As Lamont Sadler moonwalked up to the microphone, his classmates clapped and cheered for their senior class president.
“When I say hee hee, you say ow!” Sadler yelled to the auditorium full of students and teachers who chanted in reply.
The exuberant display was part of Uncommon Charter High School’s “signing day” on Thursday to celebrate the college acceptances that its first graduating class of 28 students nabbed. The students were individually recognized for their achievements, walked across the stage to a song of their choice, and then announced what college they would attend in the fall. While on stage, students also signed a contract that promised they would succeed in and graduate from college.
The ritual was one of the last for the students who formed Uncommon’s first ninth-grade class when the school opened in 2009, bringing together graduates of the charter network’s multiple Brooklyn schools. Another charter network, Achievement First, opened a high school for the graduates of its middle schools the same year in the same building — and held a similar ceremony for its 31 graduating seniors on Wednesday. (A third network, KIPP, also opened its high school in 2009, in Harlem. It held a stepping up ceremony on Tuesday.)
Both schools originally started with more students. Of Uncommon’s 39 original ninth-graders, eight moved or transferred out of the school, and another three will remain enrolled next year. At Achievement First, student attrition was steeper: The school went from 61 ninth-graders to 32 graduating seniors. A spokeswoman for the network, whose New York City schools have drawn criticism for having overly harsh rules, said attrition had been highest in the school’s first year, when it lacked many of the programs and activities it now has.
For the students who are graduating, the payoff is significant. All of the students in both schools were accepted to college and plan to attend this fall. Many will be members of the first generation in their family to attend college.
Achievement First made getting into college a graduation requirement, and the 32 seniors were accepted to 216 colleges and universities, including Williams College, Howard University, Syracuse University, Lafayette College, and several schools in the SUNY and CUNY networks. Sabrina Dawson, the school’s college counselor, helped students schools that offer financial aid and support for first-generation college students, then coached them through the application process and a senior-year “College Readiness Seminar.”
Uncommon’s 28 seniors submitted 429 applications to 138 different colleges. During the ceremony, the 12th grade team lead Nour Goda introduced each of the students. She said when Nicollete Francisco was asked to give 100 percent, she gives 110 – Francisco announced she would attend the University of Bridgeport. Kinyanna Evans walked to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson and announced she would be attending DePaw University. Ashley Heard, who started the first fashion show at UCHS, walked to “Thrift Shop” and announced she’d be attending York College.
Senior Justin Colon received a full ride to Vanderbilt University while Kevin Ozoria, who was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also received a full scholarship, to Dartmouth College, which is in the Ivy League.
“I never thought that I would be worthy of going to high institutions like these,” Ozorio said.
Sadler, who announced he would attend State University of New York at Oswego, said he wouldn’t be where he is today without his high school.
“I was so used to not being in a classroom at my old school, I used to run around hallways and do whatever I wanted to,” said Sadler, who started at an Uncommon school in the fifth grade.
He admitted that it took him a while to adjust to Uncommon’s strict rules, but he said he likes the school now because he’s been able to “make it his own.”
“It’s surreal that everyone here is going to college,” he said. “You always hear about college since fifth grade … since the first day of school until now. And now that you’re actually going to college and that it’s not a question in your mind … that’s the best part.”
More than $300 million worth of school construction projects will be the table starting Tuesday, when the state Capital Construction Assistance Board opens a three-day meeting to decide its annual grants.
As has happened every year since the Building Excellent Schools Today program was created in 2008, some applicants will go away disappointed. The program, funded by a share of state school land revenues and restricted in how much debt it can incur, can fund only some of the applications it receives.
This year nearly 40 districts and about a dozen charter schools have submitted a total of more than 60 requests. Those bids total about $308 million in total project costs, including $228 million in state funds and $80 million in promised local matches.
The board’s staff is recommending spending up to $10 million in cash grants and a little more than $80 million for larger projects that are financed with debt.
The applications range from a $27,601 request the from Mountain Valley district in the San Luis Valley for security upgrades to a $37.4 million bid to build a new middle school in Fort Morgan.
Last year the board approved about $280 million worth of projects from a list that totaled about $440 million.Do your homework
Smaller projects such as roof replacements, new boilers and security upgrades generally receive direct cash grants from the BEST program. Big-ticket projects – new schools and major renovations – are paid for through lease-purchase agreements. State and local funds are pooled to pay off those agreements, known technically as certificates of participation, over several years.
The BEST selection process is unique in that the construction board has a certain amount of discretion in making its recommendations and because it makes its decisions request-by-request in an open meeting, unlike the bureaucrats-in-an-office process that governs many grant programs. Applicants also are allowed to make brief in-person pitches to the board, in addition to the voluminous applications they filed months ago.
BEST applications are evaluated on a complicated set of criteria including building conditions and suitability for educational uses, cost and local financial ability to provide matches, among other factors. In some cases the board can adjust matching formulas.
The board’s decisions won’t be the last word on 2012-13 grants. The State Board of Education – and for the first time this year, the legislative Capital Development Committee – will review the construction board’s recommendations later this summer.
Surviving that selection process is only the first hurdle for successful applicants. Many school districts, especially smaller ones, require voter approval of bond issues to raise their local matches. The board selects alternate applications to be considered for awards in November if any of the finalists fail to pass bond issues.The big requests
Here are the requests with project costs of $10 million or more:
Fort Morgan – $37.4 million to replace a middle school. State share 6.2 million.
Aurora – $31.5 million to replace Mrachek Middle School, including a $25.8 million state share.
Limon – $25 million to build a new PK-12 school in this eastern plains district. $17.7 million state share.
AXL Academy – $20.9 million to construct a new PK-8 building for this Aurora charter. State share $19.7 million.
South Conejos – $19.7 million to build a new PK-12 school for this San Luis Valley district. State share $14 million.
Moffat – $16.7 million for a replacement PK-12 school in this San Luis Valley district. State share $12.1 million.
Swallows Charter Academy – $15.2 million to construct a new PK-12 charter school in Pueblo. State share $10.5 million.
Creede – $14.5 million for a replacement K-12 school in this San Juan Mountains district, one of the most isolated in the state. State share $6.7 million.
Montrose – $14.2 million for a new middle school. State share $7.1 million.
Animas High School – $13.7 million for a new building for this charter school in Durango. State share $11.4 million.
Ross Montessori Charter – $12.9 million for a new building to house this Carbondale K-8 charter. The school was a 2012 finalist but was pulled off the list late in the year because its financing and land-purchase arrangements weren’t complete.
Edison – $10.8 million to renovate and expand the junior/senior high school in this plains district east of Colorado Springs. State share $10.5 million.
Kim – $10.6 million to renovate and add to the PK-12 school in this district south of La Junta. State share $7.9 million.
Independence Academy – $10 million to build a new K-8 charter school in Grand Junction. State share $8 million.
The construction board convenes the selection process at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Adams 12 Conference Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton.
Colorado ranks among the top seven states experiencing declining teen birth rates in recent years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While teen birth rates declined nationally by 25 percent from 2007-2011, Colorado’s rate declined by more than 30 percent. The other six states to achieve similar drops are Idaho, Nevado, Utah, Arizona, Minnesota and Florida.
Colorado’s birth rate among Hispanic teens also declined by more than 40 percent from 2007-2011. Nationally, there was a 34 percent decline for that group.
Colorado Youth Matter, an advocacy group promoting teen sexual health, suggested in a press release that the declines may be due to “enormous statewide efforts and funding to increase prevention efforts.”
“This data highlights how critical it is that current efforts and funding continue — because there is still more work to be done,” said Executive Director Lisa Olcese in the release.
According to the CDC fact sheet on the teen birth data, babies born to teens are at greater risk of premature birth, low birth weight and dying in infancy than babies born to mothers ages 20 and over.
Starting today, the Department of Education plans to release annual reports about teacher retention that detail — by their performance ratings — which teachers resign, retire, stay on, are fired, or are promoted.
“Having detailed information about teacher performance and retention at their fingertips will better enable our principals to develop staff and retain our best and brightest,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.
The “Smart Retention” reports were inspired by a report released last year by TNTP, a group that advocates for aggressive changes to hiring and firing practices in public schools. The TNTP report, called the “Irreplaceables,” found that weak and strong teachers leave school districts at roughly the same rate and argued that districts could adopt low-cost strategies to hold on to top performers.
The reports cite the TNTP study and show retention and attrition patterns by their growth scores, which the state is calculating for some teachers, and their ratings under the city’s current evaluation system. Principals can also see the “exit paths” for the different categories of teachers, look at how their schools’ patterns have changed over time, and compare what happens at their school to what happens across the city.
“Any principal in New York who is looking at their data, this is all things they’ve seen before,” said Anne Martin Williams, the department official leading their development, when she premiered a draft of the Smart Retention report to a group of district and charter school leaders in March. “But it’s never been in one place like this, with resources attached to it.”
Those resources include a tip sheet about recognizing and rewarding top teachers, in keeping with a teacher appreciation prize that the city launched this year. “Customize recognition strategies to individual teachers’ interests and personalities,” reads one tip on the sheet, which comes with a sample “Kudos” form originally used by a Michigan community college.
Williams said the department would also give principals information about existing resources around how to usher “consistently low-performing” teachers out of their schools. “A lot of principals use the resources a lot and some don’t at all,” she said.
After rising for six years, the number of teachers awarded “unsatisfactory” ratings fell last year. That was supposed to be the last time teachers were rated under the old evaluation system, but because the city and its teachers union never agreed on a new evaluation system, teachers will receive “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” ratings one last time this year. Next week, State Education Commissioner John King is set to impose an evaluation system on the city for next year that factors student performance into teachers’ ratings.
Next year, the retention reports will reflect the new ratings. “As the citywide evaluation work evolves we will obviously have more detailed information about teacher performance (based on multiple measures) which will provide for greater ability for schools to understand relationship between retention and teacher effectiveness,” said a department spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.
The department has made accountability for principals paramount for years, factoring their compliance with various mandates into their annual ratings. But principals won’t be expected to hit any particular retention targets, Hughes said.
“When and if we have a teacher evaluation deal we’ll have a lot better information about teachers,” Williams said in March. “This year our goal is to change the conversation, create new vocabulary, and put some resources in principals’ hands.”
A sample report is below:
A veteran Highland Park teacher turned to YouTube to announce her resignation from teaching, explaining how the profession has changed over the past 15 years of school reform and why she believes public education is being misdirected.
PUBLIC ANGER: Parents of Highland Park grade school students voiced anger and disappointment at a board meeting Thursday night as they demanded answers and protested the involuntary transfer of three teachers to new schools next year. The parents' anger was stoked when Lincoln School fourth-grade teacher Ellie Rubenstein posted a video Tuesday on YouTube to air her grievances and publicly resign. She and three other Lincoln School educators were recently told they would be transferred to other schools next year. One of the transfers was voluntary, and three were involuntary, according to officials. (Tribune)
SATIRIZING THE CLOSINGS: A totally satirical guest post on The White Rhino blog by a former CPS student Andres Martinez starts with this tongue-in-cheek paragraph: "With 40-60% of minority children dropping out of school in the City of Chicago, I stand by Major Rahm Emanuel and the closing of 50 public schools. The closings will greatly reduce these statistics. No kids in schools equals no kids dropping out." (Chicago Now)
NO RELIEF FROM SPRINGFIELD: Some members of the Chicago Teachers Union were hoping state lawmakers would slow down the process of closing dozens of Chicago schools, but bills introduced in the Illinois Senate and House have gone nowhere. (WBEZ)
PARSING THE CLOSINGS: The Rev. John Thomas, former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and now a professor and administrator at Chicago Theological Seminary writes about Chicago school closings here. "Unlike the teachers in Moore [Oklahoma], Chicago teachers’ schools are not gone because of some capricious act of nature," Thomas writes. "They are gone because of decades of very deliberate decisions by public officials, corporate interests and ordinary citizens that have eviscerated the neighborhoods of Chicago, displacing people with the demolition of public housing, gutting communities with foreclosures and the elimination of jobs. The schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions."
IMPLICATED BY VIDEO: Chicago Public Schools has removed a Dunbar Vocational Career Academy employee from his position after a video posted online appears to show him pushing a female student down a flight of stairs. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
MASS LAYOFFS: The Ann Arbor Board of Education voted unanimously to issue pink slips to 233 teachers at Wednesday's board meeting to prepare for a possible reduction of about 50 teaching positions in next year's budget. (AnnArbor.com)
CHANGING ENROLLMENT: A Century Foundation report shows a sharp increase in enrollment of lower-income, nonwhite students at community colleges, institutions that will do much to shape the economy.
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.
Anthony Weiner’s views on education policy became a little clearer on his first full day on the campaign trail, when he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he supports letting charter schools use space in public school buildings.
The issue puts him at odds with several of his Democratic competitors for mayor, who have said they would impose a moratorium on the space-sharing arrangements. Co-location has induced tension in many school buildings, but it has also allowed the city’s charter school sector to thrive, and whether to continue the practice is a major decision facing the next mayor.
In fact, on the issue of school choice, Weiner suggested that his support extends well beyond the public school system. He proposed helping non-public schools — he cited cash-strapped Catholic schools in particular — with publicly funded support that they are already entitled to, including technology, health care and security. He first floated the idea in his 2009 policy book “Keys to the City,” which he re-released last month.
“We’ve made it much too difficult for parish schools in this city and they are an asset and we should all mourn when they disappear,” Weiner told Lehrer, in the former congressman’s first broadcast interview since he declared his candidacy for mayor. Weiner’s political career seemingly ended two years ago when he was lied about sending sexually explicit texts to women on Twitter.
Weiner said the city had been misguided in buying and renting space from Catholic schools that have closed, as dozens have done due to dwindling enrollment, instead of helping the schools stay open.
“Rather than try to help these Catholic schools, rather than see if we can help them in purely secular ways of trying to ease some of their burdens, and rather than saying to the folks at Tweed, ‘You know, let’s see what we can do with public dollars that they’re entitled to anyway — things like book money — and see if we can figure out ways to help,’ we’ve kind of swooped in and tried to make use of the property instead,” Weiner said.
After Lehrer asked whether the plan could violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, Weiner said his interest in seeing Catholic schools survive in New York City comes from support for choice.
“I just think we have to … see it as more of our mission to have education as more of a cornucopia of options rather than simply one,” Weiner said. But he said he would not support vouchers that would let families use public funds to pay private school tuition.
Not much is known about what kind of an education mayor Weiner would be. But that was one of the first topics that Lehrer pressed Weiner on after he once again apologized for the sexting scandal, which he characterized as “private behavior and things that I was doing in my private life.”
Weiner repeated a plea that, at the very least, New Yorkers listen to his ideas on how he would run the city if elected mayor. He began first with some praise for the Bloomberg administration, whose policies on education have become a daily punching bag for Weiner’s Democratic rivals.
“The way I look at the Bloomberg administration is that they did a laudable thing to begin with, and they said let’s get control of the system and lets put a lot more money into it. And it’s undeniable that, frankly, it’s the only part of the budget that is really growing a great deal,” Weiner said.
Under Bloomberg, city education spending has increased from $5.9 billion in 2002 to $13.7 billion for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
But Weiner then unleashed some anti-testing rhetoric that would fit right in with the other Democratic candidates.
“I think there are too many standardized tests,” Weiner said, a complaint that he might not have all that much control over as mayor, because federal law requires that states administer annual standardized testing.
But he said that the city relied too heavily on the state tests and suggested that a better way to gauge the city’s school system would be through national assessments.
“I think we have to take a look, not how we’re comparing the Bronx to Staten Island. We got to think about how we’re comparing to Pittsburgh,” Weiner said, citing as an example the midwestern city whose skyline for some reason appears on his own campaign’s website. ”And I think that taking a snapshot of those national tests is as important as anything we’re doing locally.”
On the divisive issue of charter school co-locations, Weiner said he supported them as long as there is free space inside city school buildings.
“I don’t have an objection to co-locating charter schools and public schools where there is space,” said Weiner, who did not discuss whether he supported Bloomberg’s school closure policies, which have often freed up space for charter schools. Other Democratic candidates for mayor have said they thought the Bloomberg administration too often turned to closures instead of supporting low-performing schools.
Weiner’s early campaign strategy appears to try to, as the Times put it this morning, seize a “common-sense centrism” that the other Democrats have so far ignored. In dealing with growing mandated costs tied to the city’s municipal labor force, Weiner said he would want to see workers begin paying health insurance premiums, with higher rates for smokers.
The Bloomberg administration cited both proposals last month as crucial concessions needed to keep reduce healthcare costs, projected to increase by 30 percent in three years.
“So does this position indicate that you will not be competing for public sector union endorsements?” Lehrer asked Weiner.
Weiner said that the message he wants to send to public employees, with whom the next mayor will have to negotiate new contracts, is that money saved through higher health insurance premiums could end up back in their pockets another way.
“That is money we can’t use for raises,” said Weiner, referring to the $2.6 billion that the city’s annual bill for healthcare is projected to increase by over the next four years.
Lehrer asked specifically about the UFT endorsement, which is scheduled for June 19 and has been seen as one of the most crucial for the Democratic candidates.
“If I don’t get the UFT endorsement, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try every single day to persuade every teacher and every supervisor and every staff member that I want their vote,” Weiner said.
The Denver teachers union isn’t wasting time getting ready for the November election, opting to announce three endorsements four months earlier than normal. Those endorsements are: Meg Schomp, Roger Kilgore and Michael Kiley.
The 3,000-member Denver Classroom Teachers Association Thursday announced three endorsements but conspicuously did not endorse anyone running for the southwest Denver seat now held by Andrea Merida. Merida has announced plans to run for re-election. DCTA endorsed Merida four years ago. But DCTA Fund Chairperson Michelle Miller said DCTA hasn’t had an opportunity to interview people who may run against Merida, such as union organizer Rosario De Baca. Miller said DCTA expected to make its final endorsement by the end of the school year.
“We’re getting a jump on it a little earlier,” Miller said. “We think it’s a really important race. We found some really quality candidates and we want to get behind them as quick as we can.”
In a statement the DCTA said believes the following three candidates “exemplify DCTA’s core values of educator excellence, student success and shared accountability.”
In District 3, which represents central Denver, DCTA is putting their weight behind Schomp, an active parent in her children’s schools. The seat is now held by Jeanne Kaplan, who is term-limited after eight years on the board. School finance lawyer Michael Johnson is also running for the seat.
“Meg Schomp’s desire for educator excellence is literally in her DNA,” the DCTA stated in a news release, pointing out that Schomp’s mother Kaye was an education civil rights leader during her tenure on the school board a generation ago.
In District 4, which covers northeast Denver, the teachers union is backing Kilgore over board member Landri Taylor.
Kilgore is co-chair of the District School Improvement and Accountability Council (SIAC).
“We find Roger’s ability to be an independent voice in a polarized environment refreshing,” the release said. “As a board member, Kilgore will use his expertise and analytical skills to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, bringing community into the process.”
Finally, DCTA is supporting Kiley in the at-large race to fill outgoing board President Mary Seawell’s seat.
“Though his children are still in elementary school, Kiley has become engaged in both his neighborhood middle school (Skinner) and North High School, rallying parents, teachers, and the community around the schools with marked success,” the statement read. “Kiley’s at-ease style should not be mistaken for naiveté, as his depth of knowledge of DPS issues is remarkable.”
The DCTA described Kiley’s goal of a quality school in every neighborhood as not being at odds with the district’s heavy emphasis on choice, but “is truly the missing component of a process that has received scrutiny for its shortcomings.”
Former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, now head of Get Smart Schools, is also pondering running for the at-large seat. If she does, that’ll mean a tough fight for Kiley.
Miller said the key issues this year for the DCTA are the implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the teacher effectiveness law, the district’s fiscal management and concerns about whether enough money it making it to the classroom level, and due process for teachers.
“We feel really confident about these candidates, that they are able to represent community interests as well as teachers and students,” Miller said. “We’re very impressed with their opinions about how to engage our communities…and make sure all stakeholders have e a voice in the reforms.”
The DCTA endorsement carries with it the promise of a significant financial boost. Five labor unions – the DCTA, its statewide affiliate the Colorado Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and the United Food and Commercial Workers – pitched in a total of $103,450 to support its three candidates in 2009.
In 2011, an independent expenditure committee called Working America campaigned in support of board member Arturo Jimenez and Emily Sirota, who were endorsed by the Denver teachers’ union. Jimenez won; Sirota lost. Working America raised and spent $4,079, with all contributions coming from Working America, which describes itself as a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO in Washington D.C.
The DCTA and the statewide Colorado Education Association were the sole donors to Delta 4.0, a 527 political organization that supported Jimenez. The unions contributed $86,000.
The United Federation of Teachers might not have endorsed a mayoral candidate yet, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been busy picking politicians to support. The union has endorsed candidates in more than 40 local and citywide races, too.
The UFT endorsed 13 City Council candidates in their Democratic primary races at its Delegate Assembly meeting Wednesday night. Seven of them are running for seats whose current occupants cannot run again because of term limits. The union plans to endorse candidates for all 19 open council seats.
The union endorsed state Assemblywoman Inez Barron in the primary for the 42nd district, an East New York seat that has been filled by her husband Charles for the last 12 years. It’s support that Charles Barron could not secure last year while running against Hakeem Jeffries in a Democratic primary for Congress. In that race, the UFT opted not to endorse either candidate.
The UFT is also supporting one of its own in the 47th district primary, which encompasses several southern Brooklyn neighborhoods. Mark Treyger, a civics teacher and union delegate from New Utrecht High School, officially got the union’s support on Wednesday evening.
Treyger opposes school closures and co-locations and wants to see the city create a separate district dedicated entirely to Career and Technical Education, according to the UFT’s website.
The union has also waded into citywide and borough president races, previously endorsing Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, for Manhattan borough president, and Scott Stringer, who is running uncontested for city comptroller.
No endorsement has been yet made in the crowded Democratic primary for public advocate, which includes State Sen. Daniel Squadron, City Councilwoman Letitia James, and Reshma Saujani, a former deputy to the incumbent, Bill de Blasio, who is running for mayor.
Here’s a list of candidates the union endorsed last night: Rosie Mendez (CD 2), Richard Torres (CD 15), Peter Koo (CD 20), Costa Constantinides (CD 22), James Van Bramer (CD 26), Donovan Richards (CD 31), Stephen Levin (CD 33), Laurie Cumbo (CD 35), Brad Lander (CD 39), Darlene Mealy (CD 41), Inez Barron (CD 42), Mark Treyger (CD 47) and Steven Matteo (CD 50). A complete list of the UFT’s endorsements is maintained here.
Jason Glass, Iowa’s chief state school officer, has been named superintendent of the 6,400-student Eagle County School District.
Glass has been director of the Iowa Department of Education since 2010 but has previous Colorado ties. He worked for the Colorado Department of Education in special education, was a vice president for Qualistar Early Learning in Denver and was the director of human resources for the Eagle district.
Get more background on Glass here.
He succeeds Sandra Smyser, 2013 Colorado superintendent of the year, who earlier this month was hired as superintendent of the Poudre School District.
In 2009, a Colorado school district in turnaround took a leap: it abandoned traditional K-12 grade levels and instead implemented a system that advances students based on how well they do rather than how long they sit in class.
Administrators and teachers staked the struggling district on the “standards-based education” gamble, and four years later — after lots of tinkering — it looks like they won.
In what Adams 50 now calls its “competency-based system,” the district’s 10,000 students — of whom 81 percent eat free or reduced lunch and 45 percent are English Language Learners — advance through academic levels once they demonstrate competency in the subject, not once the school year is over. When school starts again, students pick up where they left off.
The move toward standards-based education is a national one, as test-based assessments and performance become more ubiquitous. But it’s rare for a district to implement reform as comprehensive as Adams County’s, which took its cue from a similar, though more radical, program in Chugach, Alaska.
Critics feared the system would create classrooms with broad age gaps and hinder social development. Proponents insisted it would encourage students to take charge of their education.
But over the past four years, the biggest changes in the district have been more subtle: students have begun to see themselves at the center of their education, teachers say; achievement gaps have become more apparent and easier to address; and district-wide, those gaps have been closing.
Though the district’s lowest-performing schools have improved steadily since the new program’s implementation, the new system has not come without significant challenges, many of them caused by logistical problems.
The competency-based system is heavily based on data gathering, requiring teachers to enter reams of minutiae to track student progress. Constantly fluctuating state and national educational standards have thrown wrenches in the carefully planned curriculum, making constant reevaluation of the district-set levels a necessity. Administrators seem battle-worn after years of wrestling with the logistics and legwork required to align those levels with grade-level based state requirements. Next year the number of levels a student must pass through will shift to 12, to align with traditional grade numbers.
Despite the turmoil, the district’s TCAP scores have shown steady improvement, and the district shook the turnaround label last year. The 2013-2014 school year will be the first that all students, from pre-K to 12th grade, will be integrated into the system.
So is the district’s competency-based system working as it should? In Adams 50, though the system may be straying from the model the district initially conceived, it seems to be working for the students.Competency takes hold behind the scenes at Hodgkins Elementary
A visitor checking out classrooms at Josephine Hodgkins Elementary School might be surprised at how traditional everything looks. But it’s the little things that catch a visitor’s eye: the charts and graphs on the walls depicting student performance on tests; the small groups of students working on different projects at once; and the students buried in folders, highlighting skills they’ve learned on a chart as they progress toward reaching the next level.
Sarah Gould, the school’s principal, allows teachers to choose whether they would prefer a classroom full of students at the same age, or students at the same level, a luxury afforded because of the school’s large size.
That means many students attend classes surrounded by kids their own age, though they may be studying at different levels. That system also makes it easy to integrate students with specialized learning plans or those in special education with peers their own age, without abandoning the levels system.
Courtney Nelson, a literacy teacher, chose to keep a traditional “fourth grade” classroom, though her students perform at levels ranging from 3-7.
“This is the first year that I’ve had a straight age group,” she said, comparing her current classroom setup to the one she experienced as a student teacher when the district was first implementing the system. “In my student teaching I had second through fifth grade in one room, and that was very difficult.”
And having such a wide range of levels benefits students, who end up helping each other, Nelson said: “I often see my level 7s will choose to partner with a level 3, and vice versa.”
Hodgkins Elementary has also departmentalized its teachers, so math teachers and literacy teachers have a support group to draw from and teachers can focus on the subject they prefer to teach.
Those are just some of the logistics each school has to work out under the system. In middle school, it gets more difficult, Gould said. Students move to a new school no matter their level, so teachers have a wide range of abilities to address. Elementary students who advance early sometimes sit in class with a specialized multilevel instructor on that campus, or are walked over to a nearby middle school to study.
Oliver Grenham, the district’s chief education officer, has considered K-8 buildings to help alleviate those problems. But for now, those plans — which would be costly and require a lot of legwork — are just talk.A system in flux
The system, with levels spanning ten content areas, has also undergone changes on a broader scale. In spring 2010, then-superintendent Roberta Selleck increased the number of achievement levels students were required to complete from 10 to 14, because younger students were moving through the levels too slowly. Next year, the district will collapse those levels into 12, aligning them with standard grade levels, which will make it easier for the district to use standard textbooks as well as comply with state standards.
Grenham said the district was shifting the levels at the behest of teachers and parents, not ill-fitting state requirements. Still, he acknowledged that teachers were likely asking for change in response to increasingly demanding state and national standards, which make finding curricular resources challenging and increase the number of tasks a student in the district must complete to go on to the next level. Increased requirements mean more data and learning targets a teacher must keep track of.
But everyone interviewed insisted the coming change was not a backslide toward a more traditional model.
“Just because there’s an alignment doesn’t mean we’re abandoning what we’re doing,” said Stephen Saunders, the spokesman for the district.
“You could have an eighth grader next year who’s at a level 6 in math and a level 7 in literacy,” Grenham added.
Heffernan, the teacher at Hodgkins, said she was excited for the shift back to grade-aligned levels.
“It makes sense to parents. It makes sense to me,” she said. “It’s still leveled, but within the level are national standards under second grade.”Too far, too fast
Over time, teaching methods in the district have shifted, too.
When Adams 50 initially decided to implement a standards-based system, they overshot, said Hodgkins Elementary teacher Joyce Heffernan, who is nearing the end of her 40th year as a teacher and has a classroom of second graders working between the levels of 0 and 3.
“When it first went to [standards-based education], it really went too far,“ Heffernan said. “I think we are finally getting to a place where we are saving the good stuff and not throwing everything out and starting all over again.”
Teachers used learning-level packets and did less whole group learning, and the curriculum was extremely individualized — to the detriment of students, Gould and Heffernan said.
“We had to pull back after a couple of years and determine that good teaching is just good teaching,” Gould said. “The best practices, those we still have in place. It’s just the systems that run behind the scenes are different.”
Heffernan said she’s using many of the same teaching tactics that have worked for decades: setting clear goals and using assessments to find out whether students have reached them. Competency-based education helps teachers do that, she said: it sets clear learning targets and tracks student progress step by step.
Now, Nelson said she could tell that this year’s students have grown up in the system.
“The kids that I have this year have only been (taught) in a competency-based system, and they’re much more authentic with their learning. They want to take responsibility for it,” Nelson said. “I see even my very low, struggling learners feel successful in the classroom, because everything I’m giving them is at their level.”Closing the gaps
Despite the experiments with different numbers of levels, the district continues to be focused on its data-driven, student-centric system, in which a student advances in each subject, one at a time, as they meet standard requirements. Perhaps most importantly, administrators and teachers say the system addresses the achievement gaps more easily ignored in traditional education systems, because students can’t progress until they’ve demonstrated proficiency — and the system allows schools to narrow those gaps sooner rather than later.
That’s clear in the district’s gradually rising TCAP scores. In 2010, just 31 percent of Hodgkins students scored in the proficient or advanced category in reading. This year, in keeping with steady gains, 53 percent of third graders scored advanced or proficient on the test.
More importantly, Hodgkins’ economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency have been steadily improving on the reading test over the past few years. District-wide, those groups of students, along with migrant students, have shown slow but steady improvement in every TCAP subject, according to data through 2012.
“What we’ve seen is the gaps, especially in our building, have gotten smaller, and that’s a direct correlation to their TCAP scores going up,” Gould, the school’s principal, said. “Because we’re finally closing the gap. We’re stopping the bleeding. And I think that’s the biggest thing: this system actually helps support stopping the bleeding.”A national trend toward standards
Broadly, states are realizing set standards and competency requirements are a good way to evaluate student learning, said Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States.
New Hampshire in particular has instituted successful reforms allowing students to take tests in lieu of classes, she said. Though different in structure, the systems share a common idea: a student’s ability to demonstrate competency in a subject is more important than how much time they may have spent in a classroom.
“If I’m learning it on my own, I might get more excited about the material,” Zinth said. “States that had more narrow policies [testing competency over seat time] are expanding those policies, and states that maybe didn’t are developing them.”
It’s part of a wider shift toward testing school performance instead of school processes — things like how many students sit in a classroom and whether schools pass various types of inspections. Testing and performance-based assessments are the trend in schooling both nationally and internationally, according to Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University whose work focuses on evaluating reforms and policies.
“In theory, [the push toward competency testing] represents a shift toward accountability,” he said. “If outcomes are satisfactory, seat time becomes less important. … It’s good if the standards are good.”
Miron said testing based on curriculum and learning targets — such as the tests Adams County uses to monitor student progress throughout the school year — is the most accurate kind of testing.
“If it’s a good set of standards and a good assessment aligned to the standards, then teaching to the test is exactly what you want to be doing,” he said.
Grenham, who’s navigated many of the logistical challenges the district has faced while putting the competency-based system in place, said Adams County 50 still has a long way to go. How long, exactly?
“That Beatles song,” Grenham said with a laugh. “‘Eight Days a Week.’”
After hearing candidates pitch ideas to teachers at union-run forums across the city over the past few weeks, members apparently heard enough. They voted to scratch plans to open up Wednesday’s union-wide Delegate Assembly meeting to comments. The meeting instead adjourned after UFT political director Paul Egan explained what laid ahead in the final stretch as the union prepared to make an endorsement.
The workload includes a lot more vetting, with viability as a crucial quality, Egan explained, according to several people who attended last night’s meeting at 52 Broadway. Over the next four weeks, Egan said his team of political consultants, which includes the firm Red Horse Strategies, will analyze fundraising and expenditures, who’s advising and consulting for the candidates, and lots of poll data.
There’s one more task, too. The union said it plans to meet with and interview Anthony Weiner, who formally announced his candidacy on Wednesday.
As usual, the Delegate Assembly meeting was closed to the press. But afterward, many delegates were eager to talk about their opportunity to play a role in the outcome of a monumental election.
“This mayoral race campaign is really important to me,” said Lucy Pagoada, teacher at the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture in Queens. Pagoada said the Bloomberg administration had been “disastrous” for schools and she was “doing everything that I can to raise a lot of the consciousness at the teacher level in my school, talking to my neighbors, making sure I talk to my family, my friends, everyone who can vote.”
UFT representatives summarized the mayoral forums that took place in each of the boroughs, including who won straw polls taken of teachers before and after each event. John Liu won Queens, Bill Thompson won Brooklyn, and they split the Bronx, according to one delegate who was in the meeting. Several delegates said Thompson performed especially well in Staten Island, too.
Teachers said tehy felt that energized by the union’s ability to play an important role in the race, which it has not played in several election cycles.
“The union has a lot of power and we need to exercise that as a body,” said Pagoada. “As teachers, we have a lot of influence over students, over parents, over communities. And so if we are out there, like we are now, in this campaign, we’re definitely going to have a big impact.”
Delegates said dissatisfaction with Bloomberg helped fuel their motivation to have an impact.
“It feels at least like there’s a little bit of a turn in democracy right now,” said Michael Schirtzer, an active member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a minority caucus within the union. “We all have an opportunity to decide who the union’s going to endorse.”
Not everyone shared Schirtzer’s optimism, however. Norm Scott, a retired teacher and outspoken critic of the UFT’s leadership, chimed in with a prediction for who the UFT would ultimately endorse. He said the process laid out by Egan was mainly theater.
“It’s going to be Thompson,” said Scott, referring to the former Board of Education president who appears to be a frontrunner after former UFT Preisident Randi Wengarten signed on to fundraise for his campaign. She will host a fundraiser just a week before the UFT is set to make its endorsement.
Schwirtzer, who ran against the UFT’s leadership as MORE’s vice presidential candidate this spring, dismissed Scott.
“I truly believe what Paul [Egan] and the UFT says, that they haven’t chosen anybody yet,” he said.
While CTU President Karen Lewis said redemption for Wednesday’s vote could come only at the ballot box, the district is about to undertake a massive effort to get displaced students to enroll in a new school before May 31.
The union announced that it’s hosting the first in a series of training sessions Thursday for volunteers to register 100,000 new voters.
After the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not hold any news conferences Wednesday, instead issuing a brief statement on the board vote through his aides. Spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor — who was criticized for being on a ski trip to Utah when the school-closings list came out in March — spent Wednesday working in his office at City Hall. (Sun-Times)
REPORTING ON THE VOTE: Now that the much anticipated vote on Chicago Schools closing has taken place, here's how local and national media covered the school board's action:
Sun-Times: CPS makes history, closing scores of schools in less time than it takes to boil an egg
Tribune: School closings disappoint many aldermen
Tribune: Photos show raw emotions at school board meeting
Tribune: Decision to spare 4 schools delights some parents
Associated Press: The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close 50 schools and programs, an ambitious plan that has sparked protests and lawsuits and could help define, for better or worse, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's term in office.
Crains: Chicago Public Schools OKs closing 50 schools
A CHANGED MIND: Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown says that Wednesday's vote moved him to switch his position about Chicago's need for an elected school board. "I changed my mind while watching Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s six appointees to the Board of Education vote unanimously to close 50 schools next year despite thoughtful and impassioned pleas from community members begging them to reconsider."
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION: Lots of tweeting about CPS closings. Here a few pulled from my timeline:
@rickyburton: With all the school closings in #chicago it will no longer be a right to go to school but a privilege just to get to one. #cpsclosings
@soit_goes: Ballons with names of all 54 schools being closed being released in front of Manierre Elementary. #CPSclosings pic.twitter.com/yT6N2SYJls
@From_Nothing: Anybody wanna guess how many of the schools that were closed will reopen eventually as charter schools? #cpsclosings
IN THE NATION:
MOOCS BACKLASH: Professors across the U.S. are criticizing a rush to offer free online college courses, challenging a movement designed to spread knowledge and reduce higher-education costs. Amherst College faculty voted last month against joining an initiative led by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The provost at American University issued a moratorium in January on such massive open online courses, or MOOCs. At San Jose State University, the philosophy department refused to use a free Web course from a Harvard professor. (Bloomberg)
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.
More principals have committed to ignoring test scores when selecting students for admission, in a growing show of concern about the state’s new Common Core-aligned reading and math tests.
Principals began making the commitment last week, but the number grew on Tuesday when letters explaining the policy change went out to ”Elementary and Middle School Families, Students, Teachers, Parent Coordinators, Counselors and Principals” who might be affected by it. Now, 15 principals of selective schools across the city have said they will not consider scores on tests that they say did not meet their expectations.
“We appreciate that officials at the New York City Department of Education seem open to hearing our concerns and we hope for the same response from the state,” the letter says.
The principals are part of a larger group who sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King this week expressing concerns about the tests. They say they want the state’s tests to be shorter, open to public scrutiny, and more aligned to the Common Core, which emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving over recall and the completion of rote processes.
That letter had 50 signatories, including several principals from outside of New York City and one principal of a city charter school, St. Hope Leadership Academy.
Few of the principals who have sworn not to use test scores to screen students have made scores a major criterion in the past. Kelly McGuire, the principal of Lower Manhattan Middle School, said his school had previously used counted test scores as one of eight equal admission criteria. Now, only seven factors will count.
At schools where test scores have factored more heavily into admissions decisions, making the same pledge is less straightforward, East Side Community High School Principal Mark Federman said last week. Federman was one of the organizers of the letter-writing campaign.
Still, he said, principals there could facilitate an important discussion about the role of test scores.
“If there’s a school and parents that are boycotting the test, and yet the school is using tests to let kids in, I think that’s a good conversation for that community to have,” Federman said.
These principals have committed to changing their admissions process starting next year:
Rex Bobbish, of The Cinema School
Kourtney Boyd, of The School for the Urban Environment
Sonhando Estwick, of Tompkins Square Middle School
Mark Federman, of East Side Community School
Rosemarie Gaetani, of Simon Baruch Middle School
Stacy Goldstein, of School of the Future Middle School
Ramon Gonzalez, of The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology
Peter Karp, of Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE)
Herb Mack, of Urban Academy Laboratory High School
Kelly McGuire, of Lower Manhattan Middle School
George Morgan, of Technology, Arts and Science Studio (TASS) Middle School
Lisa Nelson, of Isaac Newton Middle School
Taeko Onishi, of Lyons Community School
John O’Reilly, of Arts & Letters
Jeanne Rotunda, of West Side Collaborative Middle School
And here’s the complete letter that the principals sent on Tuesday. (The letter to King is here.)
Now that CPS board members have approved the closing of 50 elementary schools, 11 co-locations and five turnarounds, the district is about to undertake a massive effort to get displaced students to enroll in a new school before May 31.
CPS named “welcoming schools” for each of those that will close in the massive shakeup this fall. But in a district that offers an increasing number of school choices for parents, officials want to get a handle on just where students will end up on Aug. 26, the first day of school. In the past, only about half of displaced students attended the school CPS officials designated as welcoming.
About 46,000 students are affected by the actions approved at Wednesday's raucous meeting, marking the biggest restructuring in the district's history and the most schools ever closed at a single time in the nation. Weeks of protests by the Chicago Teachers Union, parents and community activists failed to sway the board or the district, beyond the last-minute decision to remove a handful of schools from the target list. Dozens of attendees were escorted out of board chambers for disrupting the meeting.
With these actions, the number of neighborhood elementary schools will fall to 344, down from nearly 400 a decade ago.
Getting a handle on where students will be in school this fall is of the upmost importance. School budgets are based on enrollment projections and, if fewer students show up than projected, the school will lose teachers. Conversely, if more students show up, classes can left without permanent teachers for weeks.
CPS officials appear to be waiting to get a handle on how enrollment will shake out under the school actions before giving schools their budgets, which are usually given to schools earlier in the spring.
Darlene Williams, who has two children and a niece and nephew at Paderewski, said she thinks that fewer than 15 percent of students from that school will go to the two designated welcoming schools. The receiving schools are mostly Latino, but Paderewski is mostly black and many of its students might end up at Crown, which is also predominantly African American.
With the votes cast, Brennemann Principal Sarah Abedelal said she and her staff will be at Stewart Elementary on Thursday afternoon handing out flyers to try to get students to enroll in her school. She is hoping that 170, or about 70 percent, of Stewart’s students enroll in Brennemann.
“If we don’t get the students, it will be a budget nightmare,” she said.
Abedelal said she didn’t want to do any overt selling of her school until after the votes were cast.
Some last-minute maneuvering did occur. Before the vote, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recommended that board members vote no on four closures--Manierre, Mahalia Jackson, Garvey and Ericson--and one school, Barton from the turnaround list.
On the remaining 50 schools, only one vote was not unanimous, with board members Carlos Azcoitia and Jesse Ruiz opposing the closure of Von Humboldt.
Taking pains to explain their actions, board members said they made a point of having at least one member visit each targeted school. Board President David Vitale said he and other members walked past vacant lots, saw floors devoid of students and classrooms used as storage.
“We have tried to understand school by school what this would mean,” he said.
In the end, board members said they voted in favor of the closings because they believed the rationale, often repeated by the district, that closing under-used buildings would allow them to focus limited resources on a smaller number of schools. As part of the action, 17 of the welcoming schools will become speciality schools, offering International Baccalaureate, STEM--science, technology, engineering and math--or fine arts programs. The welcoming schools will also get extra resources such as iPads, as well as upgraded facilities--air conditioning, science labs and libraries.
Azcoitia said the extra resources were the reason he voted for the actions; otherwise he would have voted no.
"If resources are not abundant, then this is what we need to do," he said.
Board member Henry Bienen said that people who question whether closing schools will save money don’t understand economics. District officials have lowered their initial savings estimates.
“There are short-term costs of relocation, but fairly immediately we will see savings in not heating schools, not turning on the lights,” he said.
Bryd -Bennett also took time to defend her position. She reiterated that CPS has lost significant enrollment over the past decade and that has left some schools without many students and "tens of thousands trapped in under-utilized schools and under-resourced schools," sometimes in split-grade classes and without access to current technology.
She said the blame rests with CPS for not making hard decisions previously, "Like it or not, our schools do have to change," she said.
As she talked, attendees disrupted the board meeting saying "Children will die because of CPS lies."
A Chicago police officer told board members that the department looked at things like lights along the way, the condition of buildings and other issues. He said Chicago police see the closings as an opportunity to bring together communities that have not previously gotten along.
"They will learn and play together," he said.
But at least 100 parents and activists came to the board meeting to let members know how much they disliked the proposals.
As Erika Clark recited the entire long list of schools proposed for closure and declared that they were “my school,” the microphone shut off, signaling that she had exhausted her two minutes of allotted speech time.
Clark then sat down near the podium and was carried out by white-coated CPS security men. Clark staged one of several actions at the meeting and was one of the dozens of people forcefully removed while chanting or yelling.
The meeting started with a parade of aldermen asking board members to protect their schools. Ald. Latasha Thomas said she came to ask board members to step back and listen to what parents are asking for.
"Make sure you are not using a saw when you should be using a scaffold," Thomas said.
Ald. Walter Burnett reminded the board that the city has a high homicide rate, and said it is disingenuous for the board to say a school is underutilized while opening new charter schools. LEARN Charter School is across from Calhoun, which will close. Rather than open charter schools, Burnett suggested schools be rebranded.
The public participation part of the meeting ended with a parent from Overton saying the fight won’t be over. "On the first day of school next year, we will be there," she said.
The last speaker led the group in a prayer. “There is a right, there is a wrong, there is a just and an injustice,” said the woman who was there to oppose the closing of Morgan.