That’s because the Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to urge district staff to tweak a policy that board members described as unfair or egregious. The motion calls for staff to come back with a policy within 30 days that changes the “do not rehire” practice so it will no longer be permanent — except in the case of “serious limited circumstances” — and outlines reasons for placement on the list.
Staff will explore the amount of time the “do not rehire” recommendation would be in place, including a sliding scale depending on the employee’s professional history.
“I would never support a ban for life when it comes to this particular piece, unless there was a clear reason for having a ban for life on a rehire,” board member Landri Taylor said, citing examples such as criminal actions against children or adults, or embezzlement.
However, the board did not reconsider any of the specific teachers whose contracts were not renewed. In fact, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the list of 220 non-renewals. Board members Mary Seawell, Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes pointed out that — after reviewing the employee files in detail — they believe the district followed its policies and procedures in making the decisions.
Read related stories
“These are based on multiple observations,” board member Rowe said. “It’s not a single principal making a decision and I don’t think it should be…. Can we improve? You bet we can.”
Presently, probationary teachers whose contracts are not renewed for a variety of reasons can be placed on the list. One teacher who testified before the school board last week said he didn’t even know he was blacklisted until he was informed by a Denver principal who wanted to interview him but said he couldn’t. The teacher taught in Jeffco for a few years before seeking to return to Denver Public Schools.
District administrators base the decision of whether to renew probationary teacher contracts on a “body of evidence,” including observation through LEAP (Denver’s teacher evaluation program), student achievement data, and interactions with colleagues and other team members.
Last week, the annual rite became a public show and organized union protest resulting in a 10-hour board meeting filled with emotional stories from teachers who testified about losing their jobs or being placed on the “do not rehire” list.
The board last week voted to delay a decision on the non-renewals so they could look more closely at individual teacher employment files.
There was a kerfuffle at the beginning of the meeting Monday when board members Andrea Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan wanted to go into closed session to discuss individual cases. The board majority kept the focus on policy and blocked the push for a closed meeting.
Merida also did her share of fist pounding (literally) over a lack of adequate time for the board to review the employee files. She said she got the official list from district staff on May 10, and the board was scheduled to vote six days later.
Merida also said she’d like to see an appeals process for teachers whose contracts are not renewed. Seawell, though, said she would not support that because she feared it would undo all the work DPS has done to prepare for the rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called teacher effectiveness law.
Merida also pushed her colleagues to give district administrators more direction on how much the LEAP teacher evaluation system should play into these decisions.
“There are cases here in which you have teachers with very strong student growth and performance, but for whom subjective reasons were used for making the non-renewal decision,” Merida said.
Hundreds of top-rated upstate science and math teachers will be eligible for $15,000 in annual stipends under a new mentorship program announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon.
New York City teachers aren’t eligible for the stipends, in part because they still lack an evaluation system to identify them according to a four-tiered ratings scale. But the state is relying heavily on a highly-regarded city-based mentoring organization to implement the program in selected higher education institutions.
Under Cuomo’s “Master Teacher Program,” 250 teachers from schools located in four upstate regions — North Country, Mid-Hudson, Central New York and Western New York — will be selected to receive a total of $60,000 in extra pay over four years. In exchange, the teachers will be trained at State University of New York education colleges and tasked with mentoring new teachers in the science and math subjects.
Recruiting and rewarding top teachers to work in high-demand subject areas was one of the recommendations put forth by Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission last year. Cuomo also secured $11 million in the 2013-2014 state budget to develop the program, which is scheduled to expand to more districts.
“As part of the state’s work to transform our education system and put students first, we are committed to investing in great teachers to educate our students and create a highly-trained workforce to drive our future economy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This program will reward those teachers who work harder to make the difference and whose students perform better as a result.”
Only middle and high school math and science teachers can submit applications, which will be available starting on July 1. They also must have at least four years of experience and receive “highly effective” ratings on their 2012-2103 evaluations in order to qualify for the stipend.
Teachers in New York City, the only district in the state without a teacher evaluation system in place this year, aren’t eligible to apply for the stipends.
The program is getting a big boost from a New York City-based mentorship program, Math for America, whose model is being adopted at four upstate SUNY schools — Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, New Paltz and Cortland.
The SUNY schools will also rely on Math for America’s staff to help train the initial cohort of master teachers, and develop the curriculum that will be used for future cohorts. Eventually — and if the program receives funding in future state budgets — training will be entirely turned over to the higher education institutions.
The stipend program is different from a “merit pay” system, which are controversial with teachers unions because of concerns that it breeds unhealthy competition by pitting one teacher against another. Research has also shown that students do not learn more when given teachers who are paid for performance.
Instead, the stipends are meant to recognize top teachers and compensate them for work beyond their normal schoolday responsibilities.
City principals who heard Chancellor Dennis Walcott deliver a stemwinding political speech on Saturday will get an extra day of summer vacation to make up for it.
This year, for the first time, the Department of Education told principals that they could take a day off during the summer to compensate for attending the citywide principals conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School.
“To encourage attendance, any principal who attends the conference will receive one compensation day that can be used between June 27 and August 30,” the department’s weekly bulletin to principals said for at least the last two weeks.
The tradeoff isn’t sitting right with some, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew, whose union frequently battles the department to ensure that teachers are paid for time they spend working outside of the regular school day. Mulgrew cited the prohibition on city workers participating in political activity on the job.
“You’re using taxpayer dollars to pay New York City workers to come in and listen to you do a political rant,” Mulgrew said. ”It’s at least inappropriate, but it really borders on questionable ethics.”
The Department of Education’s top spokesman, Andrew Kirtzman, rejected Mulgrew’s criticism.
“Mr. Mulgrew needs a truth commission of his own,” Kirtzman said, referring to Mulgrew’s call last week for a commission to investigate the Bloomberg administration’s education achievement claims. “Contrary to his assertion, the purpose of the speech was to urge that politics — and specifically the competition for his endorsement — not interfere with the progress of the city’s schools.”
The principals conference, which 1,200 principals and department officials attended, was the third that the city has held. Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman, said attendance was about the same as last year, when principals were not compensated for attending and officials’ message focused on the nitty-gritty details of implementing new standards and teacher evaluations. The year before that, department officials brought in David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, to pump principals up about the new standards.
This year, department officials took a turn toward the political. Walcott’s speech took direct aim at mayoral candidates who have been calling for changes to the Bloomberg administration’s school policies — a call that the New York Times supported in an editorial today.
“To dismantle the reforms of the last decade would be a disaster for our children and this city,” Walcott said, before citing what he said had been improvements in the school system and student achievement. “We cannot turn back the clock on our students.”
The chancellor received only a tepid response from the audience, which spilled into the balcony of Brooklyn Tech’s cavernous auditorium. He drew a smattering of applause when pointing to powers that principals have now that they did not have before Bloomberg took office, such as the right to select teachers who want to work in their schools. But the audience sat quietly through much of the speech, and some members even laughed when he proclaimed that he proclaimed that he doesn’t “involve myself in politics.”
The largest applause of the morning came when Walcott promised to deliver school budgets on Friday, which he said would be the earliest time in recent memory that principals would know how much they can spend next year.
Walcott’s speech made up only a small portion of the day. Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky immediately followed the chancellor to remind principals that even as the city becomes wrapped up in politics, hard work remains to be done in schools every day. Students spoke about overcoming setbacks; Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston described his path from high school principal to politician influencing teacher evaluation, tenure, and training across his state; and every attendee took home a copy of Paul Tough’s 2012 book “How Children Succeed,” which looks at the “soft skills” that students must develop if they are to thrive in college and careers.
After the speeches, principals scattered among dozens of workshops that they had signed up in advance to attend. Workshops focused on teacher effectiveness, strategies for working with English language learners, and curriculum, among other topics.
The workshops were appropriate to compensate principals for participating in over the weekend, Mulgrew said. But he said the principals conference had fallen short of its purported goal.
“The chancellor is supposed to be discussing the educational strategies for next year,” Mulgrew said. “I guess he doesn’t have one.”
As Colorado school districts get ready to roll out new evaluation methods for principals and teachers next year, the Department of Education is starting to put the details on a system for evaluating nearly 5,000 other school professionals.
The state’s landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law requires annual evaluations for “all licensed personnel.” The State Board of Education adopted rules for the principal and teacher evaluation system in November 2011, but those regulations didn’t cover school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists.
The council, an appointed body that has developed the recommendations for implementing the evaluation system, undertook a separate study of how to rate what it calls “specialized service professionals” (SSPs).Specialized service professionals
Numbers in parenthesis show how many professionals are working in schools. 4,803 total.
While the council’s recommendations mirror the system for principals and teachers in significant ways, there are three important differences.
• The council recommends that outside professionals be periodically involved in the evaluation of SSPs. The theory here is that a typical school principal may not have the expertise to know if, for instance, an audiologist is administering hearing tests properly. The council’s report also notes that many specialized professionals work in multiple schools and even in multiple districts, meaning they work with more than one principal.
Professional evaluators should be used in the first three years of practice, when loss of non-probationary status is possible, or at least every three years, the council recommends.
• While the evaluation law requires 50 percent of principal and teacher evaluations be based on student academic growth, the council is recommending that standard not be applied to all specialized professionals, given their distance from the classroom. Rather, those staff should be evaluated on what the council calls “student outcomes.” As an example, for counselors, student outcomes might include reduction in school absentee rates and increased graduation rates. (See and expanded list of possible outcomes below.)
• Finally, the council warned that such a system won’t work without appropriate funding. “Recruiting and training appropriate professional experts will require resources and funding,” the council’s report says. “The council recommends that sufficient funding be appropriated to CDE to ensure the quality implementation of this recommendation. This funding should include short-term funding to establish the required infrastructure and longer-term funding for sustainability.”Do your homework
Aime Baca-Oehlert, a counselor who serves on the council, was more succinct in her comments to the state board: “If it’s not funded, it’s not going to happen.”
The council’s recommendations for specialized professionals include the same four-step rating system as for principals and teachers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective. The proposal also follows the same format of using six quality standards to evaluate an educator’s “professional practices.”
The council also recommends that the state develop a model system that districts and boards of cooperative education services could use to evaluate specialized professionals. If districts chose to develop their own systems they would have to meet minimum state standards. (That same option exists with the overall evaluation system.)
The next step in the process is drafting of proposed regulations by Department of Education staff. Those will have to be approved by the state board. The council’s recommendations suggest pilot testing of evaluations in selected districts next year, followed by a statewide rollout in 2014-15. The first “real” year of the system would be 2015-16, when ratings of ineffective or partially effective could count against an educator’s non-probationary status.
Here are examples of student outcomes that could be attributed to SSPs, depending on their duties.
Orientation and mobility specialists
Speech and Language Pathologists
List taken from “Report & Recommendations for the Evaluation of Specialized Service Professionals” by the state councilProposed definition of effective practices for SSPs
“Effective specialized service professionals are vital members of the education team. They are properly credentialed and have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that diverse student populations have equitable access to academic instruction and participation in school-related activities. Effective specialized service professionals develop and/or implement evidence-based services or specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of their students. They support growth and development to close achievement gaps and prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success. They have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the home, school and community and collaborate with all members of the education team to strengthen those connections. Through reflection, advocacy, and leadership, they enhance the outcomes and development of their students.”
When Margarita Miranda moved to Old Town in 2000, the area looked much different. The Cabrini Green public housing projects cast a long shadow, and neighborhood elementary schools were located on every few blocks.
Today, the high-rise public housing has been wiped away, leaving the area with a smattering of row houses, townhouses and some stretches of still-empty lots.
Over the past decade, three of the schools that served the area’s children have been closed and reopened—one as a charter school, one as a selective enrollment school and the third as a lease by a private Catholic school that costs about $8,000 a year.
Miranda and other parents are now fighting furiously to save one of two neighborhood schools left. A parent volunteer who calls all the students at Manierre Elementary “her children,” she is emphatic that she won’t give up. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the closings on Wednesday.
“My son is upset,” she says. Miranda’s son has a disability that includes learning and speech difficulties and she’s afraid that he will simply “shut down” if he has to transfer to a new school.
But there’s something more that is eating at her. Even though Manierre is surrounded by high-performing schools, the school that her children are now supposed to attend is a Level 3 school with almost identical test scores.
Like Manierre, the receiving school, Jenner, has mostly black, low-income students. The other area schools are more diverse with far fewer poor children.
“I don’t want my children to go from a Level 3 school to a Level 3 school,” Miranda says. “I don’t want that for my children. They are good kids. They don’t bother nobody. They respect their elders.”
In some ways, Manierre is unique compared to the vast majority of schools slated to close on the South Side and West Side. Manierre is on the Near North Side, nestled next to some of the wealthiest areas in the city.
But in other ways, it is not different. Two months ago, CPS leaders announced their intention to close 54 schools, co-locate 11 and hand over six to the Academy of Urban School Leadership to be turned around. The end result of the school actions is that traditional, district-run neighborhood schools will become scarcer. Schools to which students have to apply and those run by private organizations will continue to take over, casting an ever-bigger shadow over the district.
The mayor and CPS officials have cast the move much differently, repeatedly saying that closings and consolidations will allow the district to redirect resources to fewer schools. And with the district facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, officials say closings will save $43 million a year in operating costs (starting in two years) and another $437 million in capital costs over the next decade.
“What we must do is to ensure that the resources some kids get, all kids get,” said Byrd-Bennett in a videotaped message on the CPS website. “With our consolidations, children are guaranteed to get what they need.”
Yet many of the district’s claims have drawn intense scrutiny and raised questions that undercut the rationale for closings as either a cost-savings or school improvement strategy.
Going to “better” schools
The first claim to face scrutiny is that students at closing schools will end up in higher- performing ones. According to state law, Byrd-Bennett has the authority to define “higher-performing,” and she determined that even when a school has the same performance rating, it can be considered higher- performing if it does better on a majority of the metrics, such as attendance and test scores.
Yet researchers note an important point: A move to a school that is only slightly better, at most, likely won’t mean much to students. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that, in previous rounds of closings, displaced students only reaped an academic benefit if they were sent to markedly better schools, defined as those in the top quartile.
In this case, just six receiving schools out of 55 are in the top quartile of all CPS schools. And in only three cases—3 out of 53 closings—are kids being sent from a school in the lowest quartile to a school in the highest, according to an analysis by WBEZ. Two-thirds of the closing schools are among the lowest rated in CPS, but in 18 cases students will be sent to schools that are equally low-rated.
Even among the 12 receiving schools that have the highest CPS rating, there is a broad range in terms of performance. Chopin, on the Near North Side, has nearly 96 percent of students meeting standards on the ISAT and nearly 70 percent exceeding standards, while Faraday, on the West Side, has 73 percent meeting standards and about 13 percent exceeding them. Research has shown that students need to exceed standards to perform well in high school.
Furthermore, no one knows exactly how many students will end up at the designated “receiving school”---the one that by some measure is higher performing. Last year, less than half of students went to the designated receiving school with many parents choosing closer or more convenient schools that performed no better than the school they left, shows a Catalyst analysis.
CPS officials counter that the money invested into the receiving schools will improve technology and other resources. The schools will be air-conditioned, with iPads, playgrounds and libraries. The district is also designating 19 schools as specialty schools, with International Baccalaureate, STEM and fine arts programs. This year, the new specialty schools will receive $250,000 to $360,000 in extra money to pay for positions and training.
While leaders may have meant for this to sweeten the deal, parents and activists have been incredulous that their schools must close in order to get resources that are common place in other schools.
Parents also aren’t convinced that the new turnaround schools will be better for their children. CPS plans to hand over six schools to the Academy for Urban School Leadership for turnaround, which entails firing all or most of the staff, including the principal and the lunch ladies. For each turnaround, AUSL gets $300,000 in upfront costs, plus $420 per student for each student for at least five years.
Contracts with AUSL are for five years, but for several turnarounds they have been extended.
In her letter to parents, Byrd-Bennett said that turnaround schools have improved twice as fast as the CPS district-average.
“We want to provide your child with access to the same opportunities to boost their chance of academic success, which they will receive next school year if this proposal is approved,” she wrote.
Yet parents point out that many of the schools run by AUSL are not high-performers. Only one turnaround school, Morton, is a Level 1 school. And one of the closing schools, Bethune, is a turnaround.
Mathew Johnson, a parent at Dewey Elementary, says 98 percent of parents signed a petition saying they did not want their school given to AUSL. He says the school’s new administration seems to be on the right track and is doing a turnaround of its own.
“We are not afraid to hold the administration accountable,” says Johnson, who serves on the local school council.
Costs and savings
Because so many of the so-called “welcoming,” turnaround and co-locating schools lack resources, CPS officials will spend big money to get them up to par. In April, the Board of Education approved a supplemental capital budget that the district plans to finance with a $329 million bond.
About $155 million of that will go toward improvements at the receiving schools and another $60 million will fix up schools that are slated to be turned around or co- located with another school.
For the next 30 years, CPS will have to pay $25 million in interest and principal on the bond. This expense was not factored into the $43 million that CPS officials say they will save by undertaking these school actions.
CPS leaders have repeatedly cited budget problems as a rationale for closings--yet one reason CPS is facing perpetual large deficits is its already-existing debt. In the upcoming fiscal year, the district’s payment on principal and interest is scheduled to rise by about $100 million to $475 million.
Capital cost savings are also not likely to be higher than estimated. CPS officials lowered their original capital savings estimate and say the district will save $437 million over the next decade by not having to repair or maintain the 50-some buildings they are shuttering.
But only six of the closing schools have had recent assessments to determine their capital needs. In all of these cases, the updated assessments caused CPS to lower its savings estimate.
In order for the district to save real money from closing schools, it would have sell off shuttered schools and lay off a lot of teachers, said Emily Dowdall, a senior associate for the Philadelphia Research Institute, which is part of the Pew Charitable Trust.
CPS officials say they are going to work with city department heads to figure out what to do with vacant buildings, but there is no specific plan in place.
CPS has sought to steer the discussion away from teacher layoffs, though the closing schools have about 1,100 teachers.
“Many of these teachers will follow their students to welcoming schools per the joint CTU-CPS agreement included in last year’s teachers’ contract, which allows tenured teachers with Superior or Excellent ratings to follow students if their position is open at the welcoming school,” according to a CPS fact sheet.
But school closings will likely mean that class sizes will be bigger in the welcoming schools than in the closing ones, meaning that fewer teachers will be needed for the same number of students. A quarter of class sizes at closing and welcoming schools have fewer than 20 students—way below recommended sizes of 28 for primary grades and 31 for intermediate grades.
Not including these affected schools, only 9 percent of schools have such small class sizes.
Changing demographics, changing landscape
CPS officials have stressed that the main reason schools need to close is that 145,000 fewer school-age children live in the city than in 2000. But, as many have pointed out, enrollment in CPS has declined by much less: In September of 2013, CPS had 32,000 fewer students than in September of 2000.
Neighborhood schools have been hit hard by the district’s opening of new “schools of choice,” whether magnet schools, charter schools or selective enrollment schools. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school.
If all of the school actions are approved on Wednesday, the landscape of public education will continue to change--especially for students in particular neighborhoods,
Next fall, CPS will run about 84 percent of public elementary schools in Chicago, down from 86 percent this year. The rest will be run by private entities, most by charter operators or AUSL.
The shifting landscape will result in fewer neighborhood schools—schools where students are guaranteed a spot if they live within the attendance boundaries. In 2000, nearly 98 percent of elementary school students attended neighborhood schools.
Also next fall, the percentage of elementary schools with attendance boundaries will drop to 70 percent, down from 75 percent this year (should all closings be approved and with the planned opening of 10 more elementary charter schools).
CPS officials say this might be the wave of the future as they try to increase choices, without increasing the number of buildings in the district’s portfolio.
For parents like Miranda, the shift means one of two things: taking their children further from home to get to the new neighborhood school, or filling out several applications to a ‘school of choice,’ then hoping and praying that they win a spot.
Like so many parents in the past few months, Miranda says going further away from home poses increased danger. Miranda is worried about a busy street that her children would have to cross to get to Jenner. Other parents in her school say that there’s an entrenched rivalry between Jenner and Manierre students, so much so that teams from the two schools aren’t even allowed to play each other in sports. They worry about fights and point to nasty posts on Facebook by Jenner students threatening those at Manierre.
Miranda says she doesn’t think this would be a problem at Newberry, LaSalle, Skinner North or Franklin—all of which are closer to Manierre than Jenner.
But these are all magnet or selective schools and assigning children to them is not the way CPS works these days.
Below is a slideshow of Monday's marches against school closings. The CTU organized three days of marches, which ended downtown. (Slideshow by Lucio Villa)
It’s always a nice day when an editor gets to brag about her reporters: over the weekend, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Colorado Pro chapter announced the winners of its “Top of the Rockies” contest, and I’m happy to report that EdNews Colorado took home three awards.
The team won first prize in the enterprise education reporting category (circulation 30,000-74,999) for the series, “Medical marijuana and K-12 schools.” (That series also recently won second prize in the National Awards for Education Reporting contest run by the Education Writers Association.)
And in the “Education: General Reporting” category, Nancy Mitchell, Rebecca Jones, Burt Hubbard (of the I-News Network) and Todd Engdahl won first prize for their report on cheating investigations at Beach Court Elementary School and Hallett Fundamental Academy, “State investigating two Denver schools.”
The site also won third prize for general website excellence.
Please join me in congratulating our reporters on a job well done!
“Every time it rains, like last week, the first words my son asks me” is if the house will flood, said Maryrose Spiteri. “He panics.”
Spiteri was part of a small group of parents and teachers from P.S. 38 on Staten Island who met in the school’s library this morning with three Regents: Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Buffalo’s Robert Bennett, and Staten Island’s Christine Cea. Principal Everlidys Robles estimated that 85 percent of her families “were devastated” by the storm and that 40 students — about 12 percent — had not returned.
The parents sat in chairs in a compact circle, where behind them a slideshow of events during the school’s recovery, which included visits from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Mets shortstop David Wright, was projected onto a wall. On a table nearby was newspaper clippings about the damage to Staten Island and binders of assignments from students who wrote about the experiences.
One kindergartner, in a persuasive writing assignment, called on Mayor Bloomberg to build more houses for people who lost their homes. Another student wrote about getting rescued from his home. “In the morning a boat came and took us to the shelter,” he wrote.
Tisch asked the parents to share their personal experiences as well and, in a series of emotional testimonies, they did so. One parent, Kim Fish, said her family was split up for 10 hours during and after the storm.
Another mother, Diane Cruz, said she left her children, including a son who has autism, at home with a relative while running an errand for supplies at a Duane Reade as the storm got underway. She wouldn’t see them again until the next day.
“For 13 hours, I didn’t know if my kids made it out alive,” Cruz said. In a moment of levity, she recalled how they were reunited. “All of a sudden, I see my kids go by in a boat,” she said.
Many of the parents said that where other first responders had failed to help them, P.S. 38 and its staff provided assistance. The school was operating again on Nov. 2, and teachers had organized food pantries and toy drives to support the families who had lost everything. Cruz, who was displaced and lived in New Jersey after the storm, said that she heard from neighbors that teachers knocked on her front door to check on the family.
“We didn’t get help from anyone else,” Cruz said.
Along with other state education officials, Tisch initially visited schools shortly after the storm struck. She said today that she saw impressive improvement but added that the parents’ emotional recollections highlighted the daily challenges that still exist.
“For the people living in it day-to-day, I think at some point you get very frustrated with the pace of the progress,” Tisch said. “I think the emotion is just that it was a real lifetime event for real families in real time and they’re still living in it.”
Tisch also put teachers — and students — on the spot to describe their experiences with last month’s state tests. The Regents have drawn criticism for allowing state tests to be tied to new standards known as the Common Core soon after the state adopted the standards. But Tisch said she had also heard encouraging responses to her own questions about the year’s tests.
“I think it is extraordinary when you talk to the teachers and the children to see that they felt prepared and ready for the task, which is not to say that they will have the highest scores,” Tisch said. “But it is to say that they implementation of Common Core — no matter the circumstance, and this was a very complicated circumstance — is something that is on the mind of educators and school systems throughout the state.”
While Tisch was on Staten Island, State Education Commissioner John King toured two Sandy-affected school buildings in Queens, including the Channel View campus. The group reconvened this afternoon for an abbreviated policy meeting and a forum on immigration and education, as part of a push this week for legislative relief for students who were brought to the country illegally as children.
New York City schools are being asked to add one more lesson to the packed weeks before the end of the school year: about bullying.
In light of recent bias-motivated violence, including the murder of a 32-year-old gay man in the West Village this weekend, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said all schools would be asked to hold at least one event before the end of the school year to educate students about hate crimes and bullying.
“I don’t know why it feels like we’ve taken a step backwards but that is the case,” Quinn said. “What we’re going to do is push forward and make sure we do the organizing, education, and public safety work we need to do to make sure we don’t go backwards.”
Quinn, who is vying to be the city’s first openly gay mayor and used to be the director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, reached out to Walcott to help implement the “emergency additions” to the city’s expectations for schools.
The Department of Education currently has a Respect for All week — the fourth annual event was in February — where schools are asked to use programs and curriculum to teach students to respect diversity and prevent bullying and harassment.
Between now and the end of the school year, Quinn said, schools will be asked to do at least one thing “to focus the student body against bullying.” Some examples of things schools could do include holding assemblies, spending class time talking about the issue or a school library highlighting certain books and holding reading circles, Quinn said. Each school can decide what type of action to take since they know their community better than the council and DOE, she added.
Walcott, who has spent recent days criticizing mayoral candidates for challenging the Bloomberg administration’s school policies, briefly attended Quinn’s press conference at City Hall before heading to Staten Island for another event. He said he met with the school staff and family of D’aja Robinson, the 14-year-old from Queens who was shot and killed by a stray bullet on a bus Saturday night. Police do not consider that killing to have been a hate crime.
Quinn said she’s focusing on schools to educate children about discrimination before they become adults and so that they can educate their parents.
Other organizations supporting the announcement include the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.
With an eye on expanding K-12 online and blended course offerings as well as the professional development assistance needed to deliver the courses, state Senator Ellen Roberts and state Representative Don Coram brought forward and passed legislation that will increase opportunities for Colorado students, particularly in rural Colorado.
Now, what exactly does this legislation do?*
Track academic performance of students in online and blended learning courses? Check. Provide educator access to professional development for online and blended courses? Check. Create local level supports at schools and districts for these courses? Check. Promote mentoring to help students be more successful in an online environment? Check. Increasing market incentives for high quality providers in the state? Check.
On April 19, Governor John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 13-139, which outlines aspirational goals for utilizing online and blended learning strategies and improves the process for selecting a vendor to provide these services. Under the new law, the goals of online courses and blended learning strategies are to:
In order to achieve these goals, the bill created a selection committee charged with awarding contracts to statewide online education providers. The selection committee will include representatives from a designated BOCES, the Colorado Department of Online and Blended Learning office, a national expert in online and blended learning, an administrator from an alternative learning campus, and an administrator from a school that purchases online or blended services.
The new law supports increased choices for Colorado students because the selected nonprofit entity will provide supplemental online courses, professional development for educators, and consulting assistance to school districts, charter schools, and BOCES wanting to offer online and blended learning for their students.
The new law improves the state’s ability to provide supplemental online offerings by removing an arbitrary cost per-course cap of $200 that resulted in a distorted market, limiting the expansion of high quality supplemental courses.
What is the bottom line? This new law, passed with bipartisan support, facilitates the creation of a more dynamic online and blended learning education market in Colorado that provides improved supports for both teachers and students. We thank the legislative sponsors for bringing this forward as it moves Colorado one step closer to having a more robust and student centered blended learning system.
*Initially adopted into law in 2007, the supplemental online course services program receives $480,000 annually from federal mineral leasing revenues transferred to the state public school fund.
This piece was cross-posted from the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s blog.About the author
Matt Samelson is director of special projects for the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Previously, his research at the foundation contributed to the legislation that became the Building Excellent Schools Today program at the Colorado Department of Education.About the author
Reilly Pharo was born and raised in Colorado, a proud graduate of Jefferson County public schools. From there she went to the University of Kansas where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. She has spent her career in nonprofit organizations that aim to support vulnerable children. In 2009, Reilly joined the Colorado Children’s Campaign, and after two years as the Government Affairs Director, in the fall of 2011 she moved into the role of Vice President of Education Initiatives.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed the bill needed to fund the state’s schools next year and a bill that tweaks the educator evaluation system.
The 2013-14 school funding measure, Senate Bill 13-260, provides a 2.7 percent increase over this year’s average per-pupil funding. Total program funding, the combination of state and local revenue that pays for basic school operations, would rise to $5.5 billion, an increase of about $210 million. Average per pupil funding would move up from the current $6,479 to $6,652. The bill also provides additional funding for the Colorado Preschool Program and for special education. Get details in this EdNews summary.
The second measure, House Bill 13-1257, gives the Department of Education additional oversight over district teacher evaluation systems when districts choose to design their own rather than use the state model system. The bill was prompted, at least indirectly, by disagreements between the Douglas County school board and the local teachers union. Read a legislative staff summary of the bill here.
The governor signed the bills on Friday at Upper Blue Elementary School in Breckenridge, in the district of Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, a prime sponsor of both measures. Hickenlooper has been crisscrossing the state in recent days for a series of photo-op signing ceremonies with lawmakers.
The governor will sign Senate Bill 13-213, the bill to overhaul the entire school finance system, during an 11 a.m. event Tuesday at the Capitol.
In the self portrait, her wild, curly blonde hair is tousled to one side of her face, the two sharp arrows from her lip ring poke out the left corner of her mouth and her eyebrows arch upward in a look of skepticism.
Samantha Morales said drawing this picture was the hardest thing she’s ever done.
“I was backing out of it so many times because in the picture I had curly hair, and it was really hard to draw,” she said. “But it made me learn not to give up on anything.”
Morales is a student at ROADS Charter School 2 in the Bronx, a charter transfer school that enrolls 15- to 17-year-olds who are overage and under-credited and have either been homeless, in jail, in foster care or child protective services, or who have dropped out of high school.
ROADS, which stands for Reinventing Options for Adolescents who Deserve Success, opened last fall in the South Bronx and in East New York at a time when many charter schools face criticism for not serving the high-need students that ROADS accepts. The New York City Charter School Center, which is in the midst of a campaign to improve public perception of charter schools, will show off the students’ artwork at its headquarters today at 6 p.m.
The art project — which also asked students to complete the statements ”I was … I am … I will be …” in writing — is just one of the many strategies that ROADS is using to help its students overcome past struggles to aspire toward goals such as graduating, going to college, and building a career.
“We’re trying to do something other schools can’t do with these kids,” said ROADS algebra teacher Abbas Manjee, who used to teach at a district transfer school on the Upper West Side.
The school has adopted instructional approaches that accommodate students’ persistent attendance issues; built a robust staff of non-teachers whose job is to support students; and rethought the traditional school schedule to maximize the social and emotional support that students receive.
Principal Seth Litt, who was born and raised in the Bronx and used to be the principal of a nearby middle school, said striking the balance between support and high expectations is sometimes challenging. Unusual among transfer schools, ROADS accepts students who have zero high school credits, and the average student comes in reading at a fifth-grade level and doing math at a fourth-grade level.
“Our students for the most part are struggling learners, and they’re overage,” he said. “The clock is ticking really loudly for them.”
The wide range of students’ skills is one reason ROADS uses outcomes-based grading. Instead of considering students successful if they have simply proceeded through a textbook from beginning to end, each class has 10 outcomes, a stepladder of learning objectives that students must master to pass the class. Litt said the arrangement allows for more individualized learning and for teachers to intervene early on when they see students aren’t understanding a certain concept. It also helps with students who miss class a lot.
“Just because they’re at ROADS doesn’t mean that, especially in their first year, that all the things in their lives have changed,” Litt said.
Examples of that sensitivity were apparent in Manjee’s algebra class one recent day. He had two different assignments for students on his SMART Board, labeled “If you were present Friday” and “If you were absent Friday.”
“We have to adapt to their lives if we expect them to adapt to the system that we’ve created for them,” Manjee said. “And right now the system we’ve created for them doesn’t work for them. If they want to agree with these things that we set up as a society, we need to meet them halfway.”
In another algebra class, students wearing headphones sat at computers watching a 28-minute video of a math lesson recorded by their teacher Emily Buxbaum. She said she originally created the videos so that students who were absent could catch up on lessons they missed, but it turned out it was helpful for all students to learn at their own pace and pause and replay something when they didn’t understand it.
In an English class a couple doors down on the one-hallway school, which shares space with two other transfer schools, teacher Melissa Giroux showed students a video clip of CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosting a debate about whether women should fight in combat. Posing questions such as “What makes an argument successful?” Giroux asked students to identify each debater’s claim, evidence, and reasoning.
The lesson echoes one of the real-life lessons that Manjee said the school tries to teach students.
“Instead of getting louder than your opponent … you want to beat your opponent with knowledge and not a Jerry Springer-style battle where the loudest person wins,” he said.
There are 13 teachers at ROADS and seven additional people called “team advisors” who act as case workers and help students communicate with child welfare services and their probation officers.
“They’re like our second parents. They really motivate us,” said Elisha Owens, 16, said about the advisors.
“They’re like older brothers and sisters,” said Anthony Reddick, 17. Morales piped in, “Like therapists!”
“They always find a way to give you the time of day,” Owens said.
“Teachers shouldn’t even be stressing about that stuff anyway,” Morales said. “They should just be…”
“Teachers,” Reddick said, finishing Morales’ sentence.
“Yeah, exactly,” Morales said.
But the extra staff doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t involved in their students’ lives. Manjee is helping to pilot a new program where each teacher will be assigned to four sets of students and get a whole day every two weeks to take them out of school on field trips. The trips are about establishing a personal connection with students outside the classroom and so that the roles of teachers and counselors don’t become too separated, Manjee said.
“The kids figured out that if we split up so many of these roles, people aren’t doing a good job of communicating and no one can hold me accountable for anything,” he said.
For many students, school staff said, their school is holding them accountable for their grades and behavior for the first time. Lakota Leijon, the director of students services who has worked as a social worker, recounted one of the first times that her students saw her angry. A group of them had misbehaved and Litt wanted to send them home as punishment, but Leijon said no.
“Send them home to what? To play video games? They’ll probably hang out on the corner. I said, ‘No, they need to stay,’” she said. “I need them to start learning what it feels like when someone who’s been believing in you, who’s been your number one advocate, when you’ve let them down.”
Leijon’s faith in her students makes her give them, what she calls, “real talk.”
“A lot of students thought if they don’t pass [ROADS] that’s ok, I’ll just get my GED,” she said, referring to the exam that can be taken to demonstrate high school equivalency. “I said guys, a GED is four years of high school crammed into a two-day test. If you’re at a fourth-grade reading level, you’re not going to pass.”
It’s this kind of honesty that students at ROADS appreciate after being passed at each grade level, but knowing they weren’t really learning anything, Litt said.
“They’re not going to get angry if someone says you need support that isn’t high school work,” the principal said. “They’re tired of people lying to them and giving them work that just keeps them busy in class.”
Getting through to students can require some reframing for teachers. Lisa Barnshaw, the art teacher who assigned the self-portrait art project, said Morales had gotten so frustrated with her drawing, which was divided into a grid, that she was talking the whole time in class and not working on it. Then one day, Barnshaw sat down with Morales and offered to do one square of the drawing.
“I extended the edge of each line into the next box. And she looked at me and was like, okay, thanks, I think I got it and then took off,” Barnshaw said. “I always had that mentality I’m not going to put my hands on a student’s artwork, but if what they need is just a little bit of a boost, I’m willing to make compromises if it’s going to help make that kid be successful.”
Morales spent nine hours over two days to finish her project.
“They thought they couldn’t do something. They worked hard at it, and they got it done. It’s such a huge microcosm for their lives,” Barnshaw said.
While the students have made a lot of progress this year, Litt said he recognizes that they and the school have major challenges ahead.
“It’s a transition from community and culture to making sure our students compete with students anywhere. I’m very proud of where we are right now. It took a lot of work from a lot of adults and a lot of trust from students,” he said. “We have to maintain what we’ve done this year and just make sure we’re adding on to it … We have to demand and support students to be academically excellent.”
This evening, Morales and a few other ROADS students will be speaking at the art show. She’ll be delivering a spoken word poem that recounts her path to ROADS after being suspended for fighting at her previous school.
“The things you’ll hear from us, you’d never hear from a teenager,” said Morales, who transferred from a performing arts high school in Harlem. “But I just want people to see that we are kids willing to make a change, we are kids that want to be the future for our country. … We don’t want to be the same statistic of a high school dropout.”Samantha Morales’s poem
Things i seened at my age are unimaginable
the memories that flash back in my head are unforgetable.
Boogie down bronx, 17 years young,
alcoholic parents, getting bullied wasnt fun.
High school days was the highlight of my life.
Did wrong things ended up in fights.
Suspension was crazy, they said i needed a new start,
things will get better if i believed in my art.
Wasn’t feeling the vibe at first ,
first day of school of course thinking the worst.
Thinking – kids like me , No way im out
One more slip up , im a drop out without a doubt.
But I knew I couldnt label myself as that, thats not me.
I needed to be able to successed.
Im a dancer , Im a leader
So yes , definately Roads was the answer.
I came across on not judging so fast, got to focus on the future
not on the past.
And at last , people that believed in me ; teachers i can talk to and tell me i can achieve -
Cuz its a hard knocks life and life will get rough -
I just hope you see what ROADS done for us.
A three-day series of marches through neighborhoods with schools on the closure list was part of a final push organized by the Chicago Teachers Union and community groups before the Chicago Board of Education votes Wednesday on the closure plan. The marches will culminate Monday afternoon with a rally outside City Hall.
ACADEMIC BENEFIT DOUBTED: Only three of the 53 proposed grammar school closings to be voted on Wednesday by Chicago's School Board would move students from the lowest performing quartile of schools to the highest. Studies show that unless students move to top schools, they see no academic benefits. (WBEZ)
LEWIS WINS: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was easily re-elected to a second three-year term Friday, according to unofficial results released by the union.
TRIMMED CLOSING LIST POSSIBLE: At least a few of the 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing could be dropped from the list before Wednesday’s final school board vote, under pressure from black aldermen to follow hearing officers’ recommendations, City Hall sources said Friday, the Sun-Times reported. The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus has demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board follow retired judges’ recommendations to keep open 13 of the 54 schools.
IN THE NATION
SUSPENDING THE YOUNGEST: At least 1,967 students age 6 and under were suspended last school year -- almost all of them black or Hispanic, according to a report from the Connecticut Department of Education, The number of students suspended is actually higher, but privacy issues restrict the state agency from releasing information that could identify unique student information. (CT Mirror)
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has announced that she won a second term in Friday's election, garnering 80 percent of the votes in preliminary results.
The election was a referendum on how well Lewis' leadership and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators handled the fall's teacher strike and contract negotiations.
The opposition caucus, Coalition to Save Our Union, charged that Lewis put style and big-picture promises over substance and results.
But many teachers said that Lewis' leadership during the strike, when she went head-to-head with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, proved decisive in their decisions to vote for her.
“You need a force like Karen Lewis to get in the face of the mayor,” said Emily Rosenberg, director of DePaul University's Labor Education Center and a supporter of Lewis. “She can't be bullied.”
As the union's biggest battle yet over school closings drags on, Rosenberg says the election “gives a signal to the whole city that (teachers are) solidly behind her, and that there's going to be a struggle.”
The Board of Regents and the Assembly are teaming up next week to push for legislation that would give New York’s roughly 150,000 undocumented students access to financial aid for college.
On Monday, the board will convene a forum in Queens on immigration and education to wrap up their monthly meeting. The forum will discuss ways to increase opportunities for English language learners and undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children.
That has been part of the board’s legislative agenda for the past two years. The bill, the New York Dream Act, would give undocumented students access to state financial aid through the $1 billion-funded Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP. It would also allow them to open tax-advantaged savings accounts with private banks.
The TAP funding in this year’s budget is up from $885 million in 2010-2011. The Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent research organization, has estimated that the state would need to spend an additional $17 million annually to afford tuition assistance for the roughly 4,500 undocumented seniors who graduate from New York high schools every year.
“There are hundreds of thousands of students in New York who have been condemned to a life of poverty simply because they were brought to the United States as children,” Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. ”Their immigration status is determined solely by the status of their parents, and they’re being denied opportunities that the rest of America takes for granted.”
The legislation, sponsored by Francisco Moya, is also a top priority for the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver said this week. The Assembly intends to pass the bill on Tuesday, but not before it votes on a resolution to investigate sexual harassment and misconduct allegations by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a process that could eventually lead to his expulsion.
Whatever its fortunes in the Assembly are, the bill has little chance of moving in the Senate. Leaders Jeff Klein, a Democrat, and Dean Skelos, a Republican, have said they would only support a version of the legislation that didn’t require more funding for TAP. Skelos has said he’d prefer to offer financial assistance through a private fund.
While state education officials are in New York City, they’ll also be touring schools that were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy more than six months ago. On their public schedule for Monday are visits to P.S. 38 in Staten Island, Scholars’ Academy and Beach Channel Educational Campus, which houses five schools. GothamSchools wrote about the recovery efforts by one of those schools, Channel View School for Research, and its struggles to recoup what it lost in the storm’s aftermath:
In the storm’s aftermath, Channel View was displaced from its building for two months and has struggled to recover. Teachers’ and students’ homes were destroyed, parents lost their jobs, and ongoing work to rebuild the Rockaway Peninsula has made for a bleak backdrop in which to go to school.
Even four months after the school returned to its building, students and staff say that something is missing. In interviews, they struggled to identify what they had lost.
“It’s something that we can’t grasp, what the issue is,” said Jennifer Walter, the school’s guidance counselor. “But you can feel it.”
Distressed by state tests that they say did not reflect the way they want students to learn, several city principals are pledging not to use the scores to help them pick their students.
Selective middle schools consider students’ fourth-grade reading and math scores, and selective high schools look at students’ seventh-grade scores.
But after the first round of state tests tied to new standards known as the Common Core, about a dozen principals have announced — in an open letter to parents, students, educators, and others with an interest in education — that they are abandoning the use of test scores in admission, at least for now.
“We welcome rigor, high standards and accountability, but demand that these three crucial words and concepts not be thrown around loosely; and, even more importantly, we demand that they be implemented in a proper, respectful and effective way,” write the principals, who come from a range of selective schools in three boroughs. ”Therefore, we cannot grant these recent tests the value others claim they have until [our] concerns are addressed.”
The principals say they want the state’s tests to be shorter, open to public scrutiny, and more aligned to the Common Core, which emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving over recall and the completion of rote processes.
Mark Federman, principal of East Side Community School, said he helped draft the letter after being “shocked and appalled and just really saddened” that this year’s state tests did not match up to what he expected of the Common Core.
“The power that we have as principals and as schools is we decide how important [test scores] are,” he said. “It would be hypocritical for us to use them in admissions.”
The principals are also registering their criticism in a letter that Federman said would be sent soon to State Education Commissioner John King. Journalist Andrea Gabor first reported about both letters on her blog.
Like most of the principals who signed the letters, Rex Bobbish, principal of the Cinema School, a selective Bronx high school, has never made test scores the exclusive or even prime factor when selecting applicants. But he told GothamSchools that he always considers them, and in the past, he has assumed that very low scores meant that students would not be prepared for high school. Now, he said, he won’t make the same assumption.
“I will weigh students’ grades in core courses much more heavily than the state exams going forward,” he said. “That’s the pledge I made when I signed that letter.”
At schools where test scores have factored more heavily into admissions decisions, making the same pledge is less straightforward, Federman said. Still, he said, principals there could facilitate an important discussion about the role of test scores.
“If there’s a school and parents that are boycotting the test, and yet the school is using tests to let kids in, I think that’s a good conversation for that community to have,” he said.
Among the principals who have signed on to the pledge is Ramon Gonzalez of M.S. 223 in the South Bronx. Days after the state tests finished last month, Gonzalez told a crowd of policy makers — including AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has called for a one-year moratorium on stakes for Common Core exams — that the tests had distressed his teachers and students.
“They didn’t know it would be a test of endurance,” Gonzalez said about his students. “They thought it would be a test about what they knew.”
Bobbish said changing their schools’ admissions criteria represents a small step that principals can take against state tests’ increasing stakes, an issue that several mayoral candidates have pledged to address.
“There’s not really much we can do about it,” said Bobbish, who said he supports the Common Core standards but grew concerned after colleagues told him that the tests did not appear to be fully aligned to the standards. “We can’t control the whole world, but we can send a message by saying we really value a student’s long-term effort and what they do in teachers’ classrooms more than what their tests show.”
This story has been updated with comments from Mark Federman and to reflect the fact that the letter to John King has not yet been sent.
For the second time in six months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tiny team of education aides is undergoing transition.
The departure of Katie Campos, Cuomo’s P-12 assistant education secretary since 2011, comes as one of the governor’s major initiatives, his education reform commission, prepares to renew its operations.
Campos’s last day is technically today as she prepares to enter law school this fall. But a spokesman for Cuomo said she’s sticking around parttime — and unpaid — through the summer to oversee the commission, which convenes next week for a second and potentially more controversial phase of meetings.
Cuomo and a small circle of policy advisors, including Jim Malatras, set the governor’s education agenda. But the execution of that agenda is largely left to a deputy secretary and two assistants. Campos’s is the second departure in a year for the triumvirate, of which Campos, at 27, was the most experienced member.
David Wakelyn, Cuomo’s first deputy for education, left last April after eight months on the job. His post that was not filled for six months, until De’Shawn Wright took over. (Lonnie Threatte is assistant secretary on higher education.)
Wakelyn, who said he left because of the strain it placed on his family, said Campos earned a reputation as a workhorse who “worked on pretty much anything and everything.”
“Katie just has remarkable energy and brings fierce intelligence and passion to the work,” Wakelyn said.
Campos’s hire in June 2011 was viewed skeptically by many seasoned education officials and advocates, based on her age and background. After graduating from college three years earlier, Campos had worked for Democrats for Education Reform and the New York State Charter Schools Association. Campos also formed a parent-organizing group, Buffalo ReformEd, that pushed for a parent trigger law in her home city.
“She was a person who I had never met before in my life. She was very young and she came from a background that would suggest very education reform, very pro-charter,” said Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. “But once I got to know her, I was very impressed. She’s smart and very dedicated and accessible and she kept an open mind.”
Campos, who declined to comment about her departure, was seen as a key advisor on Cuomo’s ambitious education agenda. She was a point person to the commission’s members and the groups that were invited to testify at their meetings. She also helped develop the early learning, community schools, and extended learning grant programs that the commission recommended and the state is in the early stages of executing.
Campos also helped draft legislation designed to force local districts to negotiate, submit, and implement their teacher evaluation plans.
Cuomo has not yet selected a replacement for Campos. She’ll begin her volunteer stint next week when the Education Reform Commission meets in Albany to discuss the issue of merging and restructuring small school districts, a controversial policy that often means jobs loss.