In the ruins of Renewal Schools program, help the students

A chalkboard.
A chalkboard. Photo Credit: NYPD

In ending NYC’s $773 million Renewal Schools program, Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza admitted that the program meant to turn around dozens of failing schools had flaws.

But what they’ve left is a muddied path forward.

The Renewal moniker, which city officials said was a problem because parents didn’t want to send their children to those schools, will be dropped. But the funding, professional development, additional learning opportunities, after-school programs and other extras will remain — and could expand to other schools that might need extra services, but weren’t labeled as Renewal schools.

That sounds like it’s more of the same — Renewal without the title. However, if it allows other troubled schools to take advantage of the dollars and programs only Renewal Schools got, it could move more schools forward. But without a more definitive plan for each, we might still be left with struggling students at failing schools.

To its credit, the city Department of Education issued an extensive analysis of the Renewal effort. At the heart of the difference between schools that improved and those that didn’t was staffing, leadership and accountability.

That’s not surprising, but addressing those issues is key. One way: Build on and expand efforts to provide incentives for teachers who choose to work in struggling schools, or for those who start on leadership tracks.

The post-Renewal effort has to be targeted and thoughtful, a mix of successful models here and elsewhere and a willingness to try something new, with constant follow-up and adjustment. The city’s plan for an EduStat real-time data system could help officials figure out what works. But as discussion statewide focuses on how to provide funding to individual schools that need it most, it’s important that the right schools receive extra dollars and use the funds properly. Without the official Renewal program in place, there’s a danger that the spotlight that was on those schools will wane. Clear metrics, a timetable for progress, and regular public reporting will be necessary, too.

Because beyond the labels, reports and news releases, there are thousands of students who deserve better.