Facing an incoming mayor who wants to shake up the city school system, a coalition of principals is lobbying to hold on to one Bloomberg policy they say is crucial to running their schools.
A group of 120 school leaders say they’re concerned with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s campaign pledge to restructure the city’s support networks, which manages school operations around professional development, curriculum and budgeting. De Blasio has said he wants some decision-making authority restored to district superintendents, who oversaw support before Mayor Bloomberg won control of the school system.
The principals said they felt compelled to respond publicly to a chorus of criticism that the networks have received recently.
“Our feeling is that there has been a lot of talk, that people are dissatisfied with networks and the new mayor should eliminate them,” said P.S. 321 Principal Liz Phillips, who is leading the coalition. “But we felt that the voice of a lot of principals who are very satisfied haven’t been heard.”In a letter that Phillips co-authored and sent to de Blasio on Friday, the principals argue that they should be allowed to stay in their networks if they want. Listing the system’s perks, they say their networks encourage professional collaboration, unite like-minded schools across geographic boundaries, decouple support and evaluation — and they’re better than any system that’s come before it.
“Networks provide particular kinds of support for schools that many of us have found to be invaluable,” the principals say in the letter.
Their lobbying puts them at odds with their own union, the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators. CSA President Ernie Logan has said giving power back to superintendents, who manage and evaluate the job performance of principal, would restore a clearer chain-of-command.
“It’s true, some schools are especially pleased with their Network, but it is also true that some are dissatisfied,” CSA spokeswoman Antionette Isable-Jones said in statement.
The way school operations are managed has changed several times since 2002. Currently, schools choose to contract with networks run by the Department of Education or nonprofit-run support providers based on their need, with the least in-demand ones getting shut down.
Critics say the network structure has many drawbacks.
Some say the expertise of staffers can vary among networks and that some can become stretched thin trying to serve many member schools across multiple boroughs. Others say that far-flung networks can cut off schools from their surrounding communities, and that weaker networks fail to support struggling schools or serve high-need student populations.
“It’s a very mixed bag out there,” New York University professor Pedro Noguera said of the quality of networks.
Darlene Cameron, principal of Star Academy P.S. 63 in Manhattan, said that the collaboration among principals in a network can be useful, but that many networks feel pressure from the city to focus more on ensuring schools follow department protocols than helping them improve their practice.
“It should really be about teaching and learning and not about compliance,” she said.
The 120 principals represent schools in about six networks, said the letter’s co-author Julie Zuckerman, principal of Castle Bridge School. Zuckerman and Phillips belong to the Children First Network 102/113, which is run by Alison Sheehan and shares an opposition to high-stakes testing.
Another signee, Nedda DeCastro, principal of the International High School at Prospect Heights, said her network excels at helping her serve a student population of all English-language learners.
“It helps us tremendously,” said DeCastro, who belongs Children First Network 106, which serves other international high schools. ”It is a lonely job and we need one another.”
Zuckerman and Phillips have often been on the other side of Bloomberg in the education debate, signing onto a letter opposing the role of testing in teacher evaluations. But Zuckerman said she expects other principals to join the coalition regardless of where they stand on other policy issues.
“This is a single issue thing that doesn’t have the same kind of complexities as testing and some other things have,” she said.
Seeking some middle ground, the principals proposed “a hybrid system that would allows successful networks to exist and offers more geographic-based structures for those who want that.”
Sheehan, the network leader, said a “hybrid” system would allow schools to get the support they need without abandoning networks altogether.
“What we’re trying to get de Blasio to understand is that one size doesn’t fit all and that he should figure out a way to differentiate supports for our schools,” she said.
A spokeswoman for de Blasio’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the education department pointed out that principals are generally satisfied with networks. ”Their views should be respected and valued,” said the spokesman.
A copy of the letter is below:
In support of the network structure option
As people anticipate restructuring at the Department of Education in the next administration, we want to establish our support for keeping networks that work and allowing principals the choice as to whether they stay in those networks or not.
Networks provide particular kinds of support for schools that many of us have found to be invaluable, and that were not necessarily provided through the district, region and ISC structures. These support features are:
1. The gathering of schools of similar visions or purpose: the internationals, special ed reform focused, collaboratively structured, and schools committed to alternative assessment. This enables these schools to work more closely together and support each other towards better meeting their missions.
2. Shifting the supervisory structure into an advisory and support structure. It makes all the difference in the world that the network leader and team members are not the principals’ rating officer. Our networks have been responsive to us and in many cases network principals have had a say in the selection of network staff.
3. Networks support professional development that better meets the needs of the teachers, administrators, and other support staff in our schools and that allows for cross-pollination across our schools.
4. Because of racial and economic segregation by neighborhood in New York City, geographic districts are often segregated as well. Self-selected networks offer the option of racially and economically diverse schools working together and benefitting greatly from this collaboration.
We are deeply committed to our networks and do not want ours to be dismantled because some are not working well for others. We can imagine some kind of hybrid system that allows successful networks to exist and offers more geographic-based structures for those who want that—more like the early days of the Empowerment Zone.
Robin Williams, East Village Community School 01M315
Dyanthe Spielberg, The Neighborhood School 01M363
Alison Hazut, The Earth School 01M364
Mark Federman, East Side Community High School 01M450
Laura Garcia, The Ella Baker School 02M225
Erin Carstensen, Essex Street High School 02M294
Brady Smith, The James Baldwin High School 02M313
Peter Karp, Institute for Collaborative Education 02M407
Alicia Perez-Katz, Baruch College Campus High School 02M411
Stacy Goldstein, School of the Future High School 02M413
Caron Pinkus, Landmark High School 02M419
William Klann, Vanguard High School 02M449
Herb Mack, Urban Academy Laboratory High School 02M565
Jeannie Ferrari, Humanities Preparatory High School 02M605
Lindley Uehling, Central Park East I 04M497
Naomi Smith, Central Park East II 04M964
Camille Wallin, Muscota New School 06M314
Valerie Valentine, Hamilton Heights School 06M368
Julie Zuckerman, Castle Bridge School 06M513
Sue-Ann Rosch, Community School for Social Justice 07X427
Brett Schneider, Bronx Collaborative High School 10X351
Nancy Mann, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School 12X682
John O’Reilly, Academy of Arts and Letters 13K492
Laura Scott, P.S. 10 15K010
Rose Dubitsky, P.S. 24 15K024
Rebecca Fagin, P.S. 29 15K029
Elizabeth Garraway, Maurice Sendak Community School 15K118
Maria Nunziata, P.S. 130 15K130
Anna Allanbrook, Brooklyn New School 15K146
Jack Spatola, P.S. 172 15K172
Sharon Fiden, P.S. 230 15K230
Zipporiah Mills, P.S. 261 15K261
Elizabeth Phillips, P.S. 321 15K321
Dawn Valle, The Math and Science Exploratory School 15K447
Alyce Barr, Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies 15K448
Jill Smith, Sunset Park Elementary School 15K516
Jennifer Spalding, Sunset Park Prep 15K821
Celeste Douglas, M.S. 57 16K057
Alexander White, Gotham Professional Arts Academy 16K594
Courtney Winkfield, Academy for Young Writers 19K404
Sarah Kaufmann, School of the Future Brooklyn 19K663
Bernadette Fitzgerald, P.S. 503 20K503
Donna Taylor, Brooklyn School of Inquiry 20K686
John Banks, Origins High School 22K611
Meghan Dunn, Riverdale Avenue Community School 23K446
Kiersten Ward, Riverdale Avenue Middle School 23K668
Isora Bailey, NYCi School 02M376
Mandana Beckman, P.S./I.S. 217 02M217
Monica Berry, P.S. 87 03M087
Jenny Bonnet, P.S. 150 02M 150
David Bowell, The 47 American Sign Language & English Lower School 02M347
John Curry, Community Action School 03M258
Judith De Los Santos, Collaborative Academy of Science, Technology and Language Arts Education 01M345
Amy Lipson Ellis, P.S. 175 11X175
Lauren Fontana, P.S. 6 02M006
Nancy Harris, Spruce Street School 02M397
Samantha Kaplan, Yorkville Community School 02M151
Patrick Kelly, Urban Science Academy 09X325
Marlon Lowe, Mott Hall II 03M862
Dahlia McGregor, Science Skills Center High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts 13K419
Veronica Najjar, P.S. 87 03M087
Tara Napoleoni, P.S. 183 02M183
D. Scott Parker, P.S. 452 03M452
Laura Peynado Castro, University Neighborhood Middle School 01M332
Francesca Pisa, New Design Middle School 05M514
Michael Prayor, Brooklyn High School for Law and Technology 16K498
Mara Ratesic-Koetke, P.S. 77 Lower Lab 02M077
Katy Rosen, P.S. 199 03M199
Wafta Shama, 47 The American Sign Language and English Secondary School M047
Maggie Siena, The Peck Slip School 02M343
Yvette Sy, Pace High School 02M298
Cara Tait, Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Middle School 19K452
Phyllis Ta, M.S. 131 02M131
Stacey Walsh, Brownsville Collaborative Middle School 23K363
Lily Woo, P.S. 130 02M130
Paula Lettiere, Fort Greene Preparatory Academy 13K691
Sarah Goodman, Hunter’s Point Community Middle School 30Q291
Elizabeth Collins, University Neighborhood High School 01M448
Henry Zymeck, The Computer School 03M245
Keisha Warner, The Cinema School 12X478
Elaine Schwartz The Center School 03M243
Matthew Williams, Bronx Design and Construction Academy 07X522
Jessica Long, Crotona International High School 10X524
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Nedda de Castro, The International High School at Prospect Heights 17K524
John Wenk, Lower Manhattan Arts Academy 02M308
Peter Sloman, The College Academy 06M462
Ruth Lacey, Beacon High School 03M479
Donna Anaman, P.S. 87 11X087
Jean McTavish, West Side High School 79M505
Lisa Mandredonia, P.S. 62 08X062
Angelo Ledda, Academy for Personal Leadership and Excellence 10X363
Eliamarie Soto, P.S. 161 07X161
Rachel Donnelly, P.S. 121 11X121
Christine McCourt Milton, Ampark Neighborhood 10X344
Sereida Rodriguez-Guerra, P.S. 84 14K084
Rosa Maria Peralta, P.S. 8 10X008
Carry Chan-Howard, School for Global Leaders 01M378
Deanna Sinito, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation 15K442
Janine Kieran, George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School 13K605
Lisa Reiter, Peace Academy 13K596
Jillian Juman School for International Studies 15K497
John Sullivan Coalition School for Social Change 04M409
Mary Renny P.S. 16 14K016
Lorna Khan P.S. 54 13K054
Annabell Martinez P.S. 124 15K124
David Glasner Urban Assembly Academy of Government and Law 02M305
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Carlos Santiago Pelham Preparatory Academy 11X542
Daniel Nichols World View High School 10X353
Matthew Mazzaroppi Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies 09X297
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Sarah Scrogin East Bronx Academy for the Future 12X271
Annette Fiorentino Bronx Latin 12X267
Jessica Goring The Bronx School of Law and Finance 10X284
Ty Cesene Bronx Arena 07X600
Sean Davenport Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change 05M670
Shadia Alvarez Collegiate Institute for for Math and Science 11X288
LeMarie Laureano The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx 09X568
A student stuck without a diploma after 11 unsuccessful attempts to pass a test is the “poster child” for a need to create new ways to graduate, a top state education official said this week.
Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was asked Monday about a recent GothamSchools story on students who have failed to meet the state’s new higher graduation standards, when went into effect last year. She said such students prove the need for diploma options that allow students to substitute an alternative assessment for one of the five required Regents tests.
“Should that student be denied a high-school diploma? I don’t think so,” Tisch said about Tiffany, a would-be nurse who has yet to pass her global history and geography Regents exam more than a year after she had hoped to graduate. Tiffany, who still takes Regents-prep classes at Francis Lewis High School in Queens nearly 18 months after her senior year there, asked that her last name be withheld so that potential employers and others would not learn of her graduation struggles.
“She’s my poster child for why we need multiple pathways [to graduation],” said Tisch, adding that she would like Tiffany to attend a Regents meeting next month where the board will consider proposals for more routes to a diploma.
The state last year began to require students to students to pass every exit exam with a 65 or higher (out of 100) to earn a diploma. The so-called local diploma, which allows scores of 55 or higher on some tests, was restricted to students with disabilities or ones who successfully appeal their scores.
The rule change was intended to ensure that graduates are prepared for college. But in practice, a few missed points on a single Regents exam has stranded some students without diplomas, sidetracking their plans for college or work and footing taxpayers with the bill for test-prep classes.
“There’s a lot of people in my situation that just let it go and then drop out,” said Jessica Fuentes, another Francis Lewis student who missed the higher mark on a few exit exams last year and so now is working three jobs while studying for a GED. “And then when that happens, they become single parents and have no career.”
Along with the higher graduation standards, which were phased in over several years, the state has also considered creating new diploma routes for students in special vocational, math and science and arts programs. Students would still take the state English, math and science exams – as federal law requires – but they would skip the global history test in lieu of an assessment tied to their program.
Abja Midha, coordinator of an advocacy group called Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma, said that such programs must be available to a wide range of students – including those with special needs – and should include assessments other than standardized tests.
The Board of Regents, which sets graduation requirements, has yet to approve these alternative diploma options – though Tisch said that board members have “enormous interest” in them.
(The board is also considering a proposal to split up the global history and geography course – whose Regents test is failed the most – and creating a separate exam for each course.)
Tisch said that the board will take up the additional-diploma-routes issue in December and invited Tiffany to attend and tell her story.
Tiffany said she would be willing to share her story at the meeting, even though it is unlikely she could take advantage of any new diploma paths. But she said she wished the state had established other graduation options before they raised the minimum exit-exam scores.
“Some people are really bad test takers,” she said. “It would have made our lives much easier.”
Geoff Decker contributed reporting.
The Department of Education — in partnership with the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach for America, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions and several other educational groups — is unveiling a public service campaign this week aimed at recruiting a new generation of classroom educators. (The New York Times)
SETTING PRIORITIES: The State of California should finance programs specifically designed to improve the academic performance of African-American students, and community activists need a media platform to mobilize more black parents to join in on efforts to improve their schools. Those recommendations topped a list of school funding priorities laid out by African-American parents at an education forum organized for parents and the black media in Los Angeles last week. (New America Media)
TEACHING KENNEDY: Many educators are viewing the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as a significant teaching moment. Some schools are going to impressive lengths to commemorate the historical significance of the day. Easton Middle School in Brockton, Mass., for example, is planning to start the school day with a moment of silence—after which students will read from some of Kennedy's speeches over the school intercom. The Fort Worth school district in Texas, meanwhile, has already produced its own short documentary on the assassination featuring the recollections of former students, teachers, and administrators. (Kennedy had made a stop in Fort Worth on the day he was killed.)
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.
Parents were warned about potential privacy threats posed by a planned state student data system at a forum Thursday night organized by Parents United for a Responsible Education (PURE). Julie Woestehoff, executive director for PURE, claimed that the Illinois State Board of Education’s partnership with non-profit InBloom could lead to student’s entire scholastic history being susceptible to a data security breach or becoming the property of third-party companies.
(Editor's note: A copy of a letter sent by CPS to PURE regarding InBloom can be found below.)
Woestehoff has put together a number of organizations against the data storehouse including ACLU Illinois, which would provide assistance in a potential lawsuit. “Clearly we reached out to ACLU for their legal expertise,” Woestehoff said in an interview after Thursday night’s forum at Fosco Park field house on the Near South Side.
The meeting was largely comprised of parents, who expressed alarm about the data portal but also seemed galvanized to fight the idea. “I think InBloom is a great organizing topic,” said Josh Radinksy, parent of a CPS student and a University of Illinois-Chicago faculty member, toward the end of the 90-minute long forum.
InBloom is an Atlanta-based organization that provides data-cloud technology so states or individual school districts may create a “secure, single-access point” of centralized student data, according to the company’s website. Through InBloom technology, applications can be created to provide student’s academic, attendance, and behavioral history.
InBloom originally partnered with nine states on data storage projects. But each state, except Illinois and New York, bowed out, citing privacy concerns. A group of parents in New York have sued the state to block the data storehouse, and New York state lawmakers are currently convening hearings on InBloom.
In Illinois, state officials stress that the online data portal they are rolling out this winter, called the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (IESL), will only track student’s academic progress. IESL is scheduled to start as a pilot in the Bloomington and Normal school districts this January, before coming to other districts, including Chicago, that receive federal Race to the Top money.
At the forum, Kurt Hilgendorf, a policy researcher with the Chicago Teachers Union, pointed out that while state data will only look at academics, individual school districts have the option of using InBloom’s full array of services. Hilgendorf argued that, “Parents [in each district] should have a role in deciding what data gets shared in the system.”
The forum included a presentation from Leonie Haimson, executive director of the New York City-based Class Size Matters. Haimson focused on the fact that in 2011, the U.S. Department of Education changed its privacy law so that school districts may share student data with third- party vendors without notifying parents.
Woestehoff called this a “big concern” arguing that, “The Chicago Public Schools might sell our kids data to the highest bidder because they are trying to balance their budget.”
CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll, however, said in a statement that "protecting student data is critical and we are working closely with ISBE to ensure that all such data would be used for the explicit purpose of creating personalized learning plans for students in need of academic support -- and we won't move forward with this initiative unless it is guaranteed that the process is secure and student data is safe. Should the district decide to participate in this initiative with the state, it would not stand to gain monetarily by providing limited access to such data.”
Mary Fergus, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said in a phone interview Thursday that school districts must still adhere to “strict federal privacy laws,” making it doubtful districts can legally get away with such data sell-offs.
Updated: 7:02 p.m. Denver’s school board unanimously passed a proposal to change the boundaries between Lowry Elementary School and the Denver Green School that does not include the lower income Berkshire Towers or a new addition to Lowry.
7 p.m. New proposal also leaves the Berkshire Towers with Denver Green School rather than moving it to the Lowry boundary.
6:15 p.m. An updated proposal is now on the website. It does not mandate any addition but allows for building future capacity:
A district plan to change the boundaries between two central Denver schools that attracted parent protest may receive some major edits at the school board meeting tonight.
The original plan would have altered the boundary between the Denver Green School and Lowry Elementary School, adding roughly 150 new students to Lowry over the next several years. Lowry would receive students from three neighborhoods, two relatively affluent neighborhoods and one lower income residential area. The district allocated funds under the 2012 bond measure to build an addition to Lowry this winter to prepare for that influx of students.
But a document posted to the agenda for Thursday night’s school board meeting suggests that the addition may be postponed and the boundaries between the two schools altered slightly. The district had not returned calls for comment as of press time.
The apparent revision comes after months of protests from community members who don’t want the planned boundary changes and addition to move forward. The original plan, which was presented to the board for a vote in September, was delayed twice after drawing criticism from representatives of both school communities and local homeowners associations. Critics said the plan was not presented in advance to the community and did not provide any alternatives for discussion.
“The hard part here is that the community has wanted other alternatives, like building a new school,” said Veronica Figoli, the district’s head of community outreach. “We feel very strongly even back at the bond and mill levy, the money set aside was for a new expansion, not a new school.”
Despite the district’s position, parents at several community forums and a special public comment session Monday have pushed to consider a new school to house the 150 new students at Lowry and reduce class sizes. Their proposed location is the building that once housed Whiteman Elementary School, now the home of the Denver Language School.
“The Denver Language School is outgrowing its space,” said Michael Miller Monday. Miller said he had one child enrolled in the Denver Green School.
Miller and other parents found a supporter in Jeannie Kaplan, an outgoing board member.
“Every time DSST blinks its eye, we build them a school or find them a building,” said Kaplan. According to Kaplan, the boundary changes represent a systemic problem in the district’s approach to central Denver. “To me, this [proposal] doesn’t address the issue in central Denver, which is overcrowding in schools.”
Kaplan also said the capacity issue could be solved by managing the number of students who choose to go to Lowry.
“If the school said no to choice and accepted kids from all the areas, they wouldn’t need an addition,” said Kaplan.
She is not opposed to the boundary change but would like to see discussion about the addition delayed.
Asked why she supported one and not the other, Kaplan said she wanted to support Mayfair Park, one of the neighborhoods affected by the change. Mayfair Park’s neighborhood school is the Denver Green School, which is an innovation school. The president of the Mayfair Park neighborhood association said the neighborhood would like a more traditional neighborhood school.
The discussion around the boundary change has also raised issues of the area’s demographics. The three neighborhoods which would be moved inside the Lowry boundary includes Berkshire Towers, a lower income neighborhood. Lowry currently has 34 percent low income students, compared with 58 percent at the Denver Green School.
Observers at community meetings reported that participants raised the issue of how many more students who receive free and reduced lunch would attend Lowry under the new plan. Others objected to the district’s projections for how many more students the schools could expect, saying they didn’t take into account larger families.
“By changing the boundaries, you are further impoverishing kids,” said David Halterman, a Denver Green School parent. “You’re going to further segregate poor people.”
Another Denver Green school parent commented on wanting “the socioeconomic mixture that benefits all students.”
But for most, the key issue seems to have been the timeline for making a decision and beginning construction of the Lowry addition.
District staffers presented the community with the boundary change plan the same week as the original board vote in September. The district expected to break ground in December on the new addition and begin enrolling students according to the new boundary changes next year.
“I’ve asked myself over and over, what’s the rush to change the boundaries and start a major construction project right now?” said Sara Simmons, a Lowry parent.
A top city education official on Thursday suggested a relatively inexpensive way to boost the number of high school students who go to college – pay their application fee.
Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the department is considering paying the $65 application fee for high school students applying to the City University of New York, which he said would cost the city about $500,000 annually.
“I think it would be a smart move and send a really powerful message to kids,” Polakow-Suransky said during a panel hosted by a group of education philanthropies.
CUNY currently gives schools “a very limited quantity” of waivers to distribute to their neediest students, but doesn’t accept waivers from other groups, such as the College Board, according to CUNY application forms. The department’s plan would pay the fees of some 6,600 students annually with “an economic need” who are not currently covered by the waivers, according to a department spokesman.
Polakow-Suransky said that every year some students who don’t get waivers balk at the fee and decide either not to apply or to wait until a time when they can afford it – which may never arrive.
He added that the plan is still in the works, but that CUNY has expressed interest.
“It’s definitely a doable thing,” he said.
CUNY’s annual tuition is $5,730 for its four-year colleges and $4,200 for its community colleges – though many students receive financial aid. Outgoing city Comptroller John Liu has proposed that the city offer free CUNY tuition to the top high school graduates.
For many high school students, the fee is just one obstacle among many during a daunting college-application process.
Many low-income and first-generation college students receive little college guidance at home or in school, according to a report commissioned by the Education Funders Research Initiative, which hosted Thursday’s panel.
The report notes that the city’s high schools are not required to have a college counselor and that the majority of high-school guidance counselors face caseloads of 100 to 300 students.
It adds that the city recently began to train at least one staff member at each high school in college counseling.
Polakow-Suransky said the fee idea is just one of “dozens of small solutions” to boost college enrollment.
“You have to sweat the small stuff,” he said.
Special education teachers say it’s a common feeling: the students are gone for the day, and it’s time for the real work to begin. But if they need to record something on a student’s Individualized Education Program, it’s probably too late.
Early efforts to curb overtime payments have now become policy, as the Department of Education reminds principals to keep staff members out of SESIS—the online system that tracks special education students—after the school day ends unless the principal has committed to pay for that time. The reminders were spurred by arbitration that ultimately cost the city $41 million in belated overtime to teachers and staff whose after-hours work violated union contracts.
For months, some principals have been looking for ways to give teachers more time during the day to work with the notoriously glitchy system (made more frustrating by slow school Internet speeds). But teachers and principals say that serious problems remain, as students’ information is now updated more slowly, data entry takes time away from student interaction, and some teachers continue to work without pay.
“Is that the reality? Of course it’s the reality,” said Carmen Alvarez, the UFT’s vice president for special education, of the continuing issues. “Do I like it? No. Did we tell it to the DOE three years ago in writing? Yes.”
Keyatta Hendricks, a special education teacher at P.S. 463 in the Bronx, says the new rules mean her principal does pay her for the extra hours she spends on SESIS, which average four on an average week and shoot up to 10 hours during busy periods. “My principal knows it’s impossible for me to do my job and to do all the IEPs in the building,” she said.
Alvarez said that most principals seem to be abiding by those new guidelines. But Hendricks said the increased pressure to complete the data entry during the day has real consequences. ”What happens is, I’m not able to really work with my kids the way I’d like to. I don’t have the time to devote to help teachers differentiate instruction to meet their needs. There are days I’m not able to work with my kids,” she said.
The union arbitration hasn’t changed things at all schools. Mark Anderson, the special education coordinator at M.S. 228 Jonas Bronck Academy in the Bronx, said the decision hasn’t changed when he does most of the work on students IEPs—at home, at night.
The extra periods he gets as special education coordinator and his lunch periods are mostly spent in meetings with parents and coordinating services for students, he said. Lesson planning takes up more time, and unexpected glitches in SESIS, like floating error messages that obscure windows and can’t be closed, aren’t always easy to work around.
“I try to get as much done at school as I can, but it’s physically impossible given the time it takes to enter in information,” Anderson said, who said he hadn’t had a conversation with his principal about being paid for that work. “For me, it’s just part of the job in order to get all of my work done.”
Darlene Cameron, principal at P.S. 63 Star Academy in Manhattan, said that the system only holds together because teachers are willing to squeeze the work in wherever they can. “In general, they’re doing a lot of stuff during their lunch time or during their prep time, when they really should be planning lessons,” she said. “It’s been really difficult.”
“This is what you call an unfunded mandate,” said Evan Schwartz, principal of Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School.
And though teachers and principals say they’ve been looking for ways to make the work less burdensome, the Department of Education maintains that the system doesn’t require work outside the school day at all.
David Brodsky, director of the Department of Education’s office of labor relations, said that the essence of the arbitration was the claim that work was made more complicated by SESIS itself. “We obviously disagree,” he said, noting that schools with bandwidth issues may have faced additional issues. “We don’t think the work being asked of them is complicated. This is something any professional should be able to do.”
In response to the arbitration, the city provided new guidelines to principals in February. Speech teachers, ESL teachers, vision and hearing teachers, and paraprofessionals are supposed to have specific time allotted for SESIS responsibilities. Others were advised to “prioritize” the tasks (occupational and physical therapists) or to “confer with their supervisors” to discuss scheduling (teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists). Principals have not received additional money to pay teachers for SESIS work.
The city has been reminding principals of the changes this fall, and schools have devised some solutions of their own. At the Academy of Scholarship and Entrepreneurship in the Bronx, all students are in lunch during fourth period, which teachers use for curriculum planning. On Thursdays, special education teachers have that period free to work on SESIS, special education teacher Patrick Rush said.
Antoinette Isable-Jones, a spokeswoman for the principals union, criticized some of the city’s guidelines as “ambiguous suggestions that left school leaders with few options.”
“At this point, schools are doing all that they can within the confines of the decision to properly perform SESIS-related work,” she said.
All parties acknowledge that problems arise from the difficulty of working with SESIS itself. The system’s glitches have been well-documented since its introduction in 2011. At a City Council education committee meeting in October, Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of special education, said the city was still working to improve SESIS. “It’s had a bumpy ride,” she said.
The system did get a round of upgrades at the end of October to make the interface more user-friendly, though teachers who worked with it said they remained frustrated that those changes were mostly cosmetic.
“It doesn’t seem to make anything too much easier,” Rush said. “It’s all the same functionality.”
Patrick Wall contributed reporting.
As school board meetings go, tonight’s Denver Public School’s could be considered fairly mundane. Minutes will be approved, contracts renewed, charters reviewed.
But tonight’s meeting marks the beginning of a two-day changing of the guard which is expected to dramatically alter the tempo of Colorado’s largest school district.
The board’s current composition, established after the 2011 election, was often contentious, rife with ideologic rancor and, according to several educational activists, unproductive.
As a result of November’s election, the board’s 4-3 divide in favor of the district’s current policies of accountability-based reform will be closed Friday when a 6-1 supermajority in support of the administration’s efforts is sworn in.
“This is a mandate,” said Jeannie Kaplan, one of the board members leaving Thursday in an interview with EdNews after the election. “The mandate is for more charter schools, more co-location, accountability based on test scores, more teacher bashing. It’s the national agenda.”
Board observers consider Kaplan the most outspoken of the board’s current opponents of the reforms. During the election, she championed a slate of candidates who aligned with her preference for supporting comprehensive neighborhood schools with a strong liberal arts curriculum.
Leaving the board with Kaplan is Andrea Merida, another dissenting voice, and board president Mary Seawell.
Kaplan, who is term limited, said she has high expectations for the board and urges the electorate to hold them and their tenets accountable if the district doesn’t see better tests scores and graduation rates in four years.
“It will be 13 years of reform in DPS,” she said. “That’s one student’s full K-12 career.”
But beyond keeping a close eye on the district’s progress, Kaplan has no immediate plans to have an official capacity within the school system.
The same can’t be said for Merida.
“I’m not going into retirement,” she said. Although she is leaving the board after deciding she couldn’t “morally fulfill her duties” as a board member, which requires she administer state assessments, Merida plans on advocating for English language learners and low-income students.
“We need to be talking about the value of the English language learner and what they bring to the community,” she said.
Not all of the outgoing members are as critical of the administration. Board president Seawell said she’s excited to see what the new board and Superintendent Tom Boasberg do.
After all Seawell, who opted not to seek re-election, acknowledges there is still plenty of work to do for the district. But she decided her time in an official capacity is up.
“We’re in the place where we’re supposed to be,” she said. “I have no regrets.”
She’ll be working on several projects, including helping plan the new Stapleton high school.
The next board will have a greater opportunity to look at how reforms are working on a school-by-school basis, she said.
“We still have some that are really struggling,” she said. “We looked hard at a lot of schools, but the data wasn’t there yet.”
Filling their seats are lawyer Mike Johnson, former Denver City Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez and former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien. They’ll be sworn in on Friday.
Landri Taylor, who was appointed to the board earlier this year, won his seat outright in November’s election.
“I hope they are successful, because our families deserve it,” Kaplan said.
The difficult battle of finding a good school for children with autism or other severe cognitive disabilities is usually waged behind the scenes, by moms and dads sitting in small conference rooms with social workers and other specialists.
But last fall, some parents were forced to go public after CPS announced the impending shutdown of 49 schools, a third of which had what are called special education cluster programs—special, separate programs for children with serious disabilities.
Students in these cluster programs made up only 4 percent of children in the schools that were set to close. But they were portrayed as the most vulnerable of the displaced students, and two lawsuits charged that special-needs children would be disproportionately hurt by the closings and the trauma of quickly forcing them to leave their schools. (The lawsuits were eventually dismissed.)
Advocates braced for trouble. But now, these often-vocal critics of CPS say they have not received complaints from parents of children in cluster programs, and are applauding the district’s work to make the transitions seamless.
Still, they say they are still monitoring the situation—and that larger concerns still must be addressed.
“It is not always apparent to parents what is happening or not happening,” says Ashley Fretthold, staff attorney for the children and families practice group at the Legal Assistance Foundation. “Things may not crop up until the next IEP [Individual Education Plan] meeting when they realize that their child is not making progress or not getting the aide they need.”
CPS data shows that 89 percent of students from cluster programs in closed schools enrolled in their designated welcoming school—far more than the 60 percent of non-cluster students who did so. However, students in cluster programs get a change in school placement only if their parents fight for it.
Fretthold and others say bigger concerns still loom: Parents of severely disabled students have little way to tell which programs are good—often they have no access to basic information such as which programs serve children with specific disabilities--and have few options for their child’s schooling. In fact, mere word-of-mouth is a common way for parents to get an idea of program quality.
“Education is the No. 1 topic of discussion,” says Paul Eric Butler, executive director of the Chicagoland Autism Connection, which runs a support group for parents and siblings of disabled students. “It is always a critical issue.”
Butler points out that CPS is not the only district that lacks a rating system for programs that serve students with severe disabilities. It’s a problem across the suburbs and state.
About 6,800 students in CPS are in this category (as measured by whether they are placed in separate classes for most of the school day), according to Illinois State Board of Education 2011-2012 data. About half of these are autistic students, whose ranks have increased by 77 percent in recent years.
Outreach and extra attention to make it work
The district’s targeting of under-utilized schools for closure ended up affecting cluster programs, which were slightly more likely to be in under-used schools. Yet in welcoming schools, space seemed to be an issue. Several principals said they have little to no extra space and would be overcrowded if they were to receive more students.
Markey Winston, the head of special education for CPS, says she and her staff visited every welcoming school taking in students from cluster programs to determine if the space was adequate.
Winston says she and her staff took the transition seriously, holding tele-town halls with parents and conducting outreach to hundreds of families.
“We made sure that if there was a Dyvavox [a communications tool] at school A, it was at school B when the child got there,” she says.
Yvette Tracy, whose son went from Lafayette to Chopin, was worried about the transition and now has two complaints about Chopin. Unlike Lafayette, it doesn’t have a sensory room, a room with special equipment designed for autistic children. Plus, her son’s classroom is small—a “shoebox,” she says. CPS officials say that four schools that were closed had sensory rooms and only two welcoming schools do, but that sensory materials were put into each classroom so the students didn't miss out on it.
Yet his teacher was hired on at Chopin and the consistency has made it easier for him. “Mrs. Susy kept things normal,” Tracy says.
Principals of welcoming schools did not have a chose as to what teachers they got from the closing schools. Because of the teachers’ contract, the teacher had to qualify and the position had to be open so some schools got cluster teachers and others didn’t. But Fred Williams, the new principal at Chopin, says he was glad to get the Lafayette teacher whose specialty is teaching autistic children.
Williams says CPS’ special education office was attentive and has stayed in touch, asking him regularly what the school needs.
“They were here almost every day,” says Williams. Chopin took in 25 of Lafayette’s 67 cluster students. “I didn’t see any major fall-out.” The transition went smoothly, Williams says.
As the official welcoming school, Chopin received an extra $100,000 this year, plus a $3 million renovation.
But 33 cluster students from Lafayette went to Lowell instead—and Lowell didn’t get any additional resources. District officials say that space at Lafayette was a consideration, but also making sure that students could stay together as they progressed through school.
Winston says her office held disability awareness training for students and staff at all the schools that took in cluster programs.
At McCutcheon, Principal Jennifer Ferrell says students read a book and participated in an assembly about understanding differences. McCutcheon received just 24 of Trumbull’s 262 regular education students but more than half of Trumbull’s 88 cluster students. (Some Trumbull parents, worried about the neighborhood around McCutcheon and its reputation, enrolled their children elsewhere.)
While parents have yet to voice any complaints about McCutcheon, the fact that they had no choice about where children would go and lacked information about the quality of the cluster programs still upsets them.
“It sucks,” Tracy says.
Ratings on the horizon?
During a hearing on the closure of Lafayette, one mother described her dismay about losing a cluster program that had helped her daughter. At her first school, the girl hid in a corner and wailed. But at Lafayette, the woman said, her daughter’s “world opened up.”
“You can imagine my anger at the idea that you are rocking my kid’s and her friend’s boat by closing these schools,” said the mother, one of many who spoke out at that hearing.
The woman heard about Lafayette from other parents—a common way that families find out about programs, given the lack of a rating system.
At that same hearing, Access Living’s Rod Estvan testified that no empirical evidence existed to prove that Lafayette’s cluster program was any better than others. In fact, the achievement gap between special education and regular education students was virtually the same at both the closing and welcoming schools.
The sole standardized test given to students with the most severe disabilities, called the Alternative Assessment, is not a good measure because it is subjective and too many students do well, Estvan said.
Markey Winston says parents often complain that they want more information about programs. Parents of children with more significant disabilities should be looking for the same indicators that other parents want—evidence of high-quality instruction and high expectations.
But determining what that looks like for children with learning disabilities can be difficult. Winston says that one future task for her office is to help parents better understand how to discern a good special education program
Antoinette Taylor, an Exceptional Needs Consultant, says she is hopeful that in the future some standardized way of differentiating programs will exist. Taylor serves on Illinois’ P-20 Council Family Youth Community Engagement Committee. She believes that through P-20 committee’s such as the Data, Assessment and Accountability Committee, benchmarks in a longitudinal database will document student transitions as they move through school from Pre-School to Post-Secondary learning environments
Taylor says she is hopeful that this longitudinal data will give parents more information about school performance. Yet she notes it is difficult to marry the subjective measures that parents look for with the need to make sure that students are pushed academically.
“You might have a parent who is upset because they have a child going into 3rd grade who cannot tie their shoes,” she says. “We have to ask ourselves ‘Is that the job of the school?’ Those lines get blurry.”
Furthermore, Taylor says many times parents are more focused on the social and emotional environment than on academic learning. “They want to know that their child is loved and feels safe,” she says. “This becomes more important when your child can’t communicate and tell you, ‘I had a horrible day today.’ ”
Early age literacy, Common Core implementation and college admissions support for disadvantaged students were among the top priorities listed in a new report that previews the education challenges that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will soon confront when he takes over on January 1.
The 57-page paper also offers a retrospective on New York City schools over the past dozen years, praising Mayor Bloomberg and gains made on graduation rates, anti-truancy, school choice and data-driven systems under his leadership.
“Perhaps the mayor’s greatest education legacy is the belief that good public schools for all are possible,” the researchers, from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, write in an introduction. ”Yet the challenges, including resource challenges, remain huge.”
Philanthropy New York, a group of about 285 philanthropies, commissioned the report. It was the third and final report they have released during the mayoral transition phase, which has included dozens of panels, events and forums convened to discuss the change of guard at City Hall.
Today’s release was no different, which included a speech from New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and a panel discussion. Tisch said one of the next administration’s first priorities should be to establish a “fruitful” relationship with the teachers union that will allow an early settlement of their contract with the city.
Panelist and parent leader Ocynthia Williams said she thought one priority was left out of the report was a shift to “restorative justice” in schools over more punitive discipline measures and expanded efforts to engage parents.
Speaking of the Common Core standards, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the department’s focus has been on what it will take to “shift 75,000 teachers’ instructional practice.”
“Anyone who thinks that’s a two-year project or a three-year project is misguided,” he said.
Outgoing Jefferson County school board member Paula Noonan reflects on what the board election results there mean for the future of data collection and privacy in schools.
First, their $1 million contribution to the pro-Amendment 66 campaign misfired when Coloradans voted 2-1 against raising their taxes to implement the new school finance act.
Then the Gates Foundation’s $100 million investment in inBloom, the data storage platform built by Rupert Murdoch’s company, took a twelfth round knock out punch in Jefferson County School District two days after the election.
Jeffco schools, a pilot district for inBloom, ended its inBloom partnership because the board majority lost on November 5. Dr. Cindy Stevenson, Jeffco superintendent and supporter of inBloom, also resigned, effective June 30.
Jeffco parents took on district over the “Big Data” inBloom project
The Colorado inBloom fight began publicly in March when Rachael Stickland, a Jeffco parent from the south area, addressed the school board about her concerns over personal student privacy and data security.
Her contention was that the Family Education Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) was gutted by the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan. Parents could no longer rely on FERPA to protect and secure their children’s personal student records from uses by entities not under the district’s supervision.
Stickland also argued that personal student records sent to inBloom’s Amazon “cloud storage” platform would be a big target for hackers eager to take Bill Gates down a notch. Other IT experts stated that managing the policy compliance and general security of such a project would be expensive and difficult.
InBloom loses support over privacy and security protections
Criticism of the project gathered momentum when the district would not disclose what personal student data would be sent to inBloom. Parents worried that disciplinary data would be released, so the district decided to hold back on that information.
Parents worried about released medical information, but the district needed to include medical data described in individual student education plans.
Parents worried that the district would sell their children’s data to third party education content providers allowed under new FERPA rules. The district agreed not to sell data, but sharing data remained on the table.
Jeffco parents asserted inBloom risks greater than benefits
The district conducted an “innovation tour” to describe the benefits of inBloom. The district held board study sessions and board business meetings on the subject. Lines were drawn between district staff and parents. The district argued that the benefits of reducing teacher data entry time, streamlining the district’s multitude of applications containing student records, and providing education content to individualize student learning was worth the risks of breached privacy or security.
Parents resisted, and the debate became deeper as issues over student assessment and testing, teacher assessment, big data, inBloom finances, foundations’ influence on education policy, a prospective data monopoly, and the purposes of collecting, aggregating, sharing, and mining personal student data by unsupervised third parties took over.
A politically diverse coalition of parents, mostly mothers in south Jeffco concerned about their children’s right to the privacy of their data collected from the time kids were in preschool until after they graduate from high school, pressed their case to the district and the pubic.
Parents won on election day
On election day, parents won. The change-over in the school district’s board sent a vehement message from Jeffco voters that they didn’t want inBloom storing Jeffco students’ data.
So now the district will build its data integration dashboard to help teachers reduce data entry and improve their information analysis, and it will store personal student records locally on district servers. InBloom is done in Jeffco.
On Wednesday, November 13, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the State Board of Education also pulled the plug on the inBloom project.
Big data technology gets too far ahead of privacy policies
This dispute put a bright light on a large education policy gap in the state. Districts do not have adequate tools to address the privacy impacts of advanced technology now available to track every element of a student’s life for up to 16 years.
Especially dicey are the numerous new “behavior tracking” applications that can record kids while they’re misbehaving, email or text the recordings to parents or other individuals, and set up behavior management systems in classrooms. That’s a far distance from a principal’s call to a parent when Jimmy hits Johnny.
Parents also are objecting to the extensive testing and observations built into Teaching Strategies Gold, a pre-school to third grade assessment used in Jeffco that creates a developmental profile of each child based on 38 “objectives.” Assessments like TS Gold are likely to be next in the cross hairs of the big data wars.
CDE will develop new privacy policies
The CDE is taking some initiative to develop “best practice” privacy policies for review by the State Board of Education. It is “to be decided” to what degree the department’s policy recommendations will meet parent standards.
It is also unclear to what degree the Gates Foundation will continue its funding of education projects in the state. What is clear is that some Jeffco parents yanked education policy away from Foundations and put it back into the hands of local school boards. And as everyone in Colorado discovered on November 5, money doesn’t always talk. Sometimes money takes a walk.About the author
Paula Noonan, Ph.D., is completing her term on the Jefferson County School Board. She is owner/partner of Colorado Capitol Watch, a Colorado legislature tracking platform that follows many issues, but has particular focus on education problems across the state.
"Wealthier communities that ask for more resources to expand their schools, they are listened to," said one of the parents from several crowded schools who complained to the Board of Education on Wednesday that their buildings deserve improvements just as much as an elementary school in the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood that is in line for a $20 million annex. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
TEST TRIALS: Thousands of Massachusetts students next spring will try out a new state standardized testing system — many of them answering questions online — under a plan approved by state leaders Tuesday that pushes most MCAS exams closer to extinction.The measure calls for a two-year trial run of the system. (The Boston Globe)
COMPETING FOR FEDERAL DOLLARS: The Obama administration announced a $100 million competition for high schools to better prepare students for college and high-tech careers. The competition is a mix between the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation programs and will be funded and run through the Department of Labor. Between 25 and 40 grants will be awarded next year for high schools that team up with colleges and employers. (Education Week)
GETTING TOUGHER ON TEACHERS: Only one in four aspiring teachers passed a beefed-up version of Michigan’s teacher certification test – an exam that teachers must pass to be hired to lead a classroom – when the new test was administered for the first time last month. (MLive.com)
TECHNICAL GLITCH: Contradicting earlier claims, Los Angeles school district officials said Tuesday that their right to use English and math curriculum installed on district iPads expires after three years. At market rates, buying a new license for the curriculum would cost $50 to $100 each year per iPad, an additional cost that could surpass $60 million annually. The expense would add to the price tag of the $1-billion effort to provide a tablet to every teacher and student in the nation's second-largest school system.
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents from Lincoln Elementary reacted at Wednesday's board meeting to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial plan to build an $18 million addition to the school, with some expressing elation while others pointed out a less expensive solution: redrawing attendance boundaries so some Lincoln students would be sent to other nearby schools, Alcott or Mayer.
But nothing was said about Manierre, a school just 1.3 miles away and more underutilized than any of the other neighborhood schools. In fact, as the district planned the closings, officials considered using Manierre--or at least its building, emptied of its students--to solve overcrowding in Lincoln Park.
Manierre, a predominantly black school, was initially placed on the list of schools to be shut down, but was taken off after intense community objection--in large part because of the plan to send Manierre’s students to Jenner, the only other school in the area that is predominantly African American and has the lowest academic rating. Several of the other nearby schools had space, are racially diverse and have the district's highest rating.
Documents submitted by CPS to lawyers in discovery for one of the federal lawsuits challenging the school closings states that the action to be taken in Lincoln Park was to “reduce underutilization and possibly leverage the empty Manierre building in the future.”
Asked in a deposition for the lawsuit why CPS officials didn’t consider redrawing attendance boundaries so some students in overcrowded schools would be sent to Manierre, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said “a reason why not is because it is highly disruptive to relocate people from their existing school to another school.”
The attorney then points out that most of the students in closing schools were black and asks Cawley whether CPS officials were more concerned about disruption involving white students. Cawley says that is “patently false.”
Later, in talking specifically about why Lincoln students were not moved into Manierre, Cawley said that would be difficult, considering families move into the neighborhood specifically to attend Lincoln.
“We’d be going into a neighborhood and saying we’re sorry, you moved into this neighborhood to go to this school,” according to the deposition transcript. “You can’t go to this school anymore. So that’s a difficult thing.”
Asked about sending displaced Manierre students to some of the higher-performing, racially diverse nearby schools, Cawley said that Jenner has a “terrific facility that had a lot of room for Manierre kids.”
Sherise McDaniels, who fought to keep Manierre open, says she saw the announcement to spend $18 million on an addition for Lincoln Elementary as a “slap in the face.”
“It is a disrespect to teachers and parents at Manierre,” she said. “It is a sign that we don’t matter and that this is a segregated city and there are people who are working to keep it that way.”
McDaniels said she and other parents were aware of the documents that outlined plans to “ship out” Manierre students and use the building to expand Lincoln. Realizing the racial dynamics and desperate not to have their children go to Jenner, where they felt their children would not be safe, she said parents proposed giving Lincoln half of their building.
“We would use one door and they could use the other door,” she says.
Some of the parents who oppose the addition to Lincoln are upfront about the situation with Manierre. Lincoln parent Caroline Vickrey pointed out that CPS officials suggested once before that attendance boundaries be redrawn to send some of their students to LaSalle, a high-performing, diverse magnet school.
Imagine the outcry if CPS suggested Manierre as it currently is, she wrote in an e-mail.
“The black/white issue with Manierre is the elephant in the room,” Vickrey said. Manierre “struggles academically, to be fair, unlike all other schools around Lincoln, which are either magnet Level I or underutilized Level I neighborhood schools. Incredibly sad, but true.”
Another parent said the sticking point was property values, which she said would plummet should the attendance boundaries be redrawn to send some of the Lincoln students to Manierre.
Vickrey and other parents who oppose the addition also note that other CPS schools are more overcrowded than Lincoln. Last year’s list puts Lincoln at No. 53 out of 65 overcrowded schools (not including charter schools).
CPS officials said an adjusted list that takes into account all leased space that overcrowded schools are using puts Lincoln at No. 15 among 33 schools.