 percent in high-performing schools, are neither fully licensed nor fully assigned. Likewise, over 30 percent of the teachers in SURR elementary schools have no advanced degrees compared to only 18 percent of the teachers in high-performing schools. Teachers in SURR schools also have a 10 percent higher absentee rate than those in high-performing schools.

2) SURR Process Must Deal with Governance Layers

In NYC, State improvement efforts must work with and through two intervening layers of governance: the Citywide Board of Education and the community school districts and high school superintendencies. In addition to setting standards for schools and districts, SED must find ways to assist local school improvement when the intervening layers are either disinclined or unable to respond effectively.

Study author Carol Ascher – a Senior Research Scientist at NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy — said, “In some communities there are corridors of SURR schools, and children spend their entire educational careers in these low-performing schools. Though the State process can pressure these schools to make rapid improvements in test scores, the long process of reculturing necessary to creating good schools is much more difficult. Without major changes in the support SURR schools receive, children attending these schools will still not receive the high-quality education that middle-class children receive.”

Norm Fruchter, the director of the Institute and a coauthor of the study said,” “The New York State Education Department’s 11-year effort to intervene in failing schools is among the most comprehensive in the nation.

“But beyond the identification of failing schools, we need to discover how best to help them improve, and what resources and supports both the State and school districts need to provide. Our report provides some guidelines for these efforts.”

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said, “We are announcing today a series of steps to improve the SURR program. These steps make the SURR program an even more effective tool for strengthening the low performing schools throughout the State.

‘This NYU study is an example of the State Education Department’s commitment to research-based solutions to problems.”

Schools on Notice was written by Carol Ascher, Ken Ikeda and Norm Fruchter.

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