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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
As the frenzied effort to market Cathie Black as a viable choice to run New York City schools came to a close, the nominee herself came to a realization.
“Frankly this sucks and I cannot imagine a more poorly thought out decision on mb side,” Black, using a short hand for Mayor Bloomberg, wrote in an email on Nov. 23, 2010. That night, Black found out a panel convened to review her qualifications because she lacked the proper education credentials had rejected her appointment.
“To be hung out in public with no fore thought is inconceivable to me,” Black continued in the email, which was to Department of Education press secretary Natalie Ravitz. “But muscle on…I can only imagine the headlines tomorrow.”
The emails are part of hundreds of pages of emails released Friday night by the Department of Education in response to a Freedom of Information Law request from then-Village Voice reporter Sergio Hernandez. The trove of emails, which Hernandez posted to his personal web site, were the second batch sent out in the last seven months. They chronicle the city’s plans to prepare Black to face skeptical elected officials, reporters and state education officials who had the final say into whether she could get the job.
Black, publishing executive with no education experience, was picked by Bloomberg to succeed longtime Chancellor Joel Klein in the fall of 2010. Black was eventually approved, but she resigned after just three tumultuous months, a tenure marked by gaffes and high-level defections that further damaged the department’s leadership.
To this day, her tenure remains such a stain on Mayor Bloomberg’s education legacy that he sometimes pretends the ordeal never happened.
And Black even got offered favors from high places. David Westin, president of ABC News from 1997 to 2010, emailed Black to let her know that “I’m probably one of a very few of your friends who knows Bernard Pierazio (Superintendent of Yonkers Schools) pretty well.”
“I understand Bernard (and, yes, it’s “Bernard,” not “Bernie) is on the committee reviewing your request for certification,” wrote Westin, who was involved in a charity with Pierazio. “Just let me know if I can help in anyway.”
We’ll continue to look at the emails next week. In the meantime, a link to all of them can be found here.
The slate of candidates who won their seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education in November’s election raised nearly four times the amount as their opponents, campaign finance reports filed Thursday with Secretary of State show.
Backed by a loose but well-oiled coalition of so-called education reform advocates, Barbara O’Brien, Landri Taylor, Mike Johnson and Rosemary Rodriguez raised a combined total of $645,439.
Their respective opponents — Michael Kiley, Roger Kilgore, Meg Schomp and Rosario C de Baca — raised $173,609.
The final campaign donation reports deadline was Thursday. As of publishing time, de Baca had yet to file her final ledger.
In general, donations slowed in the final period from Oct. 28 through the end of November.
Taylor, who was appointed to the board earlier this year and was running for his seat for the first time, took in the most during the period: $23,640. In great contrast, his opponent for the northeast district, Kilgore raised $1,280.
Overall, at-large candidate O’Brien garnered the largest war chest of $198,609.
Almost half of the donations raised by the winning slate, which generally supports the district’s trajectory, came from just a few dozen people. Of the $645,439 raised, $284,975, or 44 percent, was given by 53 people.
Among the last minute donors were former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who gave $450, and political consultant Maria Garcia Berry, who gave $750. Colorado University President Bruce Benson donated an additional $1,000, while DaVita CEO Kent Thirty pitched in another $5,000.
The slate of reformers attracted money from beyond the Rocky Mountains. Reid Hoffman, venture capitalist and co-founder of LinkedIn, and his wife Michelle Yee gave a combined $14,000 in the last period.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Assocation donated the lion’s share to both Schomp’s and Kiley’s last fundraising effort. The teachers union gave a little more than $7,000 to each candidate.
While the campaigns were costly, they fell short of breaking records. Happy Haynes, elected in 2011, raised nearly $250,000 for her seat.At-Large
Just one day after Nelson Mandela died at his home in South Africa, city officials announced that a new high school will be named in his honor—and its creation appears to have won over some prominent critics of co-locating schools.
The new Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice will open inside of Boys and Girls High School, the Bedford-Stuyvesant school that Mandela visited in 1990 when he was celebrated by Mayor David Dinkins and the rest of New York City.
Walcott called the school “a perfect way to give testament to the man who is just admired by so many and transformed lives of so many people, and generations of people. And touched personally the people of Brooklyn as well as the people of New York City.”
The school’s social justice theme and connection to Mandela’s visit to the neighborhood have also smoothed tensions that have been simmering for years at Boys and Girls over the possibility of the city adding another school to the building, which already contains the small Research and Service High School.
In October, Boys and Girls’ principal Bernard Gassaway said publicly that he might resign if the city put another school into his building. Gassaway didn’t respond to requests for comment today, but Rev. Conrad Tillard, who serves on the school’s advisory council, said that Gassaway and the group had warmed to the idea.
“The legacy of Nelson Mandela transcends everything,” Tillard said, adding that Gassaway’s support had been a recent development. “Many people on the advisory committee had never supported co-location, but this was one people felt was worthy of the historical context of the school and could bring so much to the school.”
Boys and Girls has long served as a symbolic center of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, and the school has a powerful group of allied politicians and clergy. They have been widely credited with keeping the school open, despite low graduation rates and test scores that have earned Boys and Girls three Fs in a row on the city progress reports. The school now has fewer than 1,000 students, down from more than 4,000 in 2007.
Today’s announcement attached a name and a focus to a school that the city had already proposed, and will be voted on at the Dec. 11 Panel for Educational Policy meeting.
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who also serves on the Boys and Girls advisory council, said that was a compromise forged from weeks of discussion about whether to attach Mandela’s name to a single school or to the entire building. Ultimately, she said Gassaway pushed to keep the Boys and Girls’ name. “He did not want to lose the Boys and Girls High—symbolically, the institution,” she said.
The city’s current plans are for Nelson Mandela High to open in September 2014, so the school will also need support from mayor-elect de Blasio’s administration. Despite de Blasio’s statements before and during the campaign that he wants to pause the city’s policy of co-locating schools, spokeswoman Lis Smith indicated some support for the plans on Friday.
“The idea of naming a school after Nelson Mandela is a very worthy one. We will confer with our new Chancellor on this matter when he or she is named,” she said.
The Nelson Mandela School follows the Bloomberg administration’s typical model for new schools—small and focused on a specific topic. Montgomery said discussions have focused around replicating the model of Bedford Academy, a small school also located in Bedford-Stuyvesant that has been celebrated for high test scores and its male and female empowerment classes.
Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who was born in South Africa and whose father was forced to flee that country in the 1970s for his activism, said that he would look to involve himself in the process of developing the school’s curriculum in the new year once the school is approved.
“When I was a teacher, we spent time teaching this material and kids found it really fascinating, especially because of the role of young people in the resistance in South Africa,” he said. “There’s a lot of connections to be made, and I think that there aren’t many moments in history that intersect as powerfully with American history … South Africans were really inspired by Martin Luther King and the work of the civil rights movement here, and the anti-apartheid movement in turn inspired a movement here.”
Outside Boys and Girls High, a staff member shooing students away from reporters insisted that the new school would never open under a new mayor. But Walcott, who had been in discussions with some at Boys and Girls High during Mandela’s illness, made it clear that he expects that it will.
“The honoring of a man like Mr. Mandela is something that transcends elected politics, that transcends administrations,” he said.
Spending on the failed pro-Amendment 66 campaign to overhaul state funding for education topped $11 million, according to final finance reports filed Thursday.
The bulk of that money came from Colorado Commits to Kids, the campaign committee that drove the pro-A66 campaign. The committee received a total of $11,079,408 in contributions, including $839,270 in the final week leading up to the election.
The Walton Family Foundation, Fort Collins philanthropist Pat Stryker, and Houston hedge fund billionaire John Arnold are among the committee’s big contributors. Previous filings revealed major donations from outgoing New York City Major Michael Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates.
The Walton Family Foundation, which supports education reform initiatives in several states, gave $150,000 under the name Sam Walton during the last filing period. Pat Stryker gave $1 million, including $175,000 in the last reporting period. Stryker is a major contributor to the Democratic Party.
Also of note were smaller contributions from education associations in St. Vrain, Mesa County, Poudre, Pueblo, Jefferson County, Pikes Peak, Brighton, Littleton and Westminster. Here are other significant contributors in the final reporting period:
In the final days of the campaign, the committee spent $315,00 on advertising through Media Strategies and Research, a Denver company. Other big expenditures included $142,040 to Fieldworks, which ran the campaign’s canvassing efforts; $333,365 to TBWB, a San Francisco-based elections consultant; $369,583 to Chism Strategies, another consulting firm.
The campaign against A66 gained traction in the final days of the campaign, raising the bulk of its funding during the final reporting period.
Coloradans for Real Education Reform, A66′s primary opponents, raised a total of $145,800, with nearly two thirds of that coming in the final reporting period. The overwhelming majority of their funds, $110,600, came from the Independence Institute, a libertarian/conservative think thank. The committee spent $124,817, largely on political consulting and advertising.
Another group, Kids Before Unions, raised a total of $12,783, including $1,140 in the final reporting period. Roughly a third of that went to robocalls and radio ads opposing the amendment.
For more on the A66 campaign and other election coverage, see our story archive here.
As the dust settles from Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s two-day spree of administrative appointments, all eyes have now turned to his next big decision: who he’ll pick for New York City schools chancellor.
Speculation around a handful of candidates has been around for months, but this week the rumored list was shuffled and whittled down. Some names have vanished while others surfaced at the top of the rumor mill, a rearrangement that reflects concerns that de Blasio’s top administrative picks so far aren’t diverse, observers say.
The newest contenders to emerge are Kaya Henderson, District of Columbia’s schools chancellor, and Chicago schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was in New York City recently, fueling rumors of her candidacy, sources said. Montgomery County Superintendent Josh Starr also remained in the mix, as did New York-based Carmen Farina, the city’s former city chief academic officer and Regent Kathy Cashin.
Andres Alonso, the former chief executive officer the Baltimore schools once considered a frontrunner for the job, has not been mentioned as prominently.
The short list of education leaders outside New York City reflects a wide swath of backgrounds and ideas about education policy, some of which seem to align closely with de Blasio’s views, and some of which don’t. For de Blasio and his advisors, their choice will be a signal of how faithful he plans to stick to some of the campaign pledges that helped distinguish him from more centrist Democratic candidates during the primary.
De Blasio himself has said nothing publicly about who he’s considering for the job, other than acknowledging this week that he’s begun talking to candidates. A de Blasio spokeswoman also declined to comment or confirm details about the selection process, which is taking place mainly behind closed doors.
Starr, Henderson and Byrd-Bennett share at least one thing in common on education. All were teachers in the New York City school system before moving up their career ladder. They also all run relatively large school districts, though they range in size (Chicago has 400,000 students compared to Montgomery’s 150,000 and D.C.’s 45,000) and demographics (Montgomery County, which runs up to the edge of D.C. boundaries, is largely suburban).
Their differences in other areas are stark, which could factor into de Blasio’s decision. Of the three, Starr, 44, appears to have the most in common ideologically with the mayor-elect. Both de Blasio and Starr are opposed to using tests scores as an accountability tool to measure the performance of teachers and schools, and both have railed against the use of school grading systems like the one New York City currently has.
Both are also against using test scores as a sole determinant in student admissions policies, a position that moved Starr to try to desegregate middle school classrooms during a six-year superintendency in Stamford, Conn.
Starr was in Brooklyn last week and it is reported that de Blasio’s team has reached out to him. A spokesman for Starr did not comment on the reports, saying only that he is “aware that his name has been mentioned for the position.”
But observers say chances may have faded a bit for Starr, who is white, after seeing who de Blasio picked this week for first deputy mayor, Anthony Shorris and police commissioner, Bill Bratton.
“Given his commitment to wanting a diverse government, his selection of two white males for the two key appointments he’s made, I would think, raised the probability that the appointment of the schools chancellor would will not be a white male,” said Joe Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College who has advised school leaders in New York City, San Francisco and Boston.
Henderson and Byrd-Bennett, both African American women, are seen as being on the other side of the education reform spectrum. As leaders of urban school districts that have pushed aggressive policies around teacher evaluations, charter schools and intervention for struggling schools, they are closely associated to Bloomberg’s brand of reform, which de Blasio ran against in the election.
For Byrd-Bennett, it’s not the first time her name has been floated for chancellor — this year or even this decade. She was reportedly then-Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott’s top choice for the job when Mike Bloomberg took over City Hall in 2002.
Byrd-Bennett ran the Chancellor’s District under Chancellor Rudy Crew in the 1990s, a group of low-performing schools that received extra resources to improve. The model has been cited by Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten as a preferred intervention than Bloomberg’s school closure strategy.
But that was a long time ago. Most recently, Byrd-Bennett has enraged the union in Chicago as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s schools chief. Last year, Byrd-Bennett was the face of the administration’s cost-saving plan to shutter 49 school buildings, a story that gained national headlines.
Byrd-Bennett still has close ties to New York City, however, and some see her work in Chicago more as an extension of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel than a reflection of her actual positions.
She was in New York City prior to Thanksgiving, a source said, fueling speculation that she is being taken seriously by de Blasio. The source did not know specifics of the trip.
A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman, said she “can’t confirm her travel schedule” when asked of Byrd-Bennett’s visit.
Henderson, under then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee, helped negotiate a 2010 teachers contract that included merit pay for high-performing teachers and helped implement the district’s new teacher evaluation system. In 2011, she took over for Rhee, who resigned when the mayor who appointed her lost a re-election.
Henderson has continued most of the district’s reforms, but without the brash managerial style that made Rhee a divisive presence both in D.C. and nationally. This year, D.C. saw big student gains on national tests, though it still ranked low in overall achievement.
A spokeswoman for Henderson confirmed she had spoken to de Blasio, but did not say what they talked about.
The winning Douglas County school board candidates raised and spent nearly three times as much money on the election as their opponents, according to final campaign finance filings reported on Thursday.
The Dougco school board election drew national attention, including funding from the national teachers’ union and conservative politicians.
The successful slate of candidates, who supported the current board actions, received considerable donations from voucher proponents Alex Cranberg and Ralph Nagel. They also received smaller donations from former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.
In recent years, Dougco schools have seen considerable change, including a vouchers program that is still in legal limbo, the proliferation of charter schools and the establishment of teacher pay tied to a new evaluation system.
The school board has faced challenges to these initiatives and accusations of opaque political dealings. However, the slate of successful candidates supported the district’s current direction and included two incumbents Meghann Silverthorn and Doug Benevento.
Their opponents, a slate that billed itself as Dougco Candidates for Kids, ran on a platform of change and called for increased transparency in board dealings. None of the candidates who opposed the district’s current direction won positions on the school board.
Here’s a rundown of the final campaign filings for the Dougco candidates:District B
Alex Messer, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 321 in Park Slope, couldn’t wait to read a city report a few years ago that promised to quantify his impact on students.
He had just led them in a rousing discussion of the British economic policies that provoked the Boston Massacre. He taught them to use “ubiquitous” and other “staggering genius” words, as he and his students call them. He knew he was a good teacher.
But when he opened the report, his heart sank: he was ranked in the 18th percentile. He called his mother that night for support. Later, he logged onto a job-search website.
“All I knew was that I had failed,” Messer recalled this week. “I was ‘18 percent.’”
As the state exams have become tougher, many critics have decried what they see as the tests’ spirit-crushing toll on children, even as officials and others argue that the assessments are needed to make sure students meet the higher standards. (Less than a third of city students passed the harder English and math exams this year.) But fewer teachers have publicly described the way testing can color the look and feel of their practice.
Messer and other members of a new group called Teachers Talk Testing aimed to fill that gap with a forum Tuesday evening at P.S. 321 where educators told their tales of a data-fueled drive for accountability that they say has run amok. The group, which grew out of a longtime parent committee at P.S. 321 focused on testing, formed this fall and now includes about 30 teachers from a handful of schools, mostly in high-performing District 15, according to Messer, who is also a union chapter leader.
Part of the group’s purpose, Messer said, is to provide firsthand accounts of testing to concerned parents who, on Tuesday, talked about opting their children out of the state exams.
“Whatever they decide to do surrounding testing,” Messer said after the forum, “I think it’s important that their actions are informed by teachers and our experience.”
The speakers — who included four teachers and the principal from P.S. 321, along with two other Brooklyn teachers and a professor — described mind-numbing exams of questionable quality that devour class time, sap the joy from teaching, and reduce instruction to helping students choose answers on a bubble sheet.
“Once we get into test prep, there’s no real conversation, just practice answering these questions and maybe we’ll analyze why ‘B’ is the right answer,” said Ronda Matthews, a 5th-grade teacher at PS 321 who said standardized-test work consumes about a month of class time per year.
Anxiety about test scores — which factor into student promotion, school grades and teacher ratings — drives many teachers to the lower, less-tested grades, Matthews said. In the past two years, seven new teachers have taken over 5th-grade classes at P.S. 321 as veterans flee the high-stakes grade, she added.
Julie Cavanagh, a special-education teacher at P.S. 15 in Red Hook, said she has watched the number of testing days multiply from six when she started teaching in New York in 2001 to 15 days in recent years. Meanwhile, her students with disabilities who found test days frustrating and boring received a perverse “accommodation,” Cavanagh added: extra test time.
“It sounds like hyperbole, but I really felt like I was participating in child abuse,” she said.
Many of the panelists mentioned problems with the state tests themselves: confusing passages, erroneous answers, above-grade questions and too little time. As for the so-called teacher data reports, like the one Messer received, those suffered from wide error margins and wild fluctuations. (Messer, for example, moved to the 70th percentile the year after he was ranked in the 18th.)
“What I’m strongly opposed to is the misuse of the data from the testing,” Phillips said Tuesday, “and the ways in which this questionable data has such high stakes for children, for teachers, for principals, for schools.”
P.S. 321 parent Diana Berger said she had become so “sickened” by the school system’s emphasis on testing that she was considering enrolling her daughter in a private school. But during the question-and-answer portion, she wondered if there was a way to fight the tests from within the system.
“My question is: should we opt out?” Berger said.
A teacher from the East Village’s Earth School, where about a third of parents opted their students out of the test last spring, said she expected a similar response this year. Another teacher, from M.S. 447 in Boerum Hill, said her school decided not to use test scores as an admission factor — an apparent boon for opt-outers.
But Phillips and others noted some drawbacks to the opt-out movement: students still are required to take a time-consuming alternative test that must be administered individually; and few parents from low-income and immigrant communities have so far joined the movement.
Teachers Talk Testing, which formed this fall with educators from P.S. 321 and a few other schools, has circulated a petition that calls for the incoming de Blasio administration to “lower the stakes” on testing by removing test scores as the main determining factor in student promotions, school admissions and school report cards.
The group is also asking teachers to submit videos with their thoughts on testing to its website, which it hopes will inspire families to take whatever actions they feel are necessary.
Juan Rangel, longtime leader of the politically powerful United Neighborhood Organization, has stepped aside from his $250,000-a-year post as UNO’s chief executive in the wake of a scandal that cost the group millions of dollars in state funding and led to a federal investigation of its bond dealings. Rangel’s departure “by mutual agreement” with the board of the not-for-profit group is effective immediately. (Sun-Times)
OUT-OF-SCHOOL YOUTH: New data on truancy, chronic truancy and high school dropouts in Chicago and Illinois was released at a high-level policy briefing, "Hope & Opportunity: Creating Futures for Out-of-School Youth," with state legislators and Chicago Public Schools to frame discussions regarding future plans and opportunities for out-of-school youth. The collection of data released at the Hope & Opportunity briefing highlights comparative trends between truancy and dropouts and shows dropout rates in Chicago and Illinois ostensibly declining by nearly half between 2006 and 2012, while truancy and chronic truancy appear to have doubled between 2006 and 2009 and then after falling, shot up almost threefold in 2012. (PR Newswire)
IN THE NATION
SCORING SOME CASH: The school board in Huntsville, Ala., has unanimously decided to pay students for achieving benchmark scores on the ACT college admissions test in an effort, members said, to get kids to take the test more seriously. The cash incentives will work this way: Benchmarks scores will be set, and for each part of the test that the students hit the benchmark, $50 will be paid. If the student gets an overall score of 22 or higher — out of a total 36 — an extra $100 will be awarded. (The Washington Post)
BROADENING THE BANDWIDTH: The push to bring high-speed Internet to more U.S. schools drew high-profile support Wednesday, as a nonprofit that promotes that mission announced that it has received grants from an Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's organization, Startup:Education, and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, worth a total of $9 million. The recipient of those investments, EducationSuperHighway, will use the money to help train schools to use and manage broadband connections while cutting down on costs. (Education Week)
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