The New York City Council is calling on state officials to do away “immediately” with standalone field tests, just weeks before thousands of city students are scheduled to take the tests.
Speaker Christine Quinn and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson made the demand in a letter today to State Education Commissioner John King, and the full council is expected to pass a resolution Wednesday calling for the same change.
Test-makers use field testing to try out questions before they count, to see whether they are likely to provide useful results about student achievement in the future. Last month’s state reading and math tests, which were aligned to new standards known as the Common Core for the first time, included some field questions that did not factor into students’ scores. Now, 3,300 schools across the state are being told to administer hourlong, standalone field tests to some students next month.
That requirement has elicited consternation from families and educators who believe that students have already spent enough time taking tests for the year. Some of them plan to boycott the field tests, as a number did last year when field tests were given for the first time.
Quinn, who is vying for mayor, made ending field testing a commitment when she unveiled a comprehensive education plan earlier this year. Most other candidates have also decried what they say has been excessive attention to standardized testing.
The resolution suggests that if field testing must be done, the tests should be administered outside of school hours and students should be compensated for taking them.
State education officials declined to comment on the letter or resolution. But they have said repeatedly in the past that field testing is essential to producing high-quality tests for New York State. And while they told the New York Times this week that they would prefer to eliminate standalone field tests like those being administered next month, doing so would require expensive changes to the way the regular state tests are produced.
If the state does begin using online exams that are being produced for a coalition of states that include New York, as officials have said they intend, the change could obviate concerns about field testing. The PARCC assessments are scheduled to be available to states in 2015, the penultimate year of the state’s $32 million contract with Pearson to run New York’s testing program.
Pearson, which is requiring the field tests, recently made a series of embarrassing errors in grading a New York City test that has jeopardized one of its city contracts.
The company is also offering graduating high school seniors the chance to be paid to field test an exam, according to the weekly email message that the city Department of Education sends to principals. That message told principals that because the exam was not being produced for use in New York City, “you and your staff should not recruit or encourage students to participate in this activity.”
The letter and resolution are below:
Dr. John B. King, Jr.
NYS Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Hon. Merryl H. Tisch
NYS Board of Regents
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Dear Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch:
As Speaker of the New York City Council and Chair of the Council’s Education Committee, respectively, we are committed to ensuring that all children in New York City have the opportunity to maximize the time they spend learning. It is for that reason that we are asking you to immediately stop the administration of stand-alone field tests.
We have heard from parents and teachers across the city who are concerned about stand-alone field tests. To begin with, many families and educators are increasingly frustrated with the national emphasis on standardized testing. They believe that it puts unnecessary pressure on their children and prevents schools from adopting rich, whole child curricula that include social studies, science, physical education, and the arts. Field tests add to this frustration.
It is imperative that we have a strong, reliable system in place to measure student progress and assess learning. We also understand that the state ELA and math exams are federally mandated. Stand-alone field tests, however, are not. Field tests disrupt instruction and cause students to lose valuable class time. And while they create another source of anxiety for some students, many students know that these tests “don’t count” and therefore do not give the exams their full focus. As a result, stand-alone field tests do not provide a reliable source of data, as the New York State Education Department noted when they needed to recalibrate the 2009 state exam scores and confirmed in yesterday’s New York Times.
As you most likely know, Pearson recently made two different scoring errors on New York City’s gifted and talented admission test. Those errors were only the most recent incident to cause New York City’s families to lose trust in Pearson. Stand-alone field tests compound that lack of trust, as parents are frustrated that their children lose out on learning time while serving as guinea pigs for a for-profit company.
For all of the above reasons, we ask you to cease the administration of stand-alone field testing, effective immediately. If there is sound pedagogical reason to test additional questions, Pearson should pay to create multiple versions of the April state exams, as the NYS Education Department suggested in theTimes yesterday, or should compensate students to take field tests outside of school hours.
Stand-alone field testing is bad for the students of New York, and we hope you will immediately end their administration.
Christine C. Quinn, Speaker
Chair, Education Committee
And the resolution:
Preconsidered Res. No.
Resolution calling on the New York State Department of Education to immediately stop all stand-alone field testing for students.
By the Speaker (Council Member Quinn) and Council Member Jackson
Whereas, New York State’s school children just completed mandatory standardized testing at the end of April; and
Whereas, These standardized tests are used to measure students in a variety of ways and are sometimes referred to as “high stakes” tests because, for example, they determine whether a student passes to the next grade and are used to determine admission to a particular school; and
Whereas, New York State recently adopted the federal government’s more rigorous “Common Core” standards, which will be fully implemented in 2015; and
Whereas, To prepare for the implementation, this year’s tests were tougher than any in the recent past and State education officials expect scores to drop as a result; and
Whereas, Many parents, educators and students have expressed heightened anxiety due to the use of more stringent standards and increased reliance on test scores to measure academic performance, including of students, schools and teachers; and
Whereas, As the State and its school districts work on how to administer these standards, it is proposing to administer “field tests”, which help check the methodology, design and legitimacy of future tests; and
Whereas, Field testing can be implemented by embedding questions into regular exams or by staging “stand-alone” tests that are used exclusively to help formulate future tests; and
Whereas, The results of field test questions or stand-alone tests are not used to measure students or teachers in any manner; and
Whereas, The tests that were administered in April included field test questions that were embedded in the exam; and
Whereas, However, in New York State many districts, including New York City, are planning to administer stand-alone field tests for English and math in June, near the last days of the school year; and
Whereas, Many parents and advocates believe these tests would add further stress to students who just finished such demanding exams while taking away from in-class instruction time; and
Whereas, Furthermore, numerous parents, advocates and educators believe that test preparation already narrows the curriculum by forcing teachers to prepare students for the test and that in addition, these field tests would detract from responsibilities and opportunities for teachers to engage with their students and families in a meaningful way as they prepare to end the school year; and
Whereas, Stand-alone tests are neither mandated nor necessary and their validity is questionable because if students know the tests do not carry any consequences they may not be motivated to perform well; and
Whereas, If using the field questions that were embedded in the April exams is insufficient, the State should explore alternatives such as conducting field tests outside of school time while compensating the test takers, as is done for adults; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York calls on the New York State Department of Education to immediately stop all stand-alone field testing for students.
The city will clear school buildings of light fixtures containing PCBs, a carcinogen, by the end of 2016, five years ahead of schedule, under an agreement announced today.
The agreement was struck between the city and New York Communities for Change and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which filed suit over the city’s timeline for replacing the toxin-containing light fixtures in July 2011. A mediator stepped in to try to broker a compromise last month.
A year and a half ago, the city said 754 school buildings had the problematic light fixtures, and until recently, officials had said they would clear them all by 2021.
But two weeks ago, after 11 students and a teacher were taken to the hospital after a light fixture containing the chemicals began emitting smoke at a Harlem school, the city announced that it would accelerate the timeline. The announcement also followed a dispute over the light fixtures in a Brooklyn building where a charter school replaced its lights without city permission while schools the district operates continued to have the old fixtures.
“The city’s new timeline for PCB light removal is considerably more reasonable than the previous plan of 10 years,” NYCC member and parent Celia Green said in a statement. “Parents like me will rest easier with the knowledge that at long last the city has made the removal of PCB lights from our kids’ schools a priority.”
City officials had said their capacity to clear schools of PCB lights has been constrained both by money and by the fact that PCB abatement can happen only when schools are not occupied by students. This summer, under the agreement, 200 buildings will be cleared of PCB-containing light fixtures.
“Though this issue has evoked strong sentiments from all involved and was the subject of a major litigation, attorneys from both sides sat down together and, with the assistance of the magistrate judge, engaged in very detailed, productive discussions to find the right solution,” said Michael Cardozo, the city’s top lawyer, in a statement. “This outcome demonstrates the city’s commitment to a smart and beneficial outcome.”
The city had pegged the cost of the 10-year schedule at $1 billion. When the city’s budget is adopted in June, it is likely to reflect the costs of the new timeline, officials said.
The school year is almost over. That means it’s time to start thinking about summer – and what you can do to keep your kiddo’s brain cells fired up (and I’m not talking video games).
So, once again, I tapped some EdNews Parent experts to provide some suggestions on summer learning opportunities. After all, some studies indicate that elementary, middle and high school teachers spend as much as four to six weeks of instructional time at the start of the new school year remediating students who have lost essential academic and social skills during summer vacation.
Before I tap the real experts, I’d like to suggest you check out one my personal summer favorites – CU Science Discovery. Courses are offered for all ages in both Boulder and Denver. Scholarships are available. From past experience, I can tell you teachers and resources available for use are incredible. In our household, we are picking between week-long day camps in astronomy, stop-motion animation, crime scene investigation or SciGirls. Tough choices.
Now, on to other tips.Getting your kids to read
Susan Ryder, an award-winning high school English teacher suggests being creative when encouraging kids to read. To do this:
Expert Ann Morrison, a professor at Metro State, suggests doing a bit of research about what content your child will be expected to learn next school year. Then, she suggests, talk to your child to find out what they’re most interested in.
“The point isn’t to pre-teach the content but to provide background information that will facilitate the student learning the new content,” she says.
For example, if the science curriculum for the following year includes the metamorphic rock cycle, make a visit to the geology museum at the Colorado School of Mines.
(Remember, EdNews Parent experts are always eagerly awaiting your questions about teaching and learning, so bring ‘em on by clicking here).
And now, for some EdNews Parent classics that are still relevant as we prepare for the long summer months ahead.Fun, educational stuff that’s free
This post, by the National PTA and Carson Dollosa Publishing, offers fun – and free – tips for things you can do with your kids over the summer, including identifying leaves in your neighoborhood, listening to music at a bookstore listening station – or even a record store (if any still exist), getting your child into a volunteer situation working with animals or the elderly or anything your child is into, or sletting up a mock Olympcis course in your backyard or staging a talent show.
Now, for the child who is absorbed in technology, check out recommended educational apps in this EdNews Parent post.
A timeless classic remains your local library. Read about Denver’s Summer of Reading program by clicking here. Libraries almost always stage reading programs and fun competitions for kids over the summer. Visit your local branch online or in person for information.
And read this EdNews Parent post for some other good ideas about how to stay occupied with your kids this summer and help them keep on learning. There are great ideas, including starting collections, plan menus and help buy food needed to pull of a culinary masterpiece.
Is your child crazy about getting wet? Then read this post with awesome water-based games you can pull off in your own yard.
Finally, read this post that specifically targets curbing summer brain drain without spending a fortune on tutors, camps or flashcards. It offers tangible ways to help little kids getting ready to head off to kindergarten. For older, kids, there are some cool suggestions about enlisting your kids to help plan trips, running lemonade stands, or calculating baseball batting averages.
So, that ought to get you started. Now please share your great ideas with the rest of us.
Matt Gianneschi is resigning as deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education to become vice president of policy and programs for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, an education policy think tank and information clearinghouse.
Gianneschi has had a high profile at DHE because his boss, department executive director and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, has to split his time between two jobs. Gianneschi previously worked as vice president of student services at the Community College of Aurora and as director of Colorado’s P-20 Council under Gov. Bill Ritter. Working with ideas developed by the council, Gianneschi was a key figure in drafting the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the law that required new state academic content standards, new tests and tighter alignment between K-12 and higher education.
Gianneschi will begin his new job on June 3 and will lead the ECS Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development Institute, which is intended to advise state legislators and higher education leaders across the country on best practices for college readiness, college completion and improving remediation programs.
Banks, a former principal who is now the president and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, is not running for mayor. But he hopes to influence the candidates who are.
Banks was one of four people to appear on a panel this morning to discuss ways to bring schools and the business community together to improve student achievement and the city. The panel was moderated by NY1′s Errol Louis and convened by Morty Ballen, the CEO of Explore Schools, a network of four charter schools in Central Brooklyn.
Ballen said he organized the panel, titled “Achieving the Brooklyn Dream,” because he wanted to spur a public conversation about educational inequities in the borough. The borough was recently named “the coolest place on the planet” by GQ Magazine, he said, ”yet at the same time our borough’s students aren’t all getting what they need to be part of the American dream that’s taking place right here.”
The borough has higher-than-average unemployment and child poverty rates, and fewer students than average meet the state’s math and literacy proficiency standards. ”Poverty does present some real barriers to learning,” Ballen said, contradicting an idea that was once dogma in the charter school world. “It’s not an excuse but it’s something that needs to be acknowledged.”
But he said the K-12 education sector, higher education, and the business community could do far more to support high-need students.
“One of the things we’re doing terribly in the business world is we’re not going into communities where we know there is a great talent,” said Carlo Scissura, a panelist who was on District 20′s Board of Education before Mayor Bloomberg took control of the city’s schools. “Unless you’re in one of these great schools the talent is not coming out.”
As the head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Scissura advocates for local businesses. He also pressures them to take on interns to expose students to the challenges and culture of the workplace.
He said he tells business leaders who are worried about the burden of managing interns, “Give the kid work to do, and you will be surprised by the amount of great talent that is sitting across Brooklyn in housing projects.”
An added benefit of working with students, Scissura said, is that then business leaders can say with authority what schools are teaching well and what skills they are not developing in students, instead of simply complaining that schools are not producing graduates who are ready for the workforce.
Banks, too, said stronger ties should be built between schools and business. He proposed helping teachers spend time during the summer at technology companies and other cutting-edge businesses so they could “get a deeper sense of what are the skills that are needed” in the contemporary workplace.
“Very few [teachers] have spent time in tech companies,” he said. “That’s just the reality.”
The proposal raised some eyebrows. ”I don’t think we need to be asking our teachers to know what the latest trend is,” said Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, who also sat on the panel. She argued that exposure to other workplaces would be useful for teachers only insofar as it helps them develop students who have the intellectual agility to learn new skills as their field evolves.
Still, when Banks said he would put together a white paper to advise mayoral candidates about issues in education he considers critical, including the relationship between schools and business,Gould quickly volunteered to help him.
So did Ballen. After the panel, he said the white paper would likely be the next step in a discussion that he said he was “baffled” had taken a backseat to other issues, such as controversial space-sharing arrangements, for mayoral candidates.
“Why isn’t this being talked about?” Ballen said. “There’s an absence of leadership right now to point to what our students really need. The fact that that’s not happening we should be more alarmed about.”
A roomful of teachers sat in a training room in September, surrounded by flip charts emblazoned with the titles of popular movies: Jaws; Tangled; Sleepless in Seattle; The Wizard of Oz.
Trainer Courtney Cabrera asked the group to stand next to the flip chart that most closely matched their feelings about the pending rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, Colorado’s groundbreaking teacher effectiveness law.
By the end of the training — one of 50 sessions designed to get teachers more comfortable with the tenets of the new evaluation system – teachers talked about whether they would pick a different movie title now, maybe one that wasn’t about unsuspecting swimmers having limbs ripped off by a great white shark. Most did modify their movie picks to ones with a gentler tone.
“The more practice [educators] get using our rubric, the more questions that are asked and answered, the more comfortable they feel with the system,” said Katy Anthes, the lead executive on teacher effectiveness for the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). “Honestly, we’re at the cusp of a huge change process.”
Next school year, the teacher effectiveness law will become part of every school district’s approach to teaching and learning in Colorado.
And by July 1, every district in Colorado must tell the state how it plans to evaluate teachers under the new law.
This is the first in a series EdNews Colorado plans to publish examining the impact of a policy shift that is proving pivotal in the national debate over how to improve teacher quality.
Observers may have to hold their collective breaths, however, to learn whether the new system is actually improving the quality of teaching. The first statewide teacher evaluation data won’t be available until December 2014.SB-191 backstory
The goal of the law, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in May 2010, is to improve teacher and principal quality by providing meaningful evaluations and conversations throughout the academic year that help both grow as professionals by providing them with resources linked to whatever weaknesses emerge.
SB 10-191 timeline
Key provisions of the law
In the past, the quality and intensity of teacher evaluations varied by district, school and classroom. Concerns also arose about a lack of objectivity by principals who may have held personal grudges against certain employees and favored others based on subjective information.
The law also dramatically changes how a teacher gets tenure by no longer linking tenure status to longevity alone. Under the law, non-probationary status will be earned after three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness.
Meanwhile, teachers will lose non-probationary status — more commonly known as tenure and job protections – after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings. That doesn’t necessarily mean a teacher loses his or her job. The law states that a teacher can be assigned to a new post at another school – but only with the consent of the hiring principal and with input from at least two teachers employed at the school in a process known as “mutual consent.” A teacher who doesn’t get a job after two hiring cycles, however, will be placed on unpaid leave without benefits until rehired.
But, in an effort to calm the nerves of teachers who still think of Jaws when they think of the new system, the law states that negative ratings won’t count in the first year.
“If educators don’t have trust in the system it won’t work,” Anthes said. “We want to have that exploratory year.”
The years of work, collaboration and even tears that went into forging 191 represent a historical shift, said Linda Barker, Colorado Education Association (CEA) director of teaching and learning.
“People are seeing school board members sitting with teachers talking about practice,” Barker said. “This is all new for all of us. The doors are open. Everyone is being really collaborative.”
To be considered “effective” under the law, teachers must meet a set of quality standards, including how well a teacher knows the content; establishes classroom environment; facilitates learning; reflects on practice; and demonstrates leadership. This accounts for half the evaluation and is measured through a lengthy rubric, which is still being tweaked. That rubric is filled out by evaluators – normally principals.
The other half of the teacher’s evaluation focuses on student growth. For a teacher who teaches a subject tested by TCAP, those scores must be part of that teacher’s rating, but it’s up to districts to decide how much weight to give TCAP — or other standardized test scores. Barker estimated that TCAP scores will make up 5 to 15 percent of the student outcomes piece, with the rest drawn from other assessments and growth scores.
However, including student growth using TCAP or any standardized test in evaluations is controversial. Many teachers argue that test scores only capture one slice of a student’s academic and social growth. Even though the state makes clear that growth scores should be based on “multiple measures of student growth or student learning over time, not a single assessment,” teachers remain worried.
For teachers who don’t teach subjects tested in TCAP, such as social studies or art teachers, the state has collected — and is still collecting — an assortment of valid measures districts can use. This resource bank comes out of the so-called “content collaboratives,” a group of Colorado educators who are identifying and creating high-quality assessments that are aligned to the new Colorado Academic Standards.
The state is also in the process of working out what criteria to use for evaluating other licensed personnel, such as school audiologists, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, social workers, speech-language pathologists and counselors. Rubrics will be tested in 2013-2014.
The sheer number of variables involved in understanding a teachers’ influence on student outcomes has sparked anxiety in many teachers. Barker questioned how the state can accurately measure the impact a music teacher has on a student, for example.
“There is so much complexity around our jobs,” Barker said. “How do you ever have a system that takes all that data, puts it into two buckets and puts you into four ratings. We’re still concerned about what that looks like.”Lessons learned from pilot programs
Twenty-seven districts are piloting the state’s model evaluation system, which includes rubrics that are being continually updated based on feedback, user guides and training materials. Of the 27, the state picked 15 as the “official pilots” after they submitted applications. These are the districts whose data will be dissected and shared with the state.
School districts can use the state’s pre-packaged evaluation system, or create their own — as long as it meets criteria established by the state. Most districts are expected to use the state’s system with minor modifications. That means there will still be variance by district, but evaluations will be more standard across the state than there has been previously.
“I’m honestly optimistic,” Anthes said. ”Next year is a practice year. I am expecting some trepidation in using the system and complete understanding of the system. There is going to be a lot of work that continues.”
The Colorado Legacy Foundation is working with five so-called “integration districts” and one BOCES to implement both the evaluation system and the new Colorado Academic Standards, as a kind of double whammy pilot.
Gretchen Wilson is a veteran fifth grade teacher in Durango, which is part of the San Juan BOCES integration pilot, and spends a day week working on the pilot on behalf of the teachers union.
She described her job in part as “trying to change an entire way of doing business and trying not to have people freak out along the way.”
In Durango schools, in addition to lengthier official observations, principals and assistant principals also do 10-minute walkthroughs in classrooms four or six times a year with iPads in hand, taking notes. The feedback is sent to the teacher, who then responds to it. The sessions are considered more as coaching tools than evaluative measures.
“A lot of this is about getting used to people being in your classroom all the time,” Wilson said, noting that use of the actual rubric can be daunting as well. “Twenty-seven pages on a checklist is very intimidating for very many people.”
The tiny, 4,000-student district hired three new assistant principals this year to help do the work, in addition to three new “integration liaisons,” or classroom teachers who will have a two-year special assignment working and partnering with teachers on a daily basis, Wilson said.
“It’s been challenging, I admit, trying to make it meaningful and effective,” she said.
Wilson said it’s key that she is also on the receiving end of the observations.
“It’s been a bit uncomfortable because it’s new — and change creates a little anxiety,” Wilson said. “I think it’s made me a better teacher. The standards and goals are on the board and I reference them all the time. I never used to do that. Things are very specific. I work with my teammates to make sure we’re teaching math standards. Not just the textbook, but teaching to the standards and what you are doing when kids don’t get it.”
Wilson said teachers in her district have been told they’ll be lucky if they are ranked effective under the system. For teachers who have always gotten excellent evaluations that could be a blow, she said.
“It’s a whole different mindset,” she said. “It’s almost like you’ve failed something… But this is a different yardstick.”
In Denver, as part of LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), the district’s own teacher evaluation pilot begun in spring 2011, 40 professional peer observers make regular rotations through Denver classrooms, using laptops and, of course, a rubric. They take high speed notes while watching a teacher in action, asking questions of students and providing that teacher a detailed consult before doing it all again a few months later.
The observation is always followed by deep conversations and a plan for improvement — ideally, one with adequate supports for the teacher.
While this all sounds good in theory, issues are bubbling up with LEAP in Denver, with some probationary teachers whose contracts were recently not renewed saying scores by LEAP observers in some cases differed from those given by principals, that the discrepancy was never explained to them and that they lost their jobs anyway.
But district staff say the non-renewal decisions were based on a “body of evidence,” not just LEAP scores.
CDE, meanwhile, is developing tools to promote common interpretations of teacher quality and help evaluators provide useful and actionable feedback to educators.
One such tool is an online training system that is being developed in partnership with My Learning Plan meant to ensure that two or more evaluators using the same observation tool give the same rating to an identical observable situation.
The state’s training system will allow evaluators to log onto a website, view a number of short videos of practicing teachers, rate those videos according to the Colorado State Model Evaluation System rubric and receive a score that shows how close they are to rating the videos in accordance with “master scorer” ratings.
Educators who receive scores within an approved range will know they are evaluating professionals within an acceptable, comparable and fair manner. The first set of videos will be available this August.Principal evals also underway
Meanwhile, under the pilots, principals are evaluated on seven quality standards.
Half of the principal’s evaluation is based on six professional practice quality standards: strategic leadership, instructional leadership, school cultural and equity leadership, human resource leadership, managerial leadership and external development leadership.
The other half of a principal’s evaluation is based on the seventh quality standard — academic growth of students.
Since principals are at-will employees, they don’t lose or gain probationary status under the law. But districts can use the evaluations to promote principals or provide them needed supports.
“This is the first time we’ve had a road map,” Barker said. “Teachers and principals actually know what standards to talk about because they’re the same.”
Rural Moffat County School District in northwestern Colorado was among the 15 pilots. Superintendent Joe Patrone said the new evaluation system is changing the way educators think about their jobs.
“We’re hearing this has been a wonderful opportunity for our principals to have engaging conversations with teachers about their growth and development in areas that have been outlined in the rubric,” Patrone said.
Patrone said the evaluation process has sparked enlightening conversations with principals and teachers about what really matters: student learning.
“It has elevated their appreciation for those opportunities that we believe are available but should be more available,” Patrone said. “We don’t have as much time as we d’ like to have to do what we should be doing — spending more time with teachers about professional growth and development.”
In fact, time remains one of the biggest hurdles to effective teacher evaluations. Many educators fear that there will never enough time to complete comprehensive evaluations and to allow teachers to take advantage of high-quality, targeted professional development so they can shore up areas of weakness.
“The challenge is to do [professional development] well and find delivery systems that allow teachers to stay in classrooms,” Patrone said.Supporting teachers to improve
To address that issue, Moffat is meeting with other regional districts to discuss the creation of a hybrid online and in-person teacher training module that could be shared.
Through LEAP, Denver Public Schools created an online portal with training videos and other materials to help teachers get the support they need.
Ultimately, the vision for the state’s content collaboratives is that they too become networks for creating and disseminating innovative teaching practices. CDE is also working to build a video library with examples of exemplary teaching practice tagged to each standard in the teacher rubric.
Barker envisions the equivalent of an “individualized learning plan” for each teacher, in which they get exactly the training and support they need while not wasting precious hours getting trained in an area they already have mastered.
Additionally, Barker said that teachers’ colleagues at their own schools will be an essential part of the new culture so all teachers feel supported. Not only can teachers watch videos of teachers demonstrating mastery of certain skills, but they could watch their own colleagues live, in person.
Finally, there are options for teachers who come out with a negative rating that they don’t believe is fair.
Beginning in 2014-2015, all school districts are required to have an appeals process for teachers who lose non-probationary status. The appeals process can be determined through collective bargaining in districts with union contracts.
So, does this mean that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed and all will be well as the new teacher evaluation system becomes reality? Definitely not. But, for now, some teachers are cautiously optimistic.
“This is a roadmap for teacher development,” said Adele Brado, a National Board Certified first grade teacher at Boulder Valley’s Kohl Elementary School in a CEA video on 191. “What we’ve wanted for so long is authentic professional development…The bar is high. The expectations are really high. But that’s what we really need. We need to improve our practice.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper this morning signed the proposed overhaul of the state’s school funding system, but it’s still unclear which billion-dollar proposal voters will face to fund the ambitious plan. That may not be decided until the end of May.
Hickenlooper said the bill “really positions Colorado to be the national leader in school reform and school effectiveness.”
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and primary author of the bill, called it “a tremendous step forward” and said the measure shows it’s possible to combine education reform with additional funding.
Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, reminded the crowd gathered at the Capitol ceremony that “the biggest challenge ahead of us will be convincing all of the people of Colorado to share this vision” and approve the tax increase necessary to pay for it.
SB 13-213 would increase funding for kindergarten and preschool, provide significantly more money for districts with the highest concentrations of at-risk students and English language learners, devote more money to special education and make extra payments to districts for the cost of implementing reform mandates.
The new system won’t go into effect unless voters approve an income-tax increase to pay for its costs, which range from $899 million in the first year for basic school funding to $1.12 billion to pay for all the bill’s elements, according to a legislative staff estimate.
If voters approve a tax increase in November the new funding formula wouldn’t kick in until the 2015-16 school year. If voters say no this year, the bill would remain on the shelf but “alive” for five years, allowing backers to go to the voters later if they choose.Lots of tax plans to choose from
Backers of a proposed tax increase, led by the civic group Colorado Forum, filed 16 variations of a tax increase on the March 22 deadline. The idea was to keep a number of options alive so that supporters could later choose one to submit to voters, based on the wishes of various interest groups in Colorado Forum’s coalition and on perceptions and polling about voter preferences. (The SB 13-213 price tag was set at about $1 billion because previous public opinion sampling indicated that was the upper limit of what a majority of voters might support.)Do your homework
“We’re very close” to selecting the ballot measure, Gail Klapper, director of Colorado Forum, told EdNews on Monday. Klapper said she hopes a decision will be made by the end of the month. Once that choice is made, backers will have until Aug. 5 to gather the 86,105 signatures necessary to put the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“A modified flat tax is what we’re most likely to get to,” she said of the likely choice.
What Klapper means by that is a proposal that would include a two-step tax increase, with a .37 percent hike for individual taxpayers who earn $75,000 or less a year and a 1.27 percent increase for those earning more. Currently all taxpayers pay 4.63 percent of their federal taxable income to the state. The additional revenue derived from the .37 and 1.27 percent increases would be earmarked for additional K-12 spending.
The two-step tax hike would raise $950.1 million a year in revenue, according to estimates by legislative staff economists.
Up to now Hickenlooper has kept a fairly low public profile on the ballot measure. “I will certainly campaign for it when we decide what it is,” he said. But he declined to say whether he’s favoring any particular version. “I have several preferences, but I’ll keep those to myself.”
Most people involved in the effort believe a successful campaign will require high-visibility leadership from a figure like Hickenlooper. “The only [successful] path I see right now is the governor supporting and actively campaigning,” said one observer.
The two-step tax would raise the least amount of revenue. The across-the-board .72 percent increases would raise an estimated $927.7 million, while the variations of five-step increases would raise $1.07 billion and $1.16 billion.
There’s been a lively debate about the tax structure among segments of the business and education communities. Some business interests have argued for the flat .72 percent increase while other groups wanted to differentiate rates so that lower-income taxpayers wouldn’t see as large an increase.
Choice of the two-step plan is seen as a likely compromise, according to several sources.
In addition to the four different tax increases, the Colorado Forum proposals also include four variations of tax policy changes. Those include:
Various interest groups have different opinions about the need to change Amendment 23 and Gallagher, so those issues have been part of the behind-the-scenes debates about which ballot measure to go with.
Klapper indicated Monday that the final version might well include the Amendment 23 change but that “we’re really wrestling with the Gallagher piece.”
Her goal, she said, is to choose a version “that every constituency finds something in it to love.”Campaign could be costly
Once a measure makes the ballot, proponents will have to persuade voters to raise their taxes. Klapper joked that it will take “astronomical amounts” of money to fund a successful campaign.
Another observer, Chris Watney of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, estimated a campaign cost of $7 to $10 million.
Asked if a June start for petition gathering was risky, Klapper said, “The experts tell me that’s enough time.”
Colorado Forum is already getting some expert advice, from Mike Melanson of OnSight Public Affairs. He’s a Democratic strategist who has managed campaigns for Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall.
One potential complication for the campaign is the fact that voters also will face a $70 million proposal to set excise and sales taxes on recreational marijuana. Asked about the possible interplay of the two measures in voters’ minds, Klapper said, “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”Signing key step in long journey
The signing of SB 13-213 was the culmination of an effort that started in 2011, when a group called the Colorado School Finance Partnership began studying the state’s funding system. Many of the themes in its final report are echoed in the bill.
The west foyer of the Capitol was filled with leaders of education groups, partnership members, some business leaders, lobbyists, a smattering of superintendents and legislators for the signing ceremony.
Both Hickenlooper and Johnston took care to mention lots of people by name and thank them for their work on the issue.
Conspicuously absent were any Republican officials. The bill gained no GOP votes in either the House or Senate, where Republicans hewed to the party’s anti-tax orthodoxy.
On Tuesday, while Democratic legislative staffers were tweeting every nuance of the event, @CoSenGOP tweeted, “SB 213 is a billion dollar tax increase disguised as school reform.”
Denver Public Schools is making it harder for kids to get lost in transit.
Beginning in October, DPS will fully implement its new +Pass program across its 26,000-student bus riders, which will allow administrators to track students as they board and disembark from district buses.
At a demonstration of the program on Tuesday morning, students at University Prep Academy proudly used their +Passes to board a district bus. Card readers in the buses flash from blue to green and beep audibly when the student’s card, which contains an RFID chip, has been read. The data goes to a central database accessible to school officials, and, beginning in October, to parents.
“It allows families an additional layer of information that we can capture with students getting on and off the bus,” said Nicole Portee, the director of transportation for the district.
The district has already rolled out the program in its far and northeast regions this month, according to a news release.
In addition to keeping track of students, Partee said, the program will provide the transportation department with valuable data like exactly how many students use the buses and how long their journeys are. District officials hope that information will help them evaluate efficiency, bus capacity and cost.
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.
Pressured for months by teachers, community leaders and aldermen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked school board is nonetheless expected on Wednesday to approve closing all but a few of the 53 elementary schools the administration wants to shut down. One source said the six-member school board is likely to vote for saving fewer than five of the schools on the closings list, according to the Tribune.
"It's a few," said Henry Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University, a board member who was willing to go on the record. "I don't think it's a large number of schools."
CLOSING APPEAL: A Sun-Times editorial calls for sparing at least 21 of the 54 schools that CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel insist are under-enrolled and must be closed. That's if board members truly are listening to the voices that have pleaded for their schools over the last six months, the editorial says.
CITING SEGREGATION: On the 59-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision to end segregation in public schools, Brown v. Board of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union released a report claiming widespread segregation still exists in Chicago Public Schools and the district’s administration is doing nothing to address it. (Progress Illinois)
TICKETED AND RELEASED: Chicago Police led away protesters Monday who blocked elevators in the lobby of City Hall after they vowed to “cause chaos in this city” to stop a sweeping school-closing plan. Officers bound the protesters’ hands with plastic ties after warning them they’d be arrested if they didn’t leave. Ultimately, 25 protesters were ticketed for trespassing and released. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
DIGITAL FUTURE: Teacher education institutions risk becoming obsolete if they do not do a better job preparing future teachers to use digital curricula, experts say.
That’s because the Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to urge district staff to tweak a policy that board members described as unfair or egregious. The motion calls for staff to come back with a policy within 30 days that changes the “do not rehire” practice so it will no longer be permanent — except in the case of “serious limited circumstances” — and outlines reasons for placement on the list.
Staff will explore the amount of time the “do not rehire” recommendation would be in place, including a sliding scale depending on the employee’s professional history.
“I would never support a ban for life when it comes to this particular piece, unless there was a clear reason for having a ban for life on a rehire,” board member Landri Taylor said, citing examples such as criminal actions against children or adults, or embezzlement.
However, the board did not reconsider any of the specific teachers whose contracts were not renewed. In fact, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the list of 220 non-renewals. Board members Mary Seawell, Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes pointed out that — after reviewing the employee files in detail — they believe the district followed its policies and procedures in making the decisions.
Read related stories
“These are based on multiple observations,” board member Rowe said. “It’s not a single principal making a decision and I don’t think it should be…. Can we improve? You bet we can.”
Presently, probationary teachers whose contracts are not renewed for a variety of reasons can be placed on the list. One teacher who testified before the school board last week said he didn’t even know he was blacklisted until he was informed by a Denver principal who wanted to interview him but said he couldn’t. The teacher taught in Jeffco for a few years before seeking to return to Denver Public Schools.
District administrators base the decision of whether to renew probationary teacher contracts on a “body of evidence,” including observation through LEAP (Denver’s teacher evaluation program), student achievement data, and interactions with colleagues and other team members.
Last week, the annual rite became a public show and organized union protest resulting in a 10-hour board meeting filled with emotional stories from teachers who testified about losing their jobs or being placed on the “do not rehire” list.
The board last week voted to delay a decision on the non-renewals so they could look more closely at individual teacher employment files.
There was a kerfuffle at the beginning of the meeting Monday when board members Andrea Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan wanted to go into closed session to discuss individual cases. The board majority kept the focus on policy and blocked the push for a closed meeting.
Merida also did her share of fist pounding (literally) over a lack of adequate time for the board to review the employee files. She said she got the official list from district staff on May 10, and the board was scheduled to vote six days later.
Merida also said she’d like to see an appeals process for teachers whose contracts are not renewed. Seawell, though, said she would not support that because she feared it would undo all the work DPS has done to prepare for the rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called teacher effectiveness law.
Merida also pushed her colleagues to give district administrators more direction on how much the LEAP teacher evaluation system should play into these decisions.
“There are cases here in which you have teachers with very strong student growth and performance, but for whom subjective reasons were used for making the non-renewal decision,” Merida said.
Hundreds of top-rated upstate science and math teachers will be eligible for $15,000 in annual stipends under a new mentorship program announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon.
New York City teachers aren’t eligible for the stipends, in part because they still lack an evaluation system to identify them according to a four-tiered ratings scale. But the state is relying heavily on a highly-regarded city-based mentoring organization to implement the program in selected higher education institutions.
Under Cuomo’s “Master Teacher Program,” 250 teachers from schools located in four upstate regions — North Country, Mid-Hudson, Central New York and Western New York — will be selected to receive a total of $60,000 in extra pay over four years. In exchange, the teachers will be trained at State University of New York education colleges and tasked with mentoring new teachers in the science and math subjects.
Recruiting and rewarding top teachers to work in high-demand subject areas was one of the recommendations put forth by Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission last year. Cuomo also secured $11 million in the 2013-2014 state budget to develop the program, which is scheduled to expand to more districts.
“As part of the state’s work to transform our education system and put students first, we are committed to investing in great teachers to educate our students and create a highly-trained workforce to drive our future economy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This program will reward those teachers who work harder to make the difference and whose students perform better as a result.”
Only middle and high school math and science teachers can submit applications, which will be available starting on July 1. They also must have at least four years of experience and receive “highly effective” ratings on their 2012-2103 evaluations in order to qualify for the stipend.
Teachers in New York City, the only district in the state without a teacher evaluation system in place this year, aren’t eligible to apply for the stipends.
The program is getting a big boost from a New York City-based mentorship program, Math for America, whose model is being adopted at four upstate SUNY schools — Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, New Paltz and Cortland.
The SUNY schools will also rely on Math for America’s staff to help train the initial cohort of master teachers, and develop the curriculum that will be used for future cohorts. Eventually — and if the program receives funding in future state budgets — training will be entirely turned over to the higher education institutions.
The stipend program is different from a “merit pay” system, which are controversial with teachers unions because of concerns that it breeds unhealthy competition by pitting one teacher against another. Research has also shown that students do not learn more when given teachers who are paid for performance.
Instead, the stipends are meant to recognize top teachers and compensate them for work beyond their normal schoolday responsibilities.
City principals who heard Chancellor Dennis Walcott deliver a stemwinding political speech on Saturday will get an extra day of summer vacation to make up for it.
This year, for the first time, the Department of Education told principals that they could take a day off during the summer to compensate for attending the citywide principals conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School.
“To encourage attendance, any principal who attends the conference will receive one compensation day that can be used between June 27 and August 30,” the department’s weekly bulletin to principals said for at least the last two weeks.
The tradeoff isn’t sitting right with some, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew, whose union frequently battles the department to ensure that teachers are paid for time they spend working outside of the regular school day. Mulgrew cited the prohibition on city workers participating in political activity on the job.
“You’re using taxpayer dollars to pay New York City workers to come in and listen to you do a political rant,” Mulgrew said. ”It’s at least inappropriate, but it really borders on questionable ethics.”
The Department of Education’s top spokesman, Andrew Kirtzman, rejected Mulgrew’s criticism.
“Mr. Mulgrew needs a truth commission of his own,” Kirtzman said, referring to Mulgrew’s call last week for a commission to investigate the Bloomberg administration’s education achievement claims. “Contrary to his assertion, the purpose of the speech was to urge that politics — and specifically the competition for his endorsement — not interfere with the progress of the city’s schools.”
The principals conference, which 1,200 principals and department officials attended, was the third that the city has held. Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman, said attendance was about the same as last year, when principals were not compensated for attending and officials’ message focused on the nitty-gritty details of implementing new standards and teacher evaluations. The year before that, department officials brought in David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, to pump principals up about the new standards.
This year, department officials took a turn toward the political. Walcott’s speech took direct aim at mayoral candidates who have been calling for changes to the Bloomberg administration’s school policies — a call that the New York Times supported in an editorial today.
“To dismantle the reforms of the last decade would be a disaster for our children and this city,” Walcott said, before citing what he said had been improvements in the school system and student achievement. “We cannot turn back the clock on our students.”
The chancellor received only a tepid response from the audience, which spilled into the balcony of Brooklyn Tech’s cavernous auditorium. He drew a smattering of applause when pointing to powers that principals have now that they did not have before Bloomberg took office, such as the right to select teachers who want to work in their schools. But the audience sat quietly through much of the speech, and some members even laughed when he proclaimed that he proclaimed that he doesn’t “involve myself in politics.”
The largest applause of the morning came when Walcott promised to deliver school budgets on Friday, which he said would be the earliest time in recent memory that principals would know how much they can spend next year.
Walcott’s speech made up only a small portion of the day. Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky immediately followed the chancellor to remind principals that even as the city becomes wrapped up in politics, hard work remains to be done in schools every day. Students spoke about overcoming setbacks; Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston described his path from high school principal to politician influencing teacher evaluation, tenure, and training across his state; and every attendee took home a copy of Paul Tough’s 2012 book “How Children Succeed,” which looks at the “soft skills” that students must develop if they are to thrive in college and careers.
After the speeches, principals scattered among dozens of workshops that they had signed up in advance to attend. Workshops focused on teacher effectiveness, strategies for working with English language learners, and curriculum, among other topics.
The workshops were appropriate to compensate principals for participating in over the weekend, Mulgrew said. But he said the principals conference had fallen short of its purported goal.
“The chancellor is supposed to be discussing the educational strategies for next year,” Mulgrew said. “I guess he doesn’t have one.”
As Colorado school districts get ready to roll out new evaluation methods for principals and teachers next year, the Department of Education is starting to put the details on a system for evaluating nearly 5,000 other school professionals.
The state’s landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law requires annual evaluations for “all licensed personnel.” The State Board of Education adopted rules for the principal and teacher evaluation system in November 2011, but those regulations didn’t cover school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists.
The council, an appointed body that has developed the recommendations for implementing the evaluation system, undertook a separate study of how to rate what it calls “specialized service professionals” (SSPs).Specialized service professionals
Numbers in parenthesis show how many professionals are working in schools. 4,803 total.
While the council’s recommendations mirror the system for principals and teachers in significant ways, there are three important differences.
• The council recommends that outside professionals be periodically involved in the evaluation of SSPs. The theory here is that a typical school principal may not have the expertise to know if, for instance, an audiologist is administering hearing tests properly. The council’s report also notes that many specialized professionals work in multiple schools and even in multiple districts, meaning they work with more than one principal.
Professional evaluators should be used in the first three years of practice, when loss of non-probationary status is possible, or at least every three years, the council recommends.
• While the evaluation law requires 50 percent of principal and teacher evaluations be based on student academic growth, the council is recommending that standard not be applied to all specialized professionals, given their distance from the classroom. Rather, those staff should be evaluated on what the council calls “student outcomes.” As an example, for counselors, student outcomes might include reduction in school absentee rates and increased graduation rates. (See and expanded list of possible outcomes below.)
• Finally, the council warned that such a system won’t work without appropriate funding. “Recruiting and training appropriate professional experts will require resources and funding,” the council’s report says. “The council recommends that sufficient funding be appropriated to CDE to ensure the quality implementation of this recommendation. This funding should include short-term funding to establish the required infrastructure and longer-term funding for sustainability.”Do your homework
Aime Baca-Oehlert, a counselor who serves on the council, was more succinct in her comments to the state board: “If it’s not funded, it’s not going to happen.”
The council’s recommendations for specialized professionals include the same four-step rating system as for principals and teachers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective. The proposal also follows the same format of using six quality standards to evaluate an educator’s “professional practices.”
The council also recommends that the state develop a model system that districts and boards of cooperative education services could use to evaluate specialized professionals. If districts chose to develop their own systems they would have to meet minimum state standards. (That same option exists with the overall evaluation system.)
The next step in the process is drafting of proposed regulations by Department of Education staff. Those will have to be approved by the state board. The council’s recommendations suggest pilot testing of evaluations in selected districts next year, followed by a statewide rollout in 2014-15. The first “real” year of the system would be 2015-16, when ratings of ineffective or partially effective could count against an educator’s non-probationary status.
Here are examples of student outcomes that could be attributed to SSPs, depending on their duties.
Orientation and mobility specialists
Speech and Language Pathologists
List taken from “Report & Recommendations for the Evaluation of Specialized Service Professionals” by the state councilProposed definition of effective practices for SSPs
“Effective specialized service professionals are vital members of the education team. They are properly credentialed and have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that diverse student populations have equitable access to academic instruction and participation in school-related activities. Effective specialized service professionals develop and/or implement evidence-based services or specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of their students. They support growth and development to close achievement gaps and prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success. They have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the home, school and community and collaborate with all members of the education team to strengthen those connections. Through reflection, advocacy, and leadership, they enhance the outcomes and development of their students.”
When Margarita Miranda moved to Old Town in 2000, the area looked much different. The Cabrini Green public housing projects cast a long shadow, and neighborhood elementary schools were located on every few blocks.
Today, the high-rise public housing has been wiped away, leaving the area with a smattering of row houses, townhouses and some stretches of still-empty lots.
Over the past decade, three of the schools that served the area’s children have been closed and reopened—one as a charter school, one as a selective enrollment school and the third as a lease by a private Catholic school that costs about $8,000 a year.
Miranda and other parents are now fighting furiously to save one of two neighborhood schools left. A parent volunteer who calls all the students at Manierre Elementary “her children,” she is emphatic that she won’t give up. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the closings on Wednesday.
“My son is upset,” she says. Miranda’s son has a disability that includes learning and speech difficulties and she’s afraid that he will simply “shut down” if he has to transfer to a new school.
But there’s something more that is eating at her. Even though Manierre is surrounded by high-performing schools, the school that her children are now supposed to attend is a Level 3 school with almost identical test scores.
Like Manierre, the receiving school, Jenner, has mostly black, low-income students. The other area schools are more diverse with far fewer poor children.
“I don’t want my children to go from a Level 3 school to a Level 3 school,” Miranda says. “I don’t want that for my children. They are good kids. They don’t bother nobody. They respect their elders.”
In some ways, Manierre is unique compared to the vast majority of schools slated to close on the South Side and West Side. Manierre is on the Near North Side, nestled next to some of the wealthiest areas in the city.
But in other ways, it is not different. Two months ago, CPS leaders announced their intention to close 54 schools, co-locate 11 and hand over six to the Academy of Urban School Leadership to be turned around. The end result of the school actions is that traditional, district-run neighborhood schools will become scarcer. Schools to which students have to apply and those run by private organizations will continue to take over, casting an ever-bigger shadow over the district.
The mayor and CPS officials have cast the move much differently, repeatedly saying that closings and consolidations will allow the district to redirect resources to fewer schools. And with the district facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, officials say closings will save $43 million a year in operating costs (starting in two years) and another $437 million in capital costs over the next decade.
“What we must do is to ensure that the resources some kids get, all kids get,” said Byrd-Bennett in a videotaped message on the CPS website. “With our consolidations, children are guaranteed to get what they need.”
Yet many of the district’s claims have drawn intense scrutiny and raised questions that undercut the rationale for closings as either a cost-savings or school improvement strategy.
Going to “better” schools
The first claim to face scrutiny is that students at closing schools will end up in higher- performing ones. According to state law, Byrd-Bennett has the authority to define “higher-performing,” and she determined that even when a school has the same performance rating, it can be considered higher- performing if it does better on a majority of the metrics, such as attendance and test scores.
Yet researchers note an important point: A move to a school that is only slightly better, at most, likely won’t mean much to students. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that, in previous rounds of closings, displaced students only reaped an academic benefit if they were sent to markedly better schools, defined as those in the top quartile.
In this case, just six receiving schools out of 55 are in the top quartile of all CPS schools. And in only three cases—3 out of 53 closings—are kids being sent from a school in the lowest quartile to a school in the highest, according to an analysis by WBEZ. Two-thirds of the closing schools are among the lowest rated in CPS, but in 18 cases students will be sent to schools that are equally low-rated.
Even among the 12 receiving schools that have the highest CPS rating, there is a broad range in terms of performance. Chopin, on the Near North Side, has nearly 96 percent of students meeting standards on the ISAT and nearly 70 percent exceeding standards, while Faraday, on the West Side, has 73 percent meeting standards and about 13 percent exceeding them. Research has shown that students need to exceed standards to perform well in high school.
Furthermore, no one knows exactly how many students will end up at the designated “receiving school”---the one that by some measure is higher performing. Last year, less than half of students went to the designated receiving school with many parents choosing closer or more convenient schools that performed no better than the school they left, shows a Catalyst analysis.
CPS officials counter that the money invested into the receiving schools will improve technology and other resources. The schools will be air-conditioned, with iPads, playgrounds and libraries. The district is also designating 19 schools as specialty schools, with International Baccalaureate, STEM and fine arts programs. This year, the new specialty schools will receive $250,000 to $360,000 in extra money to pay for positions and training.
While leaders may have meant for this to sweeten the deal, parents and activists have been incredulous that their schools must close in order to get resources that are common place in other schools.
Parents also aren’t convinced that the new turnaround schools will be better for their children. CPS plans to hand over six schools to the Academy for Urban School Leadership for turnaround, which entails firing all or most of the staff, including the principal and the lunch ladies. For each turnaround, AUSL gets $300,000 in upfront costs, plus $420 per student for each student for at least five years.
Contracts with AUSL are for five years, but for several turnarounds they have been extended.
In her letter to parents, Byrd-Bennett said that turnaround schools have improved twice as fast as the CPS district-average.
“We want to provide your child with access to the same opportunities to boost their chance of academic success, which they will receive next school year if this proposal is approved,” she wrote.
Yet parents point out that many of the schools run by AUSL are not high-performers. Only one turnaround school, Morton, is a Level 1 school. And one of the closing schools, Bethune, is a turnaround.
Mathew Johnson, a parent at Dewey Elementary, says 98 percent of parents signed a petition saying they did not want their school given to AUSL. He says the school’s new administration seems to be on the right track and is doing a turnaround of its own.
“We are not afraid to hold the administration accountable,” says Johnson, who serves on the local school council.
Costs and savings
Because so many of the so-called “welcoming,” turnaround and co-locating schools lack resources, CPS officials will spend big money to get them up to par. In April, the Board of Education approved a supplemental capital budget that the district plans to finance with a $329 million bond.
About $155 million of that will go toward improvements at the receiving schools and another $60 million will fix up schools that are slated to be turned around or co- located with another school.
For the next 30 years, CPS will have to pay $25 million in interest and principal on the bond. This expense was not factored into the $43 million that CPS officials say they will save by undertaking these school actions.
CPS leaders have repeatedly cited budget problems as a rationale for closings--yet one reason CPS is facing perpetual large deficits is its already-existing debt. In the upcoming fiscal year, the district’s payment on principal and interest is scheduled to rise by about $100 million to $475 million.
Capital cost savings are also not likely to be higher than estimated. CPS officials lowered their original capital savings estimate and say the district will save $437 million over the next decade by not having to repair or maintain the 50-some buildings they are shuttering.
But only six of the closing schools have had recent assessments to determine their capital needs. In all of these cases, the updated assessments caused CPS to lower its savings estimate.
In order for the district to save real money from closing schools, it would have sell off shuttered schools and lay off a lot of teachers, said Emily Dowdall, a senior associate for the Philadelphia Research Institute, which is part of the Pew Charitable Trust.
CPS officials say they are going to work with city department heads to figure out what to do with vacant buildings, but there is no specific plan in place.
CPS has sought to steer the discussion away from teacher layoffs, though the closing schools have about 1,100 teachers.
“Many of these teachers will follow their students to welcoming schools per the joint CTU-CPS agreement included in last year’s teachers’ contract, which allows tenured teachers with Superior or Excellent ratings to follow students if their position is open at the welcoming school,” according to a CPS fact sheet.
But school closings will likely mean that class sizes will be bigger in the welcoming schools than in the closing ones, meaning that fewer teachers will be needed for the same number of students. A quarter of class sizes at closing and welcoming schools have fewer than 20 students—way below recommended sizes of 28 for primary grades and 31 for intermediate grades.
Not including these affected schools, only 9 percent of schools have such small class sizes.
Changing demographics, changing landscape
CPS officials have stressed that the main reason schools need to close is that 145,000 fewer school-age children live in the city than in 2000. But, as many have pointed out, enrollment in CPS has declined by much less: In September of 2013, CPS had 32,000 fewer students than in September of 2000.
Neighborhood schools have been hit hard by the district’s opening of new “schools of choice,” whether magnet schools, charter schools or selective enrollment schools. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school.
If all of the school actions are approved on Wednesday, the landscape of public education will continue to change--especially for students in particular neighborhoods,
Next fall, CPS will run about 84 percent of public elementary schools in Chicago, down from 86 percent this year. The rest will be run by private entities, most by charter operators or AUSL.
The shifting landscape will result in fewer neighborhood schools—schools where students are guaranteed a spot if they live within the attendance boundaries. In 2000, nearly 98 percent of elementary school students attended neighborhood schools.
Also next fall, the percentage of elementary schools with attendance boundaries will drop to 70 percent, down from 75 percent this year (should all closings be approved and with the planned opening of 10 more elementary charter schools).
CPS officials say this might be the wave of the future as they try to increase choices, without increasing the number of buildings in the district’s portfolio.
For parents like Miranda, the shift means one of two things: taking their children further from home to get to the new neighborhood school, or filling out several applications to a ‘school of choice,’ then hoping and praying that they win a spot.
Like so many parents in the past few months, Miranda says going further away from home poses increased danger. Miranda is worried about a busy street that her children would have to cross to get to Jenner. Other parents in her school say that there’s an entrenched rivalry between Jenner and Manierre students, so much so that teams from the two schools aren’t even allowed to play each other in sports. They worry about fights and point to nasty posts on Facebook by Jenner students threatening those at Manierre.
Miranda says she doesn’t think this would be a problem at Newberry, LaSalle, Skinner North or Franklin—all of which are closer to Manierre than Jenner.
But these are all magnet or selective schools and assigning children to them is not the way CPS works these days.
Below is a slideshow of Monday's marches against school closings. The CTU organized three days of marches, which ended downtown. (Slideshow by Lucio Villa)
It’s always a nice day when an editor gets to brag about her reporters: over the weekend, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Colorado Pro chapter announced the winners of its “Top of the Rockies” contest, and I’m happy to report that EdNews Colorado took home three awards.
The team won first prize in the enterprise education reporting category (circulation 30,000-74,999) for the series, “Medical marijuana and K-12 schools.” (That series also recently won second prize in the National Awards for Education Reporting contest run by the Education Writers Association.)
And in the “Education: General Reporting” category, Nancy Mitchell, Rebecca Jones, Burt Hubbard (of the I-News Network) and Todd Engdahl won first prize for their report on cheating investigations at Beach Court Elementary School and Hallett Fundamental Academy, “State investigating two Denver schools.”
The site also won third prize for general website excellence.
Please join me in congratulating our reporters on a job well done!