Response to the NYC DOE’s “Fact” Sheet on Paul Robeson H.S.

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Response to the New York City Department of Education’s “Fact” Sheet

Paul Robeson High School

November 22, 2010

On November 6, 2010, Superintendent Karen Watts and members of the DOE visited Paul Robeson High School to conduct “pre-engagement” meetings.  During this visit they met with administrators, teachers and staff, the School Leadership Team and parents.  Everyone was presented with a document entitled:  Fact Sheet: School Improvement Scenarios for Paul Robeson High School.  We were invited to respond to that document.  The following represents a collaborative effort by members of Paul Robeson community to do so.

The Overview of the DOE’s Fact Sheet recognizes that the Paul Robeson community has worked hard to improve the school and states the DOE has “provided considerable support” to Paul Robeson High School.  This has not been our experience.  In the past four years we have had four different superintendents, including the current, Ms. Karen Watts.  Last year our superintendent was Mr. Ainslie Cumberbatch and while he made some attempts to support the school, the two previous superintendents never visited the school.  It is true that since our principal was removed last February, our CFN network has provided some support in decision-making and professional development.  However, much more needs to be done. The overview to the NYCDOE’s Progress Report clearly states:

Schools that receive Ds or Fs, or Cs for 3 years in a row, or that scored below proficient on the school Quality Review, are evaluated to determine the reasons for their poor performance and provided with intensive support so they can improve.

Paul Robeson High School never received “intensive support” from the DOE.  Given the trauma our school community experienced last year due to the impact of the proposed phase out, the ensuing fight against the phase out and then the removal of our principal, we needed, but never received, “intensive support” to not only recover but to address the issues that had initially brought the school to this place.  We need that intensive support even more now.

Closing Paul Robeson High School is not a solution.  We have not had sufficient support or time to turn our school around.  Last year, after our long-standing principal was removed, we made enormous gains as the information below reflects.  This year we came back to a new inexperienced principal, a slashed budget, a significantly smaller staff, and continuing challenges with recruitment as we are subjected to vilification by the press.  Yet, we have been moving forward towards a redesign plan.  We are proposing that this school be given the opportunity to adapt a transformational model with the support of an organization like Pearson’s School Turnaround Educational Program.  We have already started to explore this possibility with staff from Pearson and believe we could make enormous gains this year and within the next couple years so that this school can be restored to its place as an outstanding institution of public education.

In addition, according to the New York City Department of Education’s Quality Review process, which “describes what the reviewers saw at the school — what life is like there,”  Paul Robeson HS was evaluated as being  Proficient in 2006-07, Well-Developed in 2007-08 and Proficient again in 2008-09.  At no point, did any evaluator say that students were not learning and that no teaching was taking place.  Instead, they said things like,

The school works efficiently and effectively in apprising students of their performance at frequent intervals….Teachers use data well to set measurable and achievable short term learning goals….There is a high level of supportive communication between senior leaders and staff through comprehensive structures for meetings and professional development.  Quality Review 2008-2009

DOE’s Fact Sheet:

Paul Robeson High School has struggled for years.  Graduation rates have remained below 60% for the past decade. In 2010, Paul Robeson’s four-year graduation rate (including August graduates) was 50%, well below the City’s 63% average.


Since 2005-06 Paul Robeson’s incoming classes have been predominantly students who scored at level 2 and below on the New York State’s 8th grade tests.  That is, we have been receiving students who are not academically ready for high school level work.

2005-2006—54% Level2 and 29% Level 1

2006-2007—64% Level 2 and 14% Level 1

2007-2008—59% Level 2 and 12% Level 1

2008-2009—59% Level 2 and 8% level 1

2009-2010—53 % Level 2 and 33% Level 1

We welcome these children into our school; however, we do recognize that they need more time and additional support to graduate high school.  And, given the revelations about the reality of 3-8 grade test grades earlier this year, we can only guess as to how many of our students were real level 1’s and 2’s.  How many of those students were really even minimally ready for high school?  How could they possibly graduate in 4 years?

This data also does not identify how many of those level 1’s and 2’s were special education students.

As you can see from the data listed below, we, however, continue to make gains in some of our most challenging areas.

Paul Robeson HS has made the following proficiency gains with English Language Learners:  2007-08:  36.4%;      2008-09: 58.5%;     2009-10: 95%

Paul Robeson HS has made the following proficiency gains with Students with Disabilities

2007-08: 29.4%; 2008-09: 32.4%; 2009-10: 36.9%

Over 80% of our graduates apply to colleges and universities across the country.

80 % of our LYFE students graduate and also go on to college.

DOE’s Fact Sheet:

Demand for the School is low, suggesting that families are seeking better options


The Paul Robeson High School is built to hold a maximum population of 1,100 students.

In 2005-2006 Paul Robeson High School was 132% to capacity with 1,528 students.

In 2006-2007 Paul Robeson High School was 124% to capacity with 1,428 students.

In 2007-2008 Paul Robeson High School was 118% to capacity with 1,363 students

In 2008-2009 Paul Robeson High School had 1177 students.

In 2009-2010, we were just below capacity at 1017 students.

The DOE continues to use this decline in student population as evidence that we were no longer a popular choice.  This was not the case. If we had not taken measures to cap our incoming ninth grade classes, the school would have imploded.  Furthermore, far too many of the students who were coming to us were not picking Robeson through the application process but coming to us over-the-counter, often from large schools that had just closed.

In 2008-2009, our school ranked approximately 700 students; initially we were assigned an incoming class of 101 students.  After our principal requested more students, an additional thirty students were assigned.  The DOE’s matching system is a mystery.  A school is not privy to which students actually identify a school as their first or second choice.  We have encountered students who did place us as their first and second choice on their applications and still did not receive a placement at Robeson.  Last year, students tried to choose Robeson and were told by the DOE Placement Office that they should not consider Robeson; parents and staff members had to fight for these students to be admitted to our school.

Although we received our fourth C on our Progress Report, we made significant gains in many areas despite the fact that we were operating without a principal.

Category 2008-2009 2009-2010
School Environment F D
Academic Expectations 6.5 7.2
Communication 5.9 6.2
Engagement 6.2 6.6
Safety and Respect 6.1 6.4
Attendance 69.2 75.9
Category 2008-2009 2009-2010
Student Performance D C
Four Year Graduation Rate 40.1 50
Weighted Diploma Rate 60.9 90.8
Six Year Graduation Rate 68.6 68.9
Weighted Diploma Rate 90.2 101.8
Category 2008-2009 2009-2010
Student Progress: Credit Accumulation C B
Percentage of Students Earning 10+ credits in 1st year 58.4 66.2
Percentage of Students in school’s lowest third earning 10+ credits in 1st year 43.4 60
Percentage of Students Earning 10+ credits in 2nd year 59.4 58.5
Percentage of Students in school’s lowest third earning 10+ credits in 2nd year 37 34
Percentage of Students Earning 10+ credits in 3rd year 55.4 57.4
Percentage of Students in school’s lowest third earning 10+ credits in 3rd year 38.8 30.7
Average Completion Rate for Remaining Regents 19.2 26.1
Weighted Regents Pass Rates 2008-2009 2009-2010
English 1.08 1.15
Mathematics 1.35 2.17
Science 1.30 1.40
US History 0.80 1.02
Global History 0.63 0.70

The following statistical tables indicate the performance of our English and Mathematics Departments over a three-year period 2007 – 2010 on Regents examinations.

English Regents Achievement Report

A longitudinal study of students’ comparative performances in English Regents examination, over a three year period (2007 – 2010) as evidenced by the annual Progress Report (NYC Department of Education Publication)

YEAR Simulated  Score Relative to Peer Horizon Relative to City Horizon Achievement Standard
2007 – 2008 0.87 53.2% 43.2% Below Mastery
2008 – 2009 1.08 69.8% 62.2% Significant Growth
2009 – 2010 1.14 90.9% 72.7% Approaching Mastery
Relative Gain (2007-2010) 0.27 37.7% 29.5% Continuous Growth

The following trends may be noted:

  • Each year, since 2007, there has been a significant improvement in students’ performance in both the school’s Peer horizon and the City as a whole group.
  • Within the three year period, our school’s simulated score has increased from 0.87 to1.14, which represents an improvement of over 25%; our Relative Peer Horizon score has increased from 58.8% to 134.76%, which is an increase of 37.7%; and our City Horizon score has increased from 43.2% to 72.7%, an increase of 29.5%.
  • Over the last year, our students’ performance in English Regents examinations has almost equaled the norms and expectations of its peer group and has increased to within three-Quarters of the City’s expectations.
  • Based on this three year trend, one may predict with some degree of accuracy that next year’s results could exceed our peer group’s bench marks and achieve mastery for the city’s benchmark performance, providing that the instructional variables remain intact.

Mathematics Regent Achievement Report

A longitudinal study of students’ comparative performances in Mathematics over a three-year period (2007 – 2010) as evidenced by the Annual Progress Report (NYC Department of Education Publication)

YEAR Simulated  Score Relative to Peer Horizon Relative to City Horizon Achievement Standard
2007 – 2008 1.00 58.8% 51.2% Below Mastery
2008 – 2009 1.35 79.4% 78.7% Approaching Mastery
2009 – 2010 2.15 134.7% 111.4% Mastery
Relative Gain (2007-2010) 1.15 75.9% 60.2%

The above statistical table indicates the performance of our Mathematics Department over a three year period 2007 – 2010, at Regents examinations. See attached page for accompanying graphs of the actual reports over a three year period.

The following trends may be noted:

  • Each Year, since 2007, there has been a significant improvement in students’ performance in both the school’s Peer horizon and the Cit as a whole group.
  • Within the three-year period, our school’s simulated score has increased from 1.00 to 2.15, which represents an improvement of 1.15; our Relative Peer Horizon score has increased from 58.8% to 134.76%, which is an increase of 75.9%; and our City Horizon score has increased from 51.2% to 111.4%, an increase of 60.2%.
  • Over the last year, our students’ performances in Regents Mathematics examinations have exceeded both the norms and expectations of its peer group as well as the City.
  • Based on this three year trend, one may predict with some degree of accuracy that next year’s results could exceed this year’s performances providing that the instructional remain intact.

This performance trends for English and Mathematics may be attributed to several deliberate strategies that were put in place over the past four years. These strategies include:

  • Identification of inherent strengths and weaknesses of the students by analyzing the whole school performances in previous Regents Mathematics examinations. Once identified, strengths such as number sense were maximized, while weaknesses such as factoring, systems of linear equations and the solution of word problems were addressed during Professional development sessions and given more attention in the classrooms and during tutoring sessions.
  • Conversations on best practices within the classroom as well as inter-visitation among Mathematics teachers helped to inform each other’s practice.
  • Constant tracking of students’ Cohort, graduation and class data, to identify the ones who need to meet the Regents examination requirements for local and advanced diplomas.
  • Constant contact with students and their parents about the need to attend tutoring sessions during the week and on Saturdays.
  • The involvement of guidance counselors, parent coordinator and other special services within the school community, to assist in whatever way they see fit that would help each student to attend school often and to stay focused.

These and other strategies implemented by the department and school assisted our students to surpass their previous performances year after year.


As a Business and Technology School, Paul Robeson offers its students four possible career sequence programs:  Academy of Finance, Academy of Information Technology, Entrepreneurship and New Media.  Paul Robeson High School was awarded a five year small learning community grant. We are currently in our third year of implementing programs. The five year grant is contingent upon having a steady influx of freshmen. Given our small incoming class 2010-2011, we decided to merge our four academies into two but still offering students the four programs from which to major.  It is part of our mission to ensure that all students have a work related internship before graduating.  During the 2009-2010 school year our students participated in the following:

100 11th grade students interned (not paid) in-house with staff and faculty

40   11th and 12th grade students interned in the community (paid) through

Brooklyn College

6    11th grade students interned (paid) through the Academy of Finance

3    11th grade students interned (paid) through the Academy of Information                                      Technology

8    12th grade students interned (paid) through Virtual Enterprise

DOE’s Fact Sheet:

The school’s attendance rate continues to be very low.  The 2009-2010 attendance rate was 76%, well below the citywide average of 86% for high schools.  In fact, this attendance rate puts Paul Robeson in the bottom 5% among all City high schools, and the bottom 7% among high schools in Brooklyn.


For the 2009-2010 School Year, according to our Period Attendance Report our attendance was 81%. Our period attendance reports for the year were:  88.36%; 85.23%; 85.70%; 76.22%; 74.79%; 82.74%; 82.21%; 84.27%; 74.67%; 81.33% with an average of 81%.  Due to mitigating circumstances, we missed the deadline for changing the PAR in June and that caused our attendance average to be recorded by the DOE at 76%.

There are other mitigating forces that have a deep impact on our attendance.  For the 2005-06 K Cohort, Paul Robeson received 281 freshmen through the high school admission process. During the school year, we received an additional 181 students over-the-counter. These 181 students included students that were new to the country, over-aged students and students who struggled academically in middle school.  These are the issues that make the transition to high school even more challenging causing some young people to advocate for staying home, especially those who do not have appropriate adult supervision.

Paul Robeson High School has forty-seven students (approximately half of these students have IEP’s) identified as long term absences (LTA’s). The DOE makes it very difficult to remove these students from the cohort despite extenuating circumstances. Even when the proper documentation is submitted to the appropriate office, the students are not removed from the cohort for a variety of reasons. We are working diligently to hold the mandated interviews with these students and to counsel them into other programs.  Staff members volunteer to assist the attendance teacher by visiting homes on weekends and evenings.

The special education population at Paul Robeson High School represents a substantially higher percentage, than the city average student body. Since the closing of sister schools, we have the rate of students in special education has been between 18 and 21%. The mandated city cap per school is 11%. Additionally, 90% of our peer groups do not service the same level of student demographic, as we do. Approximately 40% of our peer groups do not facilitate special class settings (15:1:1).  As noted, when our special needs students are attending on a regular basis we have been able to move them toward credit accumulation and graduation.


Over 60% of the students attending Paul Robeson High School are from the East New York section of Brooklyn.  East New York has:

  • One of the highest poverty rates in New York City
  • The highest adult illiteracy rate in New York City
  • Over 60% of residents are in 0-29 year age group

These factors have a direct impact on our students’ quality of life and contribute further to student gang involvement, alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and STD/STI infection, early high school drop-out, as well as student involvement with the criminal justice system.  Many of them are parenting themselves or are being parented by others who are barely older than they are. Many are under the guardianship of elderly grandparents, due to their own parent’s drug addiction, custodial status or students’ subjection to child abuse and/or neglect. This also affects the number of responses we received from our Parent Learning Environment Surveys.

Additionally, during the 2005-2006 academic-year, the phase-out and/or closure of our neighboring high schools made an impact on student population. These high schools included: South Shore, Tilden, Erasmus, Wingate, and Canarsie. We received a large number of students from these schools, which is reflected in our LTA population.

DOE Fact Sheet:

In addition, the DOE helped Paul Robeson establish community partnerships to support its youth development programs.  Unfortunately our best efforts have not turned the school around.


For over 20 years, Paul Robeson High School has built and maintained strong and productive relationships with the several colleges, world-renowned corporations, financial and cultural organizations and community based organizationsNone of these partnerships have been formed with the assistance of the DOE; Robeson staff has always taken the initiative.  Some of our partnerships and enrichment opportunities for our students are listed here:

  • For 7 years, our school and students have been enriched by our relationship with Princeton Alumni and The Reachout 56 Program. Several times a year, the alumni visit Robeson to conduct college workshops for all students. Students are exposed, beginning in the 9th grade to the process of applying to college, taking PSAT and SAT, applying for financial aid, college essays, etc. Current students at Princeton visit the school to do individualized college counseling with our juniors and seniors. Paul Robeson High School also has a partnership with Liberty Partnership based at Medgar Evers College. Through this program, students are given the opportunity to receive tutoring for high school and college level classes.  They are allowed to take college courses and earn college credit before they even graduate high school.
  • Bailey’s Café is an intergenerational nonprofit organization that utilizes the creative arts and service to build relationships between youth and elders. Students express themselves through singing, dancing, spoken word, etc. Bailey’s Café also transforms the stories of their elders in improvisational theater, mural projects, documentary videos and a compilation CD. Additionally, Bailey’s Café runs a green program:  LUG (Living Urban Green) Your Share, where young people of color who were traditionally left out of the Green Movement have the opportunity to develop recycling/anti-littering plans for their schools, bringing healthier food to their neighborhoods, etc.
  • Our high school also has partnerships with other accredited higher education institutions. These colleges /universities are committed to our students as they move towards higher education. The institutions include Princeton University, Brooklyn College, Polytechnic University, Paul Smith College, Drexel University and Temple University. Many of our students have gone on to attend and graduate from these colleges/universities.
  • Working in collaboration with 651Arts, our students have been exposed to a variety of artists, serving both as teaching artists through classroom residencies, after school workshops.  Students have opportunities throughout the year to attend performances for free or at minimal cost.
  • Paul Robeson High School is a NAF (National Academy Foundation) school. We have two nationally recognized programs- The Academy of Finance Program and The Academy of Information Technology Program. Students in the two programs follow a rigorous curriculum and have to compete with students citywide for paid internship opportunities.  Upon graduating, students receive a seal that shows they participated and successfully completed NAF’s program. Our AOF program is state certified and the AOIT is in the process of receiving that certification.
  • Our Virtual Enterprise Program, another CTE program at Paul Robeson is state certified. We house two fully functional student-led businesses. Students create business plans, learn about running a business and compete with other public schools to win accolades and prizes for their creativity and entrepreneurial skills.  We have always successfully placed in the top tier of winners.  Just last December, we won third prize in the competition which was held at Polytechnic University.   Our students have opportunities to travel nationally and internationally when they attend Virtual Enterprise Conferences.
  • The New York Stock Exchange Game is a competition that Robeson participates in every year. Students are taught how to buy and sell stocks on the NY Stock Exchange and manage portfolios. They compete with students all over the city and have repeatedly won this competition beating out highly ranked schools like Stuyvesant High School.
  • Our school also participates in the Fed Challenge. The Fed Challenge is a national competition designed to bring real world economics into the classroom. We send two teams to the challenge. Teams work on a 10-minute presentation on the U.S economy, attend a special workshop and visit the Federal Reserve Bank. Students receive college recommendations during their senior year for participating in the Fed Challenge.  In 2008, Paul Robeson juniors won the semifinals.
  • Our students participated in the United Nations Global Warming Project. This was a worldwide initiative to create awareness about the issue of global warming.  Paul Robeson students along with students from Latin America, Europe, and Africa, and Asia participated in the project. Our students won the right to participate in a 5-day Youth Leadership Summit held at the United Nations Headquarters last summer during which we showcased the work of one of our students who created and presented a video game about the effects of carbon footprints.
  • Paul Robeson High School has had a 14-year partnership with College For Every Student (CFES) formally The Foundation for Excellent Schools. The program helps prepare students to be college bound and college ready. They have also extensively helped us with our mentoring and leadership programs.
  • CBBAPP, Community Based Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program supports our students with community outreach programs. They educate our student on teen pregnancy prevention and STD/STI prevention.
  • Support from Councilman Al Vann and Assemblywoman Annette Robinson have supported the development of our computer labs.  We have two state of the art labs on every floor.
  • For over a decade, Robeson has provided its parents, guardians and community members with the Saturday Learning Institute, which offers technical and computer literacy training to adults. The program is specifically geared towards adults who could not afford the services on their own.
  • The LYFE Program is instrumental at Paul Robeson High School. The program allows teenage mothers to continue their education while their babies are cared for by a warm and highly qualified staff. The program also provides parenting and life skills in a nurturing and supportive atmosphere. Robeson’s LYFE program also helps other parent-students who attend neighboring schools like Boys and Girls High School.
  • Paul Robeson has an ongoing relationship with PSAL. Our championship girls’ and boys’ basketball and track teams have done exceptionally well. We also have a bowling team, handball team, cheerleading team, tennis, soccer and baseball teams.
  • Our faculty and staff provide sponsorship for our students who are unable to afford senior dues, college application fees and senior trip and prom expenses.
  • Our teachers and staff have always had extensive and professional development.  Organizations like ATLAS has helped the faculty of Paul Robeson High School develop a collaborative spirit that has aided us in creating stronger learning communities. ATLAS focuses on teaching for understanding and has helped us create better means of teaching across the curriculum.  This collaboration is evident in our level-like meetings and inquiry teams.  Continuing and deepening this kind of teacher collaboration will be an integral part of our redesign plan.
  • In recognition of our attendance challenges, in May of 2010 we applied for and received an Attendance Improvement/Drop-Out Prevention Grant for $250,000 over two years.  We collaborate with a CBO, Global Kids who are doing academic intervention, home visits, counseling, credit recovery and enrichment activities.  This was achieved with no support from the DOE or the Network.
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