network analysis

Report: School support networks had little impact on student achievement

PHOTO: Creative Commons, courtesy wallyg
Tweed Courthouse, Department of Education headquarters

The city’s school-support networks have had little overall impact on student achievement, failing to overcome the powerful link between students’ backgrounds and their academic performance, according to a new report. The report comes as Chancellor Carmen Fariña is set to overhaul the school-support system.

Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decentralized school system, schools received instructional and operational support from whichever networks they chose to join. The network a school is part of can predict to a small degree how well it will do academically, according to the independent report by researchers at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

But when schools’ varying demographic data — students’ race and ethnicity, poverty level, or special needs — are held constant, the networks have “little, if any” effect on schools’ academic performance, the researchers found. Meanwhile, the makeup of a school’s student body remains a strong predictor of its academic success, the report adds.

“Demography still seems to determine destiny in the current, network-organized school system,” according to the study, which will be published next month and was first reported by the New York Daily News.

Annenberg sent a draft to reporters ahead of a speech by Chancellor Carmen Fariña Thursday, where she will announce details of a new school governance system. She is widely expected to dismantle most of the 57 support networks, in which case the report could help justify the shakeup.

The researchers looked at publicly available test scores and graduation rates from 2010 to 2012 for each networks’ schools. Using statistical analysis and modeling, they found that up to nearly 30 percent of the variation in academic outcomes among schools could be explained by which network a school belongs to. However, far more of the variation — up to 90 percent for middle score reading scores, for example — was associated with the student population that a given school serves.

The researchers also conducted another analysis where they measured how well a hypothetical school in each network would perform academically if its student population matched the citywide averages. When they controlled for demographics in that way, they found that networks had very little impact on elementary and middle school academics. (However, the same did not hold true for high school graduation rates.)

Instead, most networks in that analysis hovered close to the citywide average. The researchers said they could not find any “beat-the-odds” networks whose schools had academic results that significantly exceeded the average for all networks.

“We could not see, in the analysis we did, that the networks as a whole have any positive or negative effects on schools, especially when you compare that to the effects of demographics,” said co-author Norm Fruchter, who also is a member of the city’s educational oversight board, the Panel for Educational Policy.

The report offers a limited view of networks, which the authors acknowledge. It focuses narrowly on the average results of the networks’ schools in those three years, rather than trying to measure how students’ performance changed over time. It does not look at how individual schools fared under the network system, nor does it examine the practices of any particular network.

“It’s looking from 32,000 feet,” Fruchter said. “It’s not saying that there are no successful networks or networks that were successful with individual schools.”

The report, which Annenberg funded and conducted independently of the city, also looked at the student populations of the schools in each network.

It found wide variation, with some networks supporting more schools with high-needs students than others. However, it also noted that the networks each serve a greater mix of racial and ethnic student groups than the districts that preceded them. The report attributes this to the fact that, unlike districts, the networks are non-geographic and span multiple boroughs.

The report makes a few recommendations, including that struggling schools be given more intensive support than they have received under the network system. A 2013 study commissioned by the Bloomberg administration made a similar suggestion.

That report by the Parthenon Group did not analyze the overall impact of networks on students’ academic performance. However, it did say that surveys and interviews showed that many principals preferred the network system.

“When the DOE asks schools to rate their satisfaction with the service they receive from various central offices, the network teams are consistently rated far higher than other central supports,” the report said.

Update: Here is the full report.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”