A well-organized coalition of parents, teachers and advocates turned out in full force to public forums Tuesday night to support Commissioner John King and his push for tougher learning standards that have sparked opposition in most other parts of the state this fall.
The groups, which included StudentsFirstNY, Families for Excellent Schools and Educators 4 Excellence, used the hearings in Brooklyn and the Bronx to make arguments in favor of the Common Core standards that they feel have been left out of recent debates. In particular, some parents argued that the tougher standards are urgently needed to improve the quality of struggling schools, while some teachers said they enhanced their instruction.
“To those of you who are calling to slow it down or stop the movement for these high standards, you do not speak for me or many of these parents,” said Mery Melendez, a charter-school parent and organizer with Families for Excellent Schools who spoke at the Brooklyn hearing. “We’re tired of waiting for change.”
The supportive presence was most apparent in a packed Medgar Evers College auditorium in Crown Heights where the Brooklyn forum was held. A much smaller audience showed up in the Bronx, though it offered more mixed reviews of state education policies.
Critics at the events – who in Brooklyn were vastly outnumbered – challenged the notion that the standards benefit students. Others argued they were too quickly incorporated into the state tests and that they leave some students behind.
“I believe it is imperative that we find another tool to monitor the progress of ELLs and students with disabilities,” middle school parent Angela Rodriguez, who otherwise supported the Common Core, said at the Bronx meeting.
The friendly turnout for King was a break from some of the hostile crowds that have greeted him in other parts of the state on his six-week tour, which has included 10 community forums and four televised events. King and the education department organized the forums after a first attempt to meet with parents became too disruptive, he has said.
A question coming into the city hearings was whether King would face the same opposition as elsewhere in the state. Some allies, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have suggest that criticism comes mainly from affluent parents with students in suburban schools, not low-income parents in urban school systems.
Thanks to the organizing efforts, which included matching signs and monopolized speaking slots, King encountered virtually no push back. Many parents and teachers framed their support for the Common Core as a civil rights issue about holding schools to the same standards regardless of the student populations they serve.
“I think it’s a cruel injustice to expect less from our minority students than we do of their more affluent peers,” said one teacher.
A press release passed out by StudentsFirstNY before the forum used some of the same language, calling the Common Core a “lifeline” and a “critical civil rights issue” for “communities with failing schools.”
“Across the state there’s a lot of good work happening around the Common Core, so it’s encouraging to hear teachers and parents describing that work,” King said after the forum.
“It doesn’t change that there are undoubtedly challenges and places where we need to make adjustments,” he added, citing plans to increase funding for teacher training and to allow students with disabilities to take tests at their level of instruction rather than their age.
Some objected to the organizing tactics, complaining that supporters showed up well before doors opened to fill out the first speaking spots, which essentially froze out any chance for there to be an opposing view. They also said that their message was unnecessarily polarizing.
Sarah Porter, a parent at Brooklyn’s P.S. 132, called it a “false dichotomy,” which says “if you’re against any part of the Common Core, then you are therefore against educational equity.”
Not everyone to speak shared a rosy view, however. Katie Lapham, a teacher at P.S. 214 in Brooklyn, showed up early enough that she was able to beat the crowd of supporters.
“The Common Core has led to scripted curricula that do little more than prepare students, beginning in kindergarten, for high-stakes Common Core standardized tests,” Lapham said.
Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch encountered a smaller audience, but stronger opposition, at Evander Childs school campus in the Bronx. One speaker called for Tisch’s resignation, some criticized the state’s use of student data, while many decried raised anxieties caused by new high-stakes tests.
Some teachers, as well as Educators 4 Excellence founder Evan Stone spoke in support, offering examples of how the standards had helped them craft more challenging lessons for students.
Tisch also took heat for the state’s late notice of the event, which several parents complained made it difficult to get more people to attend.
“For the love of god, you people told us late last week,” said parent Eileen Markie.
Unlike the charter school parents represented at the Brooklyn forum, Markie was part of a contingent from the Bronx Community Charter School that raised the negative impacts that the Common Core was having on their school.
“The intense emphasis on nonfiction technical reading, at the expense of literature, strikes me as diabolical,” Markie added, referring to a literacy shift toward nonfiction text required in the new standards.
Most teacher colleges appear to spend at least some instructional time on classroom-management techniques, but it's often incomplete, not based on research, or divorced from the student-teaching component of preparation. That's the gist of a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which used a sample of the syllabi and other materials collected for last summer's teacher-preparation review for the analysis. (Education Week)
During the 2011-2012 school year, three students from one public high school in west suburban Naperville died from drugs. Kelly McCutcheon was a senior at Neuqua Valley High School at the time, and she started asking her classmates questions about their drug use. The project turned into a documentary that stunned the well-to-do, family-focused community. (WBEZ)
IN THE NATION
GEEKED OUT: Millions of students from kindergarten through 12th grade are learning computer code this week as part of “Hour of Code,” a nationwide campaign embraced by President Obama and featuring free tutorials by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft titan Bill Gates that are designed to get U.S. students interested in computer science. (The Washington Post)
TEACHER REVIEWS FROZEN: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's bid to link teacher job reviews to the growth of student achievement has been sidelined until after he leaves office. The provision, which Jindal pushed through the legislature in 2010, has been set aside until at least the 2015-16 school year, in part because of a state board decision to soften the impact for students and teachers when Louisiana adopts the Common Core. (Baton Rouge Advocate)
VERIFICATION SCRAMBLE: Major California school districts fear they will be shortchanged millions of dollars in funding for their low-income students under new state rules requiring them to verify family incomes every year. Officials in Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno and elsewhere are scrambling to collect verification forms but said that hundreds of families have not yet turned them in — potentially jeopardizing funding that school districts are counting on this year. At stake, for instance, is $200 million in L.A. Unified and $6 million in San Diego. (Los Angeles Times)
A couple years ago, Sally Hensley, principal of Gunnison Elementary School, was talking to another principal in the district about the one of those tedious but necessary tasks: drafting the annual school improvement plan.
The plans are a dizzying maze of student test results followed by strategies and goals for how to improve those results. They can run upwards of 40 pages.
Hensley and her colleague were mulling over how to include what they saw as critical variables in the education equation in their plans: health, wellness and safety.
“Well, why don’t we just add a goal?” the two concluded.
It sounds simple enough, but the plans, which are mandated by a 2009 state law, were designed as part of an accountability system that looks primarily at student achievement, achievement growth, and college or job readiness. There are no check boxes or charts that look at whether students ate a healthy breakfast, received recess, suffer from depression or have too many untreated cavities to concentrate.
In addition, some district administrators say there have been mixed messages from the Colorado Department of Education about whether health goals belong in the plans, formally called “Unified Improvement Plans” or “UIPs”. Both schools and districts must submit the plans to CDE every year.
Bridget Beatty, coordinator of Health Strategies for Denver Public Schools, said her team is interested in seeing schools incorporate such goals in their plans, but the state’s message to principals has not encouraged such additions.
Lisa Medler, executive director of improvement planning at CDE, said schools and districts are welcome to include health, wellness or safety in their UIPs.
“From our perspective, we think it’s fine,” she said.
She cautioned that UIPs are supposed to be focused plans with a small number of key goals, which means not every initiative can or should be captured in the plan.
“The UIPs are not the be-all, end-all for what’s going on in these schools,” said Medler.
Emily O’Winter, the healthy schools coordinator in the Jefferson County district, said including health goals in the UIPs can feel like a stretch to educators. That’s partly because the state doesn’t expect it and also because the plans follow a very specific sequence requiring that goals address the “root causes” of achievement problems.
“There’s certain ways to fit health and wellness in the state version,” she said. “For schools to tie it to health, they have to go out on a limb.”
Medler said that even though there’s no designated box or explicit directions for health-related goals, the UIP process is flexible and allows administrators to choose the appropriate goals for their school or district.
Though, she added, “to be fair, it’s not like we’re emphasizing it in trainings.”Why health?
Hensley and the small band of administrators that have incorporated health goals in their UIPs believe the plans are an appropriate place for health data and goals.
“We don’t just do reading and math in this school,” she said. “If we’re going to use the UIP as a working document…then we have to use it fully.”
How to find UIPs online
Archuleta Superintendent Linda Reed, who began incorporating health into her district’s Unified Improvement Plan last year, also highlighted the disconnect between the typically academic focus of many UIPs and the broader mission of schools.
“We look at the whole child, yet when we look at [unified improvement] plans we look at only achievement or growth data,” she said.
Reed learned about the possibility of including health goals in her UIP during a discussion with a staff member from the Legacy Foundation, a key advocate for the approach. After that conversation, Reed added an improvement strategy to her plan that included nutrition and comprehensive health, among other things. More specifically, it called for the establishment of a student wellness team, health training for teachers and training for nutrition staff on preparing more fresh meals.
While some of these initiatives were already underway because of various grants the district had received, Reed believed their inclusion in the UIP was worthwhile “because it gets measured and it gets done.”
An addendum to the “What’s measured matters” theory may be that what matters doesn’t tend to fall victim to the budget axe. It was a thought that crossed Hensley’s mind when she began including health goals in her UIP, right around the time a nearby district eliminated physical education and music.
“I felt like if we’re including health and wellness in the UIP, it makes it harder to cut programs,” she said.A small club
There’s no official count of Colorado schools or districts that include health and wellness in their UIPs, but it appears to be a handful — a large one if you consider schools that touch on the related factors of school safety, climate or culture.
Aside from Gunnison Elementary and the Archuleta district, these include Place Bridge Academy in Denver, Gunnison Middle School and Colorado Springs District 11. Reed said the three schools in her district will be adding health-related goals to their UIPs starting this year. All told, CDE receives nearly 2,000 UIPs from schools and districts each year.
An example from Gunnison Elementary’s 2012-13 UIP
A 2012 survey of secondary school principals by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only about 10 percent of principals reported including goals related to school food and health services in their plans, while 42 percent reported including goals related to healthy and safe school environments in their plans.
However, only 187 Colorado principals, and none at the elementary level, responding to survey, so it’s unclear if the results can be generalized to the state. Overall, Colorado was in the quartile of states where principals least frequently reported including health-related goals in their improvement plans.
Amy Dillon, a school health specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the only way to determine the true number of schools or districts that include health goals in their UIPs is to read through the plans one by one and do a manual tally. Medler said switching over to an electronic format with the power to mine such data is a high priority for her department.
In Jeffco, the largest district in the state, schools don’t include health goals in their UIPs, but they are asked to turn in a supplement to the district each year that lists health, safety and parent involvement goals. It’s a remnant of the district’s former school improvement process, which was in place before the 2009 law requiring UIPs took effect.
O’Winter said while the health goals may not get sent to the state, there is accountability around them. Not only are principals required to share the goals with their school community, they are considered during principals’ performance evaluations.
At Jeffco’s Ryan Elementary, parent Nicole Croy is on the five-member Wellness Team that drafts the health goals that appear in the supplement. Last year, the goal to increase healthy foods at classroom parties prompted the creation of a new policy requiring 70 percent of party offerings to be healthy snacks. This year, the goal is boosting participation in the “Healthy Hawk High Five” incentive program, which rewards students for healthy behaviors, such as staying active at recess, bringing healthy snacks and washing their hands.
Croy, whose daughter is a fourth-grader at Ryan, said writing the goals into the supplement “brings some validity to the goal and also to the group and what we’re trying to achieve.”Does it work?
Principals and other administrators who include health goals in their UIPs are uniformly enthusiastic about the practice. Several talked about how it helps focus and strengthen what they’re already doing. Others said the health goals, which are often informed by data just like the academic goals in UIPs, can help establish a roadmap for schools.
“It holds us accountable for what we’re doing,” said Brenda Kazin, principal of Place Bridge Academy, a Pre-K-8 magnet school for refugee students. “By using the data, we’ll know we’re going in the right direction,”
Kazin, who said Place Bridge began including health-related goals in its plan last year, called the decision a “no-brainer.” She said the school, which educates many students who may have experienced or witnessed horrible things in their home countries, considered mental and physical health services an integral part of the school’s mission from its opening six years ago.
Kazin and Annette Garcia, the school’s health education coordinator, said even in schools without such visible health needs as Place Bridge, students may well have unmet health or mental health needs that could be addressed through UIP health goals. That said, Garcia said it comes down to a philosophical question: “How much should schools take on in terms of physical and emotional support?”
Dillon, who sometimes fields questions from schools about how to incorporate health into their improvement plans, said the state and the Legacy Foundation are in a learning stage right now and are working to collect feedback from front-runner schools and districts.
The UIPs are relatively new, she noted, and some schools and districts are still getting used to the state’s template. Dillon said she doesn’t want to confuse or overburden schools by asking them to include health goals in UIPs.
“Is including health and wellness as a goal in the UIP or as an action step, does that really then increase the level of accountability on health and wellness?” she asked. “We’re determining if that’s the best strategy.”
As part of an ongoing series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins wonders how we can change the sense of powerlessness many teachers feel in affecting policy change.
As a teacher, I knew little about the scope of the education system existing beyond the walls of my classroom. Even after a few months at the Donnell-Kay Foundation, I am only beginning to recognize the complexities surrounding system structure and the policy making process. What I have learned since leaving the classroom has led me to more deeply appreciate teachers’ unique roles within education, while simultaneously opening my eyes to the reality that the system as it stands is too large and complex for teachers to be effective full-time educators and highly informed system-level advocates for their students.
To better understand teachers’ interactions with the complexities of the system, I asked a group of current educators to share their own impressions of policy.
Initially, all of the teachers mentioned that they do have a level of interest in education policy, one teacher including that “whatever decisions are made will impact my work as a teacher.” Another teacher clarified that lack of participation is due to the many responsibilities that teachers juggle, as any current or former teacher would agree. “It’s about not having the time to dedicate to thinking about policy. I feel like I’m working so much!”
Regrettably, even if time were not an obstacle, many teachers voiced a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness:
As a teacher, my greatest potential for a positive impact was in the classroom with my students. Consequently, I invested my time in becoming a better teacher. As much as I would have liked to expand my reach into policy, I would have been unable to be fully effective in my classroom and fully effective on a larger scale. As one teacher told me, “Because of the rigors of the job, when given a choice of researching a better way of teaching irrational numbers or reading about a policy that I will be unable to change, I choose to spend my time working for the students I serve.”
The nature of policy makes it nearly impossible for teachers to be fully engaged in the classroom and in high levels of system work. We need to engage teachers in Colorado’s education work, but we must be thoughtful, considering the levels where teacher participation should occur and potentially restructuring existing systems to allow for this participation. In the new year, I plan to explore the options that currently exist for teachers at the school, district, state, and even national levels so that teachers can feel empowered to be part of the decisions that impact their work. Meaningful changes can and will happen when teaching and policy experts collaborate for the benefit of Colorado’s children.About the author
Sarah Jenkins is a fellow at the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, Sarah spent three years teaching kindergarten and first grade in two charter schools in the Denver Public School system.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Computer science is to be elevated from elective to core curriculum in all public high schools and be offered at elementary schools — the latter unprecedented elsewhere — CPS announced Monday. In the next three years, every high school will offer a foundational computer science course, and within five years, CPS plans to be the first urban district offering kindergarten through eighth-grade computer courses, officials said. (Sun-Times)
PARTNERS AND DONORS: The district has partnered with Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit promoting computer science education that will provide free computer science curriculum and professional development for teachers. Code.org counts Microsoft's Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin among its founding donors and offers coding tutorials online while already partnering with school districts in New York City, Boston, Florida and Washington, said Pat Yongpradit, director of education at Code.org. (Tribune)
ELECTED BOARD VOTE BLOCKED: For the second time in two years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies have used their political muscle to keep off the ballot a referendum asking Chicago voters whether they favor a switch to an elected school board. Instead, the City Council’s Finance Committee decided Monday to ask March 18 primary voters whether:
--They favor a cab fare hike
--The Illinois General Assembly should ban high-capacity magazines.
--Gun owners should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in restaurants.
Because only three referenda can be placed on the ballot, that guarantees there’s no room for the elected school board question. (Sun-Times)
PENSION PUSHBACK: Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and Amanda Kass, a pension specialist, write that the pension bill that Gov. Pat Quinn just signed "ultimately will make the state's poor fiscal condition even worse," and the "legislation is most likely unconstitutional." (Crain's)
THE POWER OF PARENTS: Logan Square Neighborhood Association, a community group in northwest Chicago, has turned hundreds of hesitant parents into capable classroom helpers, role models and leaders by tapping into strengths many don’t realize they have. (Seattle Times)
IN THE NATION
'DAY OF ACTION': Thousands of teachers and students ralled in cities across the nation Monday for the National Day of Action, a movement organized by the American Federation of Teachers union that seeks to reclaim their vision of the nation's public education system. Participants signed onto The Principles That Unite Us, a set of beliefs that acknowledges the need for equitable and progressive public education and is viewed as a requirement for a healthy democracy. (PBS Newshour)
SUPPORT FOR EARLY LEARNING: More than 500 state lawmakers from 49 states have signed a letter urging Congressional budget writers to increase federal spending on early childhood education. A bill, the Strong Start for America's Children Act, would create federal-state partnerships to provide prekindergarten to low- and moderate-income children. Meanwhile, a new ECS report shows that states have forged ahead with early learning policies. (Stateline.org)
Like students across the city, those at the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies can rattle off many reasons to loathe the state Regents exams.
Teens at the Chelsea school have had to slog through Saturday test-prep classes, retake tough tests several times, appeal low scores and — in at least one student’s case — retake two of the all-important exit exams this summer on his 17th birthday.
But unlike most students, those in Hudson’s 12th-grade government class decided to turn their Regents animus into action by launching an outreach campaign aimed at lowering the temperature around testing.
“I love school,” said Bruce Dixey, the birthday test-taker. “But when it comes to test prep, I just dread it.”
The class partnered with Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that sends college volunteers into high school classrooms to guide students in semester-long, applied-civics projects around local issues. Hudson’s volunteer was Andrew Zola, a freshman at Columbia University.
The Hudson students chose standardized testing and designed a media blitz — social media posts, YouTube videos, letters to parents — urging everyone to keep the tests in perspective: “Do not measure your self-worth on a petty grade,” reads the students’ blog, called Don’t Stress the Test!
On Tuesday, they will join more than 200 students from 19 schools to present their project at Generation Citizen’s second-annual “Civics Day” event at the Smithsonian Museum in Lower Manhattan.
While student aversion to tests is nothing new, the Hudson students’ campaign comes at a moment of high anxiety about testing in New York: grade 3-8 state exams tied to tougher standards caused scores to plummet this year, a new evaluation system for city teachers factors in test scores, and a rule change requiring higher Regents scores to graduate is now fully in effect. (The city’s graduation rate has bounced back after a slight dip last year, but many fear that could change as the Regents exams begin to test students on the tougher Common Core standards in coming years.)
Last week, a group of teachers in Brooklyn held a public forum to vent their frustrations with perceived over-testing. Tuesday evening, state education officials will host public forums in Brooklyn and the Bronx focused on the Common Core standards, where audiences are sure to raise concerns about the more challenging exams. Meanwhile, the city council is expected to pass a resolution Tuesday calling on the state Education Department to develop an assessment system that relies less on standardized tests.
The Hudson students — who invited a reporter to their school Monday as part of their media strategy — criticized the Regents exams as blunt, one-size-fits-all yardsticks that measure memorization better than critical thinking.
They suggested that the state allow students to complete other types of tasks — long-term projects, research papers, even speeches — as a means to show mastery. In fact, the state Board of Regents is expected to discuss at its meeting next week a plan to allow students to substitute an alternative assessment for one of the required Regents tests.
For now, the Hudson students said they want their peers to do well on the exams without getting too hung up on them.
“We want the students to take it serious,” said Nichole Urena, 17. “But we want them to be calm about it and just do their best.”
Principal Nancy Amling said schools should let students work on real-world projects like the outreach campaign, where the final goal is something other than a high score.
“Some place in the world, you need to have some time where it’s OK to be growing and not constantly be measured,” she said.
The city is continuing to expand its efforts to bring coding to the classroom, as Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today that it will be training 120 additional computer science teachers over the next two summers.
That’s a tiny fraction of the city’s 75,000 teachers, but the initiative is a first step toward developing a system to train teachers in schools across the city how to teach computer science classes.
Two small high schools now focus on computer science: the Academy for Software Engineering, which opened in 2012 near Union Square, and the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering, which opened this year. But the existence of those schools doesn’t change the fact that most middle and high schools don’t have teachers prepared to teach computer science for math or science credit.
“Our goal is we want every student to have it,” said Seth Schoenfeld, senior director for the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation. “We want enough teachers that can teach it in a rigorous way so we know students are getting high-level instruction.”
The city is spending $1 million (some of which is coming from the New York City Economic Development Corporation) to develop a curriculum that will combine in-person and online training through the Blended Learning Institute that the city’s Innovation Zone—the umbrella term for the city’s efforts to increase technology and personalization in schools—has already set up.
In the spring, the city teachers union announced its own pilot program to get teachers coding in conjunction with the organization Girls Who Code. That program was meant in part to help retain young math and science teachers who leave “because we don’t give them something engaging to do,” UFT president Michael Mulgrew said in May.
iZone officials said Monday that they’ll be marketing the new training to schools and picking among applicants. Many, but not all, will be iZone schools, according to Evan Korth, executive director of the NYC Foundation for Computer Science Education, a nonprofit working with the DOE to expand computer science offerings.
Over the long term, Korth said his group is looking at many ways to teach and learn computer science, since not all schools are prepared to replace existing classes. Technology classes (which are often “how to make PowerPoint presentations and bold in Word and keyboarding,” Korth noted) are especially ripe for new additions, he said.
“You can easily imagine taking two weeks out of the PowerPoint curriculum and putting in building games using code,” he said.
Teacher preparation needs to be more rigorous, Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond Monday told a Denver conference on educator prep and licensing.
The tone of the event contrasted with many of the conversations during meetings of the LEAD Compact, an appointed study that studied teacher licensure and that recently completed its work (see story). Much of the compact’s discussion involved ways to ease entry to the teaching profession.
Monday’s conference, organized by a group of education and community groups, was held as a counterpoint to the work of the compact. Conference moderator Dave Van Sant said, “Today’s event was designed as a supplement to that effort … to consider additional ideas.”
Darling-Hammond, a nationally known researcher, led off Monday’s conference at the University of Denver’s Morgridge School of Education. She spoke to the group and took questions for about 45 minutes via an Internet video connection.
“I do believe we need a major ratcheting up of the quality of preparation,” she said.
Much of her talk detailed how nations with high-achieving education systems like Finland and Singapore stress high-quality teacher preparation.
“If you look at the counties that are leading the world…all of them treat teaching as an expert profession,” she said. “The fact that we’re still debating that in the United States is shocking.”
In contrast, she said factors that undermine teaching as an expert profession — many of which are present in the U.S. — include addressing teacher shortages by reducing preparation, high teacher attrition, reduced investment in preparation programs, requirements for standardized teaching practice, failure to support teacher collaboration and learning time, and basing evaluation on bureaucratic measures rather than professional practice.
Darling-Hammond also stressed the importance of clinical training for teaching. As a slide in her PowerPoint put it, “In the U.S., teacher education is today where medical education was in 1910.”Do your homework
“There is a lot of evidence that the quality of medical care and the outcomes of medical care” improved because of the standardization and improvement of medical education that happened in the last century, she said.
She closed her prepared remarks with two variations on an old cliché about teaching: “Those who can, do. Those who understand, teach” and “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t go into a less significant line of work.”
The second speaker, Vanderbilt University Gary Henry, walked through an extensive review of research in North Carolina that indicated better student achievement for teachers with high-quality preparation.
Henry said value-added teacher data is an important tool for state-level research but remains problematic for “high-stakes situations at this point.”
He said value-added data could be used to identify the 20 percent of teachers who are the lowest performing so they can receive coaching, mentoring and support. “Anything that’s more punitive … seems to us to be overly risky at this point.”
Other speakers at Monday’s event include Penn State University researcher Edward Fuller on the role of principals as instructional leaders and Doris Williams, executive director of the Rural Schools and Community Trust, who spoke about the staffing challenges for rural schools.
Teacher licensing and, to a lesser extent, teacher prep have been hot topics since last spring, when Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston considered, and then withdrew, a bill that would have changed the current licensing system and used teachers evaluations as factors in license renewal.
It remains to be seen what, if any, licensing legislation will surface during the 2014 legislative session. Johnston told EdNews, “By far my top two priorities of the session by far are trying to secure funding to implement high priority components of SB 213 and effectively supporting district implementation of current reform efforts. Licensure is a distant third priority after those, so now that LEAD is concluded and we are far closer to an agreement we will move licensure to the back burner and get to work on school funding.”
The event was sponsored by several education and community groups, including the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Rural Caucus, the public-interest law firm Children’s Voices, the Public Education & Business Coalition, the Colorado BOCES Association, the NAACP of Denver, the Colorado Latino Forum and the Boulder Valley Education Association.
More than 80 people attended the event in person, and organizers said more than 50 others observed a webcast of the session. Several members of the LEAD Compact attended the meeting, as did Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a funder of the LEAD group.
Earlier today, we pointed out that some Democrats who supported one of Bill de Blasio’s rivals during the mayoral primary were coming around to a campaign pledge they once panned.
Another of those critics of Blasio’s expanded pre-kindergarten access plan—which calls for an income tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers—was American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who endorsed Bill Thompson in the primary. In August, Weingarten held a conference call with reporters specifically to criticize the plan.
“We need a mayor in the city of New York who will take this idea and actually get it done and not base it on a tax that may never materialize,” Weingarten said then, calling Thompson “a doer” and describing de Blasio as more of an idealist.
But when asked today if she remained pessimistic about the plan, which requires state approval, Weingarten said she had been mistaken.
“Sometimes you’re wrong, as I was during the campaign, when I suggested that Bill de Blasio couldn’t gain support in Albany for his early childhood education initiatives,” Weingarten said in a statement.
Weingarten was previously president of the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s local union under the national AFT. The UFT is preparing to negotiate a new contract for its 80,000 teachers, and its top priority is to secure billions of dollars in back pay for the five years in which the city and union have gone without a contract.
Though de Blasio was initially seen as the Democratic party’s labor candidate early on in the mayoral primary, he failed to secure endorsements from municipal unions. De Blasio said the snub left him “unburdened” when it came time to negotiate new contracts with city employees, a comment that irked UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who seemed to mock de Blasio’s courting of the union’s endorsement earlier in the year.
“[He] was on my calendar so many times earlier this year, many of our staff members thought he had an office in our building,” Mulgrew said.
De Blasio’s victory has mended some fences between him and the teachers union, and the UFT since offered its endorsement to the public advocate.
Weingarten said that it was de Blasio’s “forceful advocacy for the this idea” that convinced her that his tax plan could win over Albany lawmakers.
“I believe that he can move state legislators to support pre-K for all the children of New York,” Weingarten said. “As a longtime supporter of early childhood education, I will work closely with the mayor to make sure this becomes a reality.”
Under a new rating system that takes student test scores into account for the first time, one in five elementary principals and about one in four high school principals earned scores of “developing”—the second-lowest level of the rating system.
Yet fewer than 1 percent of principals received the lowest rating of “unsatisfactory.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, just 18 percent of elementary principals and fewer than 7 percent of high school principals were rated “excellent.”
Most principals were rated somewhere in the middle, with 60 percent of elementary principals and 66 percent of high school principals earning “proficient” ratings.
This is the first year that principal ratings include student achievement as a factor, a change mandated by state law. Achievement growth among students from “priority groups”— English learners, special education students, Latinos and African Americans—is a separate factor.
CPS says that the goal of the rating system is to give principals better feedback and help them improve. But it’s still not clear what consequences principals with low ratings may face: CPS is still revising its principal disciplinary process to line up with the new evaluations.
Broadly, the evaluations are based half on network chiefs’ observations of principal practice, and half on student growth, includes “on track” data.
Five percent of high school principals’ ratings are based on the “freshman on-track” measurement, which is the percentage of students who earned at least 5 credits and failed no more than one core course.
Also, 10 percent of elementary principals’ ratings are based on a brand-new on-track metric for 3rd through 8th grade students. Students are considered on track if they have a “C” or higher in math and reading, an attendance rate of at least 92 percent, and fewer than 3 misconducts.
For most elementary schools, the ratings include the following factors under student growth:
● 10% NWEA reading scores
● 10% NWEA math scores
● 15% “priority group” growth
● 5% 8th grade EXPLORE scores
For most high schools, the student growth component includes the following:
● 20% EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT test growth
● 15% “priority group” growth
● 10% graduation, dropout and attendance rates
Feedback for growth
Judith Sauri, the principal of Edwards Elementary, says that she sees the new principal evaluations as a step forward. “Now I know how I can better myself,” she says.
For the observation part of the rating, Sauri explains, principals get to pick just two competencies to have the evaluation focus on.
“My boss visited me on my literacy night,” Sauri says. “He was taking pictures, he was videotaping, and then he did a thorough evaluation of how are my skills with parents and with the community.”
The deputy chief of schools also observed a local school council meeting, and Sauri says that although she picked her strongest areas to be observed on, she still ended up with useful suggestions.
Areas for improvement were “how to create systems,” Sauri notes. “I want to make (programs) more intentional.” For instance, in addressing students’ social emotional development, she wants to create a clear protocol to follow when children are bullied at school and similar systems to address academic problems and truancy.
However, Sauri says, the inclusion of student growth lowered many principals’ evaluations.
Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says the principal evaluations were marred by logistical problems.
“Everything rolled out extremely late. They didn’t get the information about the evaluation until February of 2013,” Berry says.
Also, Berry says, many of the principals did not receive their schools’ NWEA test score growth targets until long after CPS was supposed to have sent them out.
She is demanding that CPS count principals’ first ratings as a “practice” year, just as it did with tenured teachers.
Michelle Reyes recalls that when her oldest daughter attended school in the South Bronx’s District 9 in the early 90s, many of her classmates learned little and dropped out.
Two decades later, when her youngest daughter was a district student, Reyes saw much of the same — many floundering schools and struggling students.
By some measures, such as graduation and dropout rates, District 9 has advanced with the rest of the city since Mayor Bloomberg took office. But the district remains stubbornly among the city’s very lowest performers, and a new report by a parent-led advocacy group and a think tank argues that the next administration must aggressively attack the district’s long-term problems.
The report, released Friday by the New Settlement Parent Action Committee and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, suggests several ways the de Blasio administration could do that, beginning by creating a district-level improvement plan with input gathered at public forums.
“It’s like we’re in a sinkhole and we’re going lower and lower,” said Reyes, a member of the Parent Action Committee, or PAC. “It needs to stop.”
The report, titled “Persistent Educational Failure: The Crisis in School District 9 and a Community Roadmap for Mayor Bill de Blasio,” culled test scores and other data to highlight some of District 9′s longstanding woes.
The district, which includes Claremont, Highbridge, Mount Eden, and neighborhoods along the Grand Concourse, has a greater share of low-income students and English language learners than the school system as a whole.
While the state tests have changed since 2002, District 9 fourth and eighth-grade students have consistently scored lower on average than students citywide, the report says — in some years, by nearly 20 percentage points.
In 2013, while more than a quarter of city students passed the tougher state English tests and almost a third passed math, only 12 percent of District 9 students passed English and 14.5 percent passed math, according to the city. (The report’s slightly lower test score figures exclude data from the district’s charter schools.)
Despite the district’s dire state, the Department of Education has not paid it special attention nor staged a district-wide intervention, the report argues.
In fact, it says, the district has a smaller share of teachers with more than three years experience or ones with advanced degrees than the citywide average. And when PAC obtained a copy of the city’s improvement plan for District 9 a couple years ago, it contained outdated numbers and unspecific jargon, organizers said. (Beginning in 2012, the city stopped creating individual district plans and started using a single improvement plan for any schools the state identified as struggling, the report says.)
In response to the report, Department of Education Spokesman Devon Puglia noted that graduation and college-readiness rates are up and dropout rates are down citywide.
“That progress includes District 9, where we’ve made great strides — including a 65 percent increase in the graduation rate since 2005 — because the reforms we’ve enacted have worked,” Puglia said in a statement. “But as always, we have more work to do.”
The report claims that a signature Bloomberg-era policy — replacing low-performing schools with new ones — produced mixed results in the district.
For example, the city closed a large District 9 high school, William H. Taft, and replaced it with eight new schools. While the old school had a graduation rate just over 23 percent, three of the new schools had rates of nearly 51 percent in 2012, according to the city.
But, the report notes, two of the campus’s new schools are being closed and three are on the state’s struggling schools list. Overall, 12 of the 30 District 9 schools on that list were opened under Bloomberg, the report says.
The district’s high levels of poverty and unemployment, among other challenges, would complicate any administration’s school-reform efforts — but the report argues that the district’s schools so far have not been equipped to meet those challenges.
“There are kids [in the district] who don’t know if they’re going to eat at night or where they’re going to sleep,” said PAC member Lynn Sanchez. “They’re going to school with these issues — and the schools don’t know how to deal with them.”
Some of the report’s other recommendations for the de Blasio administration include a new-teacher mentoring system, more school arts funding, a program to train parents how to help their children with schoolwork, and school staffers who speak languages common among the district’s many immigrant families, including those from West Africa.
The report offers some proposals — such as more social services at schools, extra learning time for middle schools, and more preschool slots — that de Blasio has already promised, but it urges him to launch those programs in the neediest districts, such as District 9.
PAC, which parents formed in 1996, has held marches, petition drives and community forums in recent years as it pushes the city to overhaul the struggling district.
Angel Martinez, who has children in three District 9 schools, said another parent told her about PAC while their children played outside P.S. 64 earlier this year. Dismayed by her child’s lack of homework and the closing school’s lack of communication with parents, Martinez decided to join, she said.
Though the family recent moved to Harlem, Martinez decided to keep her children in their Bronx schools, she said, partly because she wants to help make them better.
“There’s a great force in the parents,” she said. “And if the schools would invest in that, we could be a great movement for them.”
During the Democratic mayoral primary just a few months ago, Bill Thompson supporters were on an all-out crusade to discredit rival Bill de Blasio’s tax plan to fund expanded pre-Kindergarten. As the race heated up in late August, Thompson’s campaign even began dispensing elected officials and union leaders to join in the skepticism.
But now that de Blasio has won the election, calling the victory a mandate from voters to follow through on his campaign tax pledge, those officials are backing off a bit.
Staten Island State Senator Diane Savino told reporters in August that de Blasio was either ignorant or pandering if he thought higher taxes were the right way to fund pre-K.
“We have enough money,” Savino said in August. “What we don’t have is flexibility in the state’s regulations about how we spend the money we already get.”
But, as New York Daily News’ Ken Lovett first reported this morning, Savino seems to have warmed to the idea since de Blasio was elected.
Responding more recently to an unsolicited suggestion that de Blasio reconsider his plan, Savino took to her Facebook page to defend it:
“with all due respect to the all the advice givers, the DeBlasio plan is the better one for the city. it is not in the interest of any new program to constantly be dependent on Albany.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, all of whom endorsed Thompson in the primary, also expressed some skepticism about de Blasio’s plan in August.
“We need a mayor in the city of New York who will take this idea and actually get it done and not base it on a tax that may never materialize,” Weingarten told reporters in August, calling Thompson “a doer” and de Blasio an idealist.
Weingarten did not immediately respond to a question seeking a comment on whether she was more optimistic that the plan would pass.
Just moments after the UFT endorsed de Blasio in September, following Thompson’s concession, Mulgrew shared a more hopeful — though still guarded — outlook than he had previously expressed during the primary campaign:
“We’ve been hearing about all day pre-K for 40 years and no one’s figured it out and he is saying he is completely committed to getting it done,” Mulgrew said.
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.
Nine community activists who tried to save La Casita at Whittier Elementary School from the wrecking ball in August were found not guilty Friday on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass to state-supported land. La Casita, a fieldhouse located next to the school in Pilsen, served as a volunteer-run community center owned by the Chicago Public Schools, which gave no notice to parents before having it demolished in August. (Progress Illinois)
A RISE AND FALL: Juan Rangel’s resignation last week from his $250,000-a-year job as head of the scandal-scarred United Neighborhood Organization that operates a network of 16 charter schools capped a classic Chicago tale of clout won and lost. As a boy, Rangel, the son of undocumented immigrants, lived in an attic apartment in Little Village. He went on to become an ally of, and then as a liability to, some of the state’s most powerful politicians. (Tribune)
CURRENT EVENTS IN WORLD HISTORY: A Whitney Young Magnet High School AP World teacher threw out her lessons plans for class on Friday and devoted her class discussions to Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy. (WBEZ)
TRUANCY TASK FORCE: Chicago school authorities are working on new strategies to address the city's crushing pattern of elementary grade absenteeism and truancy. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is hoping to build on initiatives that have shown success in Baltimore, New York City and elsewhere, top aide Aarti Dhupelia said at the first meeting of the state's new elementary truancy task force Friday. (Tribune)
CPS DEBT SPENDING: The Tribune found that in 2011 Chicago Public Schools has spent more than a quarter of unrestricted state aid intended for education payments on debt obligations. Yet CPS still spent bond money as enrollment in the system decreased, as predicted by experts. (Chicagoist)
SCHOOL GARDEN PLANTED: Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined students at Helen C. Peirce Elementary School Friday to install Chicago Public Schools' 100th "Learning Garden." In 2012, the mayor pledged his commitment to working with a nonprofit organization, the Kitchen Community, to put 100 gardens in public schools across Chicago, a $1 million effort funded by funding left over from the NATO summit and Chicago philanthropists. (DNAInfo)
STUDENT DATA POSTED ONLINE: Roughly 2,000 Chicago Public Schools students who participated in a free vision examination program may have had personal information compromised when the data was inadvertently posted to the city website, where it remained for a few months. Letters are being sent to the parents and guardians of affected students. The student data was uploaded to the Chicago website sometime between June 18 and July 31. A city resident alerted officials on Oct. 7 that the personal information was available online. An investigation revealed that only 14 people viewed the information. (SC Magazine)
IN THE NATION
NATIONWIDE PROTEST: From Baltimore to Philadelphia to New Orleans to Chicago, parents, students and teachers will protest Monday against mass school closings, the growing practice of turning over management of public schools to private companies and other measures that disproportionately hurt low-income students of color, in what organizers are calling a National Day of Action.
The mayoral transition: