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De Blasio to Use CompStat-Style 'War Room' to Help Fix Failing Schools

By Jeff Mays | March 20, 2015 1:24pm
 Mayor Bill De Blasio to Use CompStat to Help Fix Failing Schools. Here, de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray visit a school.
Mayor Bill De Blasio to Use CompStat to Help Fix Failing Schools. Here, de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray visit a school.
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Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office.

NEW YORK CITY — To hear Mayor Bill de Blasio tell it, improving failing schools is like the war on crime.

That's why his effort to turn around 94 failing schools will utilize a military approach that includes a "war room" and will also deploy a data system similar to CompStat, the model the NYPD uses to hold its precinct commanders accountable, the mayor said Thursday at Richmond Hill High School in Queens.

"As I said, to put this into military terms, Aimee Horowitz is the general of the army and she is the person mounting this huge effort," the mayor said referring to the executive superintendent for the $150 million School Renewal Program.

"And we have a war room...where we are now mapping out each and every piece of the renewal schools effort."

Announced in November, the program is designed to give 94 failing schools the intensive support they need to change course.

"We are going to borrow from a great New York success story which is CompStat and use the same approaches to turning around these schools," de Blasio said.

Horowitz attended a CompStat meeting Thursday and will employ some of the same tactics the NYPD uses to address problems such as using data to drill down on certain trends. Details about specific data points were still being arranged.

Just like precinct commanders have to explain to NYPD brass what they are doing to tackle crime hotspots, principals and superintendents of the failing schools will have to explain to senior Department of Education officials what steps they are taking to turn around these schools.

"We are going to hold every one of the principals to the same kinds of standards that our precinct commanders are held to via CompStat. They will get the same kind of forceful questioning and they will also get the support to succeed," said de Blasio.

"They have to come back and show that they've taken the critique and put it into action."

Horowitz said she came up with the idea to use the CompStat model to help fix the failing schools. The mayor has dispatched the heads of the NYPD's CompStat efforts to assist Horowitz.

They've already had one "war room" meeting where five superintendents were present.

Horowitz said they are already tweaking the system because the number of superintendents in the first meeting didn't allow for the level of in-depth questioning they were hoping for.

De Blasio's use of military and police metaphors—at one point the mayor talked of sending in  "SWAT" teams of educators to fix failing schools— came under criticism from observers.

"Our schools are not our streets. Mayor de Blasio's approach for fixing New York's failing schools by using a crime reporting tool is wrongheaded," Joe Herrera, a parent and organizer with Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school advocacy group, said in a statement.

David Bloomfield, professor of Education Leadership at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said the use of CompStat and military metaphors is more about looking tough.

Bloomfield feels the mayor's plan does not focus enough on looking at the entire school system to fix failing schools.

"He's looking at the schools on a school-by-school basis instead of looking at the whole system," said Bloomfield. "By changing school demographics, he can change a school's performance."

Leonie Haimson, executive director of advocacy group Class Size Matters, applauded the effort to use data to fix failing schools but issued a warning.

"You have to use the data and attack problems at the school level but you can look at the right data and the wrong data," she said.

Class size at failing schools should be one of those data points, said Haimson.

De Blasio's plan to fix failing schools contrasts with a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would allow failing schools to be placed under state receivership. The governor has also proposed lifting the cap on the number of charter schools.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and others have criticized the proposal as a way to allow charters to take over failing schools.

De Blasio said his program to fix failing schools is already seeing success.

At Richmond Hill there has been a 7 percent increase across all grade levels in the number of students on track to graduate since November. There are 83 more 11th graders, an increase of 20 percent, now on track to graduate.

Enrollment in afterschool programs tripled to 413 from 143 and serious violent incidents are down at the school, the mayor said.

"The school is becoming more orderly, more committed," said de Blasio.