Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Between 2002 and 2013 the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) developed a sophisticated system to manage the city’s school supply in response to community needs. But intervention on low-performing schools has slowed, so a number of these schools persist. The district and charter sectors have some good processes in place to support families with choosing schools, and to respond to community priorities and input on school openings and closures. The city must continue to address the need for high-quality teachers and leaders and consider opportunities for high-quality charter schools to be part of a strategic plan for providing choice and quality options.


Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

In general, district- and school-level staff engage meaningfully with families during school openings and closures. District school closures, which are used as a last resort, follow a multiyear, iterative process led by the local superintendent and often only after three years in the Renewal Schools Program. District school consolidations incorporate community input through regional Community Education Councils. The same is true for the few school openings that have occurred over the last three years. Within the charter sector the degree and quality of engagement during closures depends on the school operator and authorizer. Both active authorizers in NYC require that charter school applications show community need for a new school, though schools are ultimately sited where the DOE offers space, which is often not known until after authorization. Despite the city’s robust policies, community leaders perceive that more transparency is still needed, and that a greater variety of families should be involved in the decisionmaking process.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

NYCDOE continues to partner with a variety of organizations and community members to inform the broader education strategy, and several advocacy groups outside of the DOE work with families and schools. The DOE has an abundance of partnerships with outside organizations as part of parent engagement and student support initiatives.


► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

NYCDOE’s Equity & Excellence platform includes major initiatives such as Pre–K for All and Community Schools, and DOE parent surveys show support for these two initiatives. The teachers and principals unions support the agenda put forth by the mayor and chancellor. However, some community advocates see these as piecemeal efforts rather than as a clear direction forward for citywide improvement and question the value of significant investing in the Renewal Schools Program given its mixed outcomes. Interviewees said widespread frustration also exists about continued inequities across schools and districts, the lack of diversity in the city’s elite schools, and what some see as a lackluster effort to address segregation. While the current mayor and chancellor are perceived as less antagonistic toward the charter sector now than when first elected, there is still tension over the role of charter schools in the city, and reform advocates see missed opportunities for a vision that includes all school types, especially as a number of charter schools outperform nearby district schools.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

NYCDOE is perceived by some community leaders as being fairly responsive to families and communities. The regional Community Education Councils provide opportunities for parent and community input and this feedback can shift citywide policy. For example, one local district pushed education leaders to improve how gifted and talented students were identified across the city. DOE has made a it priority to reach out to parents with limited English proficiency by providing targeted outreach with language supports, and has recently begun neighborhood-wide “visioning” conversations in some areas to steer priorities in line with community interests. However, there is still a perception among community advocacy groups that the district mostly responds to issues that are aligned with its agenda and that some issues, like equitable funding, are not on the district agenda. Advocacy organizations in the city engage parents in system-level work, but community leaders reported that parents of charter school students do not have much opportunity to influence the direction of education beyond their individual school.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


► Is transportation working for families?

NYCDOE has a unified transit policy for all public school students that provides either half-fare or free transit passes for students. Some busing is provided, depending on the school. Transportation was not reported by community or education leaders as a major barrier to accessing schools. However, long commute times to cross the city emphasize the need to provide good options in all neighborhoods.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

The district sector and the charter sector each have a separate school enrollment process. The DOE has a unified system for district high school selection and a separate unified system for district middle and elementary schools. Most charter schools (around 75%) participate in the NYC Charter School Center’s Common Application system. Despite fairly streamlined systems and increased translation and outreach efforts, community members reported that choosing schools can be difficult. Interviewees said this was especially the case at the high school level where families have no default assigned school. There is continued frustration that the admission system for the city’s eight specialized high schools does not work equitably for students of color and those from low-income neighborhoods, even after the DOE provided admission test tutoring. Admission is based on a single test and in 2018 only 10% of those admitted were African American or Latino in a system where they represent 70% of the students. Currently, admission is based on a single test, but for most of the eight elite schools it appears that admission measures could be shifted to account for multiple measures, something the mayor has the power to do. Interviewees also reported that disproportionately lower numbers of students who are English language learners attend charter schools; efforts are underway to improve recruitment and access.


► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

Currently, there is no consolidated information source to help families in the choice process. NYCDOE has two main systems for information on school options: the NYC SchoolFinder for district schools and the Charter School Directory. The NYC School Performance Dashboard and School Quality Reports provide detailed school accountability and school culture data on every school in the city, including charters, but this information is divorced from curricular, programmatic, and student service information. Despite a number of resources, community groups reported a perception that parents do not have the information they need, and most families are still learning about school options through word of mouth—or through private consultants if they can afford them. Some community advocates report that the move away from an A-F school rating system to the more complex dashboard has made it more challenging for families to interpret and compare school performance.


► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

NYCDOE has developed data-driven systems for initiating school closure, consolidation, and opening processes. Changes in the district school supply are managed at the local district level, but the DOE uses centralized performance and enrollment data to identify schools needing improvement and areas with underenrollment or overenrollment. The pace of closures has slowed (22 district schools have closed over the past three years, 45 have consolidated) compared to the prior administration (more than 140 schools closed over a decade), and while some schools have improved, low-performing schools persist, as shown in state reports. District school closures occur only after other efforts have been exhausted—generally after two to three years in DOE’s Renewal Schools Program and following an intensive engagement process. A more thoughtful and strict authorizing process has reduced the need for charter school closures, though four charters are closing in 2018. High-performing charter schools with long waitlists face multiple barriers to expansion. Additionally, facilities are in high demand by charters. Colocations can be contentious, and the charter sector perceives that the district is unwilling to provide space for charter schools  despite state requirements to do so. These hurdles can get in the way of education leaders pursuing a purely data-driven or needs-based process. The lack of a cross-sector, citywide plan for schools misses an opportunity to use charter schools to diversify and improve the school system overall.


No Score

► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Researchers did not collect school-level data to provide a score for this measure. However, district and charter sector leaders perceived a wide variety of school types and instructional models. Community leaders reported that there is a lot of variety, but not enough quality, especially in some districts. They say that for the most part, local districts work collaboratively with community members to design the type of school families want, resulting in responsive school options such as a Haitian-Creole dual-language program. In the charter sector, leaders report that most new schools are replications of existing independent schools and CMOs, but authorizers have signaled that they are prioritizing building a diverse portfolio of charter school options.

Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Does funding equitably follow students?

NYCDOE allocates more than 5% but less than 50% of district money to schools using a student-based allocation formula (based on an analysis of fiscal year 2013-14). Recently, the DOE increased the average proportion of funds available through Fair Student Funding, which is available for use at the principal’s discretion.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

New York City has a number of alternative and traditional pipelines to prepare teachers. Several NYCDOE campaigns are pushing for more diversity in the teaching profession, such as NYC Men Teach, a parent-to-teacher program, and a Bronx-specific recruitment program. DOE school leaders are empowered to retain promising teachers in their schools by providing them with leadership opportunities. The DOE has also expanded pipeline programs, although interviewees expressed concern about the quality of new applicants from the city’s teacher preparation programs. Across the city, schools from both sectors reported that they face similar gaps in high-needs subject areas such as special education, math, and science. The charter sector does not collect uniform data on teaching. Anecdotally, vacancies do not seem to be a significant issue but charter leaders worry about quality, fit, and retention.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

NYCDOE has multiple pipeline programs for preparing school leaders. Recently, the DOE increased the required teaching experience of applicants to seven years, which they hope will improve quality (although this could also limit opportunities for younger talent). All district principals are vetted by the district but hired by school teams, which is thought to improve fit. However some community leaders reported ineffectual leaders persisting in their district. The nonprofit Relay Graduate School of Education also operates a cross-sector school leader development program. Charter sector leaders perceive that quality within the sector varies, and are concerned that struggling principals may be circulating throughout the city rather than being removed from the pool.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


About New York City

As the largest public school system in the country, New York City is a leader in managing quality and choice within a complex system. Under former schools chancellor Joel Klein, New York City embarked on a portfolio management strategy that opened it to improved choice and increased school-level autonomy. While choice and autonomy remained under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, new priorities focus on universal Pre–K, investing  in struggling schools, and building community schools. The first charter school in NYC opened in 1999. Charters have grown to 10 percent of total enrollment but are limited by caps on authorizing.

School Choice in the City

New York City offers a citywide Pre–K and kindergarten choice process for all families, and 3–K for income-eligible families. Students are assigned to a neighborhood elementary school, but there are several citywide selective-enrollment choice schools in the lower grades, as well as three unzoned or partially unzoned districts (1, 7, 23). Students have limited choices for middle school, and all district high schools are available for choice. Charter schools are typically open enrollment, but some have neighborhood preferences.

Governance Model

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) operates  under the control of Mayor Bill De Blasio, who appoints the Chancellor of Education, currently Richard Carranza. Mayoral control has been in effect for 15 years, and the current contract runs through June 2019. There are 32 community school districts within the city that oversee schools in each region. There are three authorizers for charter schools in the city: NYCDOE (which can no longer authorize new schools), State University of New York, and the New York State Education Department. 

2015 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 1,308,212 students
Race and ethnicity: 42% Hispanic, 31% black, 15% white, 12% other
Low-income: 72% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Source: Enrollment data from the Education Equality Index, 2014-15.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email