The State Board of Education Wednesday unanimously adopted guidelines for high school graduation requirements, but that doesn’t mean current high school students will have to change their class schedules in order to get their diplomas.
The guidelines have a long implementation timeline, and the document is expected to be changed more than once over the next two years. That makes its impact on future students hard to predict.
The overall goal of the guidelines is to make high school diplomas represent what students actually know and can do – “competency” in education jargon. Most district graduation requirements now are based on completion of a certain number of classes over a certain number of years. (Education jargon for that is “seat time.”)
The document is “an intentional statement that we are moving from seat time … to proof of competency,” said Scott Stump, a community college system administrator who was a member of the 19-person committee that developed the guidelines for SBE.
The report from the Graduation Guidelines Council sets out another key goal: “A high school diploma should guarantee that students are: 1) prepared to enter credit-bearing courses in postsecondary education institutions; 2) prepared academically to enter military officer training; and 3) prepared to be productive entry-level employees in the
But the details of the document have drawn a lot of questions and some opposition from a variety of education interest groups. Even Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s point man on education issues, told the board he was “neutral” on the guidelines.
Graduation guidelines are a complicated issue for a lot of reasons.
First, the state constitution’s local control provision gives school boards substantial autonomy in curriculum and instruction. So, neither the legislature nor the Department of Education can impose uniform graduation requirements for all students, as is the case in some other states. Rather, the guidelines would set a basic standards that districts would have to “meet or exceed” in setting their own graduation requirements.
Second, the guidelines would have a long rollout period, and the first group of students directly affected by new district requirements will those who graduate from high school in 2021.
Third, and perhaps most important, minimum scores and standards for several of the tests and other measurements suggested in the guidelines haven’t been set. So, students, parents and districts don’t yet know the full menu of choices that can be used to set district requirements. (See below for the full list of suggested measures and cut scores.)
The guidelines also would require districts to include successful student completion of individual career and academic plans (ICAPs) in their graduation requirements and to advise students and families about graduation requirements starting in the 6th grade.
Nearly a dozen witnesses testified during the board’s two-hour hearing on the guidelines.
Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, was critical, saying, “The council’s proposal leaves little room for local discretion … the guidelines are more like rules.”
Because of that, she suggested to board go through the formal rule-making process, which has specific requirements for public comment. (The board didn’t take up that suggestion – it had a deadline to adopt the guidelines this month.)
Bret Miles, superintendent of the eastern plains district of Holyoke and also representing the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, sounded a similar note. “We feel like this … oversteps the local boards of education.”
Randy DeHoff, a former SBE member who was representing the Colorado Cyberschool Association, seconded the concerns of the rural caucus.
On the other side, representatives of Stand for Children, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds, A+ Denver and Democrats for Education Reform supported the guidelines. “They’re a huge step in the right direction,” said Van Schoales, speaking for A+ Denver and DFER.
Garcia, who spoke to the board earlier in the day before the hearing, said of the rules, “We’re not just quite there yet” adding it “would be best” if the board waiting to act until after his Department of Higher Education completes work on new admissions and remediation policies later this year.
Some board members were sympathetic to the critics. Deb Scheffel, a Republican who represents the 6th District, wondered, “Why wouldn’t the state board engage in rule making if it’s going to be this detailed?”
Chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from the 5th District, suggested that the grid of tests and cut scores be relegated to an appendix of the guidelines.
But both voted for the guidelines in the end, partly because of the fact that the document will be tweaked in the future.
“This is the beginning of a process,” noted education Commissioner Robert Hammond.
“These guidelines are not static,” said Stump. “At each step of the process there are going to be new tools for measuring student performance.”
It’s a moving target – new science and social studies coming spring of 2014, PARCC tests spring of 2015 and updated higher ed “no remediation” standards fall of 2013.
Creation of the guidelines was required by a 2007. The guidelines council issued an initial report in 2008 but then was dormant until it was revived last year. The guidelines law was overshadowed by a far more comprehensive 2008 education reform law, the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. That set requirements for new state content standards, tests and alignment of K-12 outcome with college admissions standards.
In the two lawsuits filed in federal court Wednesday to try to slow down or stop school closings, the central charge is that special education students will be disproportionately hurt by the actions.
This, according to the lawsuits, is a violation of the American Disabilities Act. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in either the 53 schools slated for closure or the ones set to receive them.
“It takes years to build trust with these children,” says attorney Tom Geoghegan. “All that will be lost or destroyed when we send them to new teachers in new schools.”
One lawsuit asks the judge to force CPS to wait a year so that the district can ease the transition for special education students from one school to another. The other wants a judge to halt the closures, questioning whether CPS will save significant money from closing the schools.
Next Wednesday, the CPS Board of Education will vote on the actions, which would represent the largest district restructuring ever. The lawsuits ask for an emergency injunction, but Geoghegan says he isn’t requesting a hearing prior to the vote next week.
The lawsuits are being paid for, at least partially, by the Chicago Teachers Union. They were filed on behalf of parents at various schools slated for closure.
In years past, lawsuits have unsuccessfully attempted to block the district from shutting schools. It is a difficult task given that the school code allows districts to open and close schools.
In addition to alleging a violation of ADA, one of the lawsuits adds the allegation that closings are in violation of the Civil Rights Act because they single out “poor and marginalized African American children.” Some 88 percent of the students who stand to be affected by this year’s school closings are black, while they represent only 42 percent of students in CPS, according to the lawsuit.
“Since 2001, CPS has found one excuse or another to close schools attended by African American children,” Geoghegan says. “If you have to save money find some other place to save money. It is time to lay off the kids.”
Geoghegan also represented plaintiffs last year in a lawsuit that alleged racial discrimination in school actions. The lawsuit was dismissed, but is being appealed.
In a prepared statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett did not address the specific accusations in the lawsuit. She said the lawsuits show that the union leadership is “committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our children. “
"Thousands of children in underutilized schools are being cheated out of the resources they need to succeed,” said Bennett, who has promised extra resources for designated receiving schools. “It's time to give these children the opportunity to attend higher-performing welcoming schools and put them on a path to thrive."
One of the arguments for waiting a year is that CPS put off the decisions until the end of the school year. Geoghegan points out that usually decisions about school actions are made much earlier in the school year.
This year, Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over CPS in October and promptly asked the state legislature to let her delay the announcement from Dec. 1 to end of March. Because state law calls for 60 days between the announcement and the decision, the vote can’t take place until late May—only a few weeks before the end of school year.
“The late date makes it impossible to conduct the closings without significant disruption to the programs in which these children participate and without adequate provision for the special safety risks faced by children with disabilities,” according to the lawsuit.
Kristine Mayle, a former special education teacher and current financial secretary for the union, says that teachers take time to prepare disabled students for transitions.
“For students with autism and more severe disabilities, for six months, teachers might walk a student over to the classroom and slowly acclimate them to their new class,” she says.
CPS officials still have not said whether the teachers of special education students will follow the students and the students still do not know their teachers for the coming year, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says that the transition plans around safety lack specificity, which is a particular problem for students with disabilities. The lawsuit points out that several independent hearing officers who reviewed the school closing plans also found problems with the lack of specificity.
“Plantiff children and all children in special education risk even greater harm than children who are not in special education to the extent that they are forced to walk through new, unfamiliar and dangerous neighborhoods, an experience that exacerbates the effects of their condition,” according to the lawsuit.
The other lawsuit charges that the school closings will cause special education students irreparable harm and that it outweighs any financial benefit to the school district. Among other issues, it says that class sizes in receiving schools will be bigger than those in closing schools. Big class sizes hurt special education students more than other students, according to the lawsuit.
Rod Estvan, education organizer for the disability rights group called Access Living, noted that it might be hard for attorneys to prove their case, even if it might have merit.
Estvan has been attending a CPS subcommittee on school actions and says CPS officials are methodically going through a checklist of steps to make sure they can defend the treatment of special education students. While he is not sure of the quality of what they are doing, Estvan says CPS will be able to show they are making an effort.
Yet he notes if CPS lawyers bring generic plans to the federal judge they may have problems. The independent hearing officers launched into CPS for providing general material.
“What they brought to the hearing officers was pathetic,” he says.
To make sure that all attendees of the city’s annual conference for families of English language learners today could go home with an autographed copy of her book, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor signed 3,000 copies of her book in two days.
She was able to write the book, she told parents at the conference, because her mother – who didn’t speak English — taught her to value words. “My mother loved reading. Seeing her read inspired my brother and me to read,” Sotomayor said in her speech.
The Department of Education’s annual conference is designed to help immigrant families navigate the city’s education system and support their children’s learning at home. Sotomayor’s address, as well as the workshops that followed, was translated into nine languages, just a fraction of the 180 languages spoken by students in the city’s public schools.
Mirza Flore, who immigrated to the United States eight months ago and speaks only Spanish, said the hardest part of navigating the city’s schools is helping her son with homework in a language she doesn’t speak. He attends P.S. 104 in Far Rockaway.
Flore said she used to tell her son “not now” when he tried to talk to her as she cooked dinner. But after attending the conference, she said, she would use the time to supervise homework or ask her son to teach her something he learned during the day, one of many specific strategies Sotomayor suggested in her speech.
The Department of Education’s Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners, which runs the conference each year in collaboration with other divisions of the department, invited Sotomayor to give the keynote. “Education is a difficult system to navigate if you don’t speak English,” said David Pena, a department spokesman. “[Sotomayor] has a perfect story for what we’re trying to do today.”
In her speech, Sotomayor went beyond platitudes about reading and writing. Parents who immigrate to the United States sometimes don’t know what their children should read, Sotomayor said, recalling what it felt like in college not to have read the books her peers grew up with.
As an undergraduate, she said, she once tried to explain to a friend how out of place she sometimes felt at Princeton. The friend said “You must feel like Alice in Wonderland,” and Sotomayor responded, “Alice who?”
“I bet half the audience probably hasn’t read Alice in Wonderland,” she said today. She suggested that parents ask librarians what their children should read, or schedule a meeting with their children’s’ teachers to discuss reading choices. “Like my mother, you may not know what kids your books should be reading. But you can help them find out,” Sotomayor said.
To get kids writing, she said, “Write notes to your children. Ask them to leave you notes about what they plan to do.”
Flora Yala, a parent at P.S./M.S. 218, said she came to the conference to learn more about resources available for her children and others at their school. “Sometimes things get lost through word-of-mouth,” she said in Spanish. “We want to hear it directly.”
Many parents said they heard about the event, which took place at the Javits Center in Manhattan, from the parent coordinators or social workers at their children’s schools. Some came in groups after dropping their children off at school, then left the conference in time for dismissal.
“Many times you listen, listen, and you end up wanting to know more,” said Nadia Reyes, another parent at P.S./M.S. 218. Yala and Reyes are part of a group of parents from District 9 in the Bronx who made t-shirts especially for the event. They gave one to Sotomayor when she stepped off the stage and, trailed by Secret Service agents, answered questions directly from parents.
When a parent asked why there weren’t more educational resources available for the Haitian community, Sotomayor emphasized the role parents can play in shaping education policy. “Organize your community. … Go beat down the door of that lovely chancellor,” she said, “The success of your community is how loud its voice can be.”
Sotomayor tied the practical advice in her talk back to her experience in the Bronx — an experience many parents said sounded very familiar — to her experience as a Supreme Court justice, which by definition isn’t one to which may people can relate.
“Nobody actually teaches you how to be a parent,” she said. “Justice [John Paul] Stevens once said to me when I was insecure about being a justice, ‘Sonia, nobody’s born a justice.’ Well, no one is born a mother or father.”
Parents said Sotomayor’s story about the impact her mother made on her life’s trajectory would stick with them.
“She was poor,” said Rosalie Mendez, the PTA president at P.S. 253 in Queens. “It surprised me all her mother was able to do for her.”
When former comptroller Bill Thompson took the stage at the United Federation of Teachers conference on Saturday, he joined fellow mayoral candidates in criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s education record.
But Thompson, the former president of the city’s Board of Education who ran against Bloomberg is 2009, took a more measured approach when putting together his formal education platform. He outlined the platform today in a policy speech at New York University, becoming the first candidate to set out a complete education agenda.
Thompson’s platform — which skimmed over some important issues — reflects ample criticism of Bloomberg administration education policies. He reiterated a commitment to avoid school closures, promised to “lead with teachers” rather than threaten them, vowed to involve parents in policy making, and pledged to reduce schools’ emphasis on testing.
But it also signals that Thompson would expand, not end, many of Bloomberg’s school policies.
He said he would replicate some of the small schools that Bloomberg has opened, continue the city’s nascent efforts to link high schools with industry partners, and revise — not abandon — the Department of Education’s method of evaluating schools. He would also carry on some of Bloomberg’s recent initiatives, such as extending the school day and making classroom instruction more challenging.
A Bloomberg administration spokeswoman, Lauren Passalacqua, criticized Thompson’s change in tone.
“While we’re pleased to see Mr. Thompson embrace so many of the initiatives our administration has implemented, it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t willing to deliver the same message at the UFT’s annual conference on Saturday,” she said. “Leadership involves speaking hard truths to voters, not telling different audiences and special interests what they want to hear.”
Thompson and his fellow Democratic candidates are locked in a fierce race for the teachers union’s coveted endorsement, which will come in mid-June.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said today that he was satisfied overall with Thompson’s proposal and thought city teachers would find much to support in it. He pointed to Thompson’s pledges to expand early childhood education, enhance teacher mentoring programs, and direct resources to students in low-income communities as examples.
“Clearly he understands the need to get children in a right place for them to be ready to learn,” Mulgrew said about Thompson.
Mulgrew also praised Thompson’s proposal for restructuring the Panel for Educational Policy, the board that must approve the mayor’s proposals for school closures, co-locations, and education spending and contracts. Currently, Bloomberg appoints a majority of the 13-person committee and can withdraw his appointees at any time. Thompson said he would seek to appoint only six of the panel’s 13 members, a position that he first staked out at the UFT’s conference on Saturday.
“You have to present real educational policy that will move things forward,” Thompson said today. Referring to his stint as Board of Education president, he said, “I can convince a majority of the board. That’s not going to be a problem. I’ve done it before.”
Other candidates, including Comptroller John Liu, have said they would push for fixed terms for panel members, granting them some measure of independence. But no one else has said they would decline to appoint a majority of members, weakening a key measure of mayoral control.
The UFT has asked legislators to reduce the mayor’s appointees to just five. Mulgrew said Thompson was “getting closer” in the number of nominees he would appoint and he didn’t think Liu — who has also proposed limiting appointees to a pool of nominated candidates — has gone far enough.
Thompson also sided with the union — and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a fellow candidate — on the question of whether a new teacher evaluation system should include a “sunset clause.” Bloomberg rejected a deal in December, citing the union’s request for an expiration date.
But a number of items on Thompson’s platform would be extensions of Bloomberg’s policies. He said he would replicate schools such as Pathways in Technology High School and the Academy of Software Engineering that give New York City students direct paths to jobs.
Some of Thompson’s proposals could even run afoul of the union, depending on how they are implemented. He said he would “hold teachers accountable for what happens in their schools and classrooms” in part by using test scores, as is required under state law, and would launch a citywide initiative for longer school hours and school years. He said he would also work to pay “our most effective teachers” more to teach in high-need schools.
Thompson did not say how he would define effectiveness, taking a pass on a crucial issue that the next mayor will have to resolve. He also did not explain how he would pay for his costly proposals, other than by cutting “the excessive amounts of hundreds of millions of dollars” that the Department of Education has awarded in contracts to private vendors. (Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has so far been the only candidate to say he would raise taxes to support schools.)
And Thompson did not mention the divisive issue of charter schools at all, except to say that he would hold them to the same standards as district schools. (Because the schools are publicly funded but privately managed and authorized by state entities, the mayor has little sway over city charter schools’ operation.)
“In order to call New York the education city we need to build on the progress we’ve seen over the last decade in ensuring every student is taught by a great teacher and providing every family access to a quality school, regardless of their income or zip code,” said Glen Weiner, the interim executive director fo StudentsFirstNY. “Sadly, Mr. Thompson was silent on how he’d advance these issues.”
Mulgrew, too, said Thompson had more explaining to do. He said Thompson’s pledge to fix the Department of Education’s school progress reports — which Thompson called “a step in the right direction” — needed details.
Thompson’s full education platform is below:
BILL THOMPSON’S VISION FOR IMPROVING NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Deliver Services to Students Ages Five and Under. Launch a new initiative to deliver comprehensive services to students ages five and under. Paired with an expansion of pre-k services, the initiative will provide support for kindergarten success and work with families to understand the comprehensive support that young students need to be successful in school. The initiative will identify – very early on – who needs additional help and we will provide it.
Launch a Comprehensive, Connected Pre-K to College and Career System. Create a pre-K to career- and college-ready system, where students are not repeating the same work and where each lesson and each year builds on the last. This comprehensive, connected approach will help us make sure we start kids off on the right track and keep them there.
Launch a New Education Innovation Grant. Create a mini-grant system for the most innovative schools, especially when it comes to career and college readiness. When educators do something well, we will give them the opportunity and resources to do even more of it.
Create a New Class-to-Job Pipeline. Use the success at schools such as Pathways In Technology as a model. Expand that model to more schools – at least one in every borough. We will identify and partner with business leaders in medicine, biotechnology and engineering to give New York City students a direct path to a good job.
Create Multiple Pathways to Graduation. Open more schools like the Academy for Software Engineering, where students don’t just learn how to write computer code or engineer programs, they learn how to be innovators in their own right. Students can do what they love in the city that they love.
Stop School Closures. Close schools always as the last option, not the first. Students in every school deserve the same chance of success as students in every other school. Thompson will stop school closures and introduce a comprehensive system to support struggling schools.
Support Longer School Hours and School Years. It means more time for teacher collaboration. More time to challenge students with new subjects. And more time to identify and help kids – at a young age – who are struggling.
Connect After-School Programs to Classroom Curriculum. We’re already paying for after-school programs. Now we need to connect these after-school opportunities to the lessons being taught in the classroom. This means children will have more time on task. And teachers will have more time to supervise their students.
Expand Gifted and Talented Slots and Locations. Expand and re-craft our Gifted and Talented program, not just in terms of the number of seats but the way we admit students. The capacity of our Gifted and Talent program – and every school initiative – should be equal to the potential of our students. There should be a Gifted and Talented program in every community.
Support the Common Core. We should use it to shift the testing paradigm. Critical concepts will drive lesson planning. And those concepts can be reiterated in the games younger students play, across different subjects and in after-school programs. Teachers will have freedom to convey those concepts.
Create a Real Career Ladder for Educators. Identify our strongest, most-effective teachers, especially in math and science, and put them to work guiding first-time teachers. These teachers can take on additional leadership functions at the school level.
Expand Master Teachers. Place senior level teachers in schools across the City and help guide curriculum creation and professional development. As many as possible – especially those in traditionally tough neighborhoods – should benefit from having senior-level teachers guiding younger educators.
Reinvest in College Readiness. Work with CUNY to expand the College Now program, so kids have access to college-level coursework before they even leave public schools. Students are challenged by higher-level coursework early in their academic life.
Drive Real Accountability. School evaluations should tell parents about the whole school, not just a single classroom. How engaged are the teachers? What’s the culture like at the school? Is there a strong PTA structure? That way, parents can make informed decisions about which school is right for their children.
Hold Charter Schools to the Same Standards as Public Schools. Hold Charters to the same standards as public schools. Schools should be centers for learning and innovation. And if any school – public or charter – isn’t meeting that standard, Thompson will take action.
Clear, Fair Metrics for Teacher Accountability. Hold teachers accountable for what happens in their schools and classrooms. We need to incorporate scores, professional observation, parent and peer feedback and more. Instead of simply threatening teachers, Thompson will lead with them
Put Effective Teachers in Tough Neighborhoods. Create an incentive program to reward teachers who take on these challenges. Putting our most effective teachers into the toughest neighborhoods and the toughest schools will give them that chance.
Give Parents a Voice in Education Policy. Appoint parent representatives to the Education Panel. People on the Education Panel will support Thompson’s policies because they are the right policies. Not because he appoints them.
Hundreds more Denver students earned a spot in their top choice school in the second year of the district’s streamlined SchoolChoice process but the number of participating families did not increase, district officials announced Wednesday.
SchoolChoice is a single application and simplified process that was unveiled in Denver Public Schools last year. The new process was introduced with the aim of making school admissions fairer for all families. Previously, each school had its own distinct form and process and well-connected families knew how to work the system.
More than 23,000 students — about the same number as last year — submitted forms this year for placement during the 2013-2014 school year. About 40 percent of the district’s students attend a school other than their neighborhood school.
District officials said about 78 percent of students entering transition grades (kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades) received their first choice, and 92 percent of transition grade students received one of their top three choices. All students received a place at their neighborhood school if they so requested. And 96 percent of students who listed five choices received one of those five. These numbers include students who live outside of the district and have the lowest choice priority.
Of those families who participated in SchoolChoice, 52 percent were Hispanic and 28 percent were white. Districtwide, 58 percent of students are Hispanic and 20 percent are white.
However, because of a shortage of early childhood slots, only 79 percent of families received a place in one of their top three choices in those programs. That left 249 families who didn’t get placed in any of their top five school choices. In total, 370 families did not get any of their top five choices, down from 393 last year.
Denver school officials pointed out that money from the bond and mill approved by voters in November will help expand early childhood offerings in southwest and far northeast Denver.
Students who participate in SchoolChoice are asked to rank their school preferences on a form and submit it no later than Jan. 31. Students have the option to list up to five school options, and then the DPS Office of Choice and Enrollment Services office matches students to a school based on availability.
In response to feedback from families, DPS next fall plans to have the SchoolChoice form available for submission online, instead of having to fill out and turn in a paper form.
Soon after CPS leaders announced plans to close schools, parent advocates sounded the alarm that massive school closings would cause class sizes to swell in the receiving schools.
CPS officials tried to veer away from that discussion, as parents intuitively believe that smaller class sizes are better. Yet it is clear that larger class sizes will be one impact of closing schools that the district considers underutilized. Adding a student or two to classes in receiving schools frees up money, since fewer teachers will be needed and teacher salaries are the district’s biggest expense.
Though the capital cost savings for school closings are unclear and CPS has lowered its initial savings estimates on that front, officials have also estimated that increasing class sizes by just one student would save as much as $26 million per year.
Wendy Katten, the board president of Raise Your Hand, says that allowing class sizes to go up is the opposite of what most people want. Katten’s organization was started after former CEO Ron Huberman threated to raise class sizes to 35 students to close a budget deficit.
“Parents and teachers, people who are actually in the schools, know class size matters.[Class sizes going up] is certainly not what the stakeholders want,” Katten says.
Research suggests that class size does not have a major impact on achievement unless classes are 15 students or smaller. But the issue resonates with many teachers and parents, who note that classes in some schools are routinely 30 to 40 students, above the district’s own guidelines. They point out that suburban and elite private schools have much lower class sizes, especially in the lower grades.
After CPS leaders took pains to counter Raise Your Hand’s criticism, Catalyst Chicago asked CPS for class size data in December 2012 and then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the data in February. The information was provided in late April and shows that:
Schools that are underutilized according to the district’s formula have, on average, two fewer students than in schools deemed to be at capacity. Only 4 percent of classrooms in closing schools are above recommended class sizes and 12 percent of classrooms in underutilized schools.
About 850-more than 25 percent-of primary classrooms have more than 28 students, the amount recommended under the district’s contract with the teachers union. Class size has the most impact on young students, according to research.
Another 713 3rd thru 8th-grade classes have more than 31 students.
CPS officials have emphasized that closing schools will help get rid of split-grade classrooms, which are viewed as bad because teachers must teach to a wider range of ability levels. Schools slated for closure do have significantly more split-grade classes than other schools—but even in these schools, split grades are only 14 percent of the total.
Katten notes that in a lot of schools that are slated to close, the principal is using discretionary funds to keep class size low. Yet when schools are combined, it will be more difficult for principals to find the space to spread classes out, she says.
The issue of class size is constantly mentioned at rallies and marches against the planned closings. Margaret Cooley, at a march with her grandson from Overton to Mollison on Tuesday, says CPS “just wants to put them all in there and bunch them up.”
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that principals often choose to add a student or two over the limit to classes, and that board policy only provides guidelines.
Carroll says it is “simply not true” that closing schools will lead to a larger number of over-sized classes.
“Principals will make decisions around class size that they believe are in the best interest of their students,” Carroll says. “All welcoming schools, which are also underutilized, will be within their appropriate utilization range.”
Kristine Mayle from the CTU says principals have a “false” choice. Sometimes they decide to increase class size by one or two students so they can hire a full-time art or music teacher.
“They are supposed to do what is best for students and sometimes that means hiring an extra security guard because they are in an unsafe neighborhood,” Mayle says.
The union has a committee to which teachers in overcrowded classrooms can complain, but Mayle says it has limited staff to investigate and limited access to resources to provide the teacher with relief.
“We are not talking about a kindergarten teacher with 29 students, but rather the one with 40 students,” she says.
At the same time CPS is closing a record number of schools, it also is implementing per-pupil budgeting in which schools get a set amount of money per student, rather than budgets allocated based on the number of teachers needed in a school. That also could have an impact on class size, Mayle says.
“Principals will have an incentive to pack students in,” she says.
Contributing: Linda Lutton (Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ)
Attached is an Excel spreadsheet with class size data, provided by CPS. It is from the 20th day of school. It includes information about which schools are slated to close and which ones slated to receive them.
A pair of Department of Education employees were separately warned this week for breaking city ethics laws, according to letters released today by an ethics board.
In one case, a special education teacher, Faith Walters, used names of 15 former students without permission in a book she published in 2011. The letter doesn’t name the book, but it appears to fit the description of a poetry book that sells on paperback for $15.99 on Amazon. The name of the author of the 67-page book is also Faith Walters and she describes herself as a New York City special education teacher.
In the book’s description, Walters said she was inspired by an experience she had when she first started teaching:
The memory of my first day of teaching will forever be in my mind of having an almost fatal experience of losing one of my eyes because of a flying chair that hit the wall just as I opened the classroom door of 15 students who appeared to be very angry and fearful.
“By publishing a book containing your students’ names, you disclosed confidential information” that violated the city charter, the letter says.
Walters wasn’t fined, in part because she told the board that her publisher has revised subsequent copies so that only the students’ initials are printed.
In the other case, a principal used one of her school aides as a personal driver to transport her son from his school to I.S. 340 (North Star Academy), where she worked, according to the board. The principal, Jean Williams, asked the aide to pick up her son on three occasions during the 2011-2012 school year.
“By using your position to as the Principal of North Star Academy to have your subordinate perform a purely personal task on your behalf, you used your City position as a supervisor to obtain a personal benefit,” the letter said. Williams was not fined.
Aides are often used to fill several roles in a school, but their primary purpose is “to help the teachers get prepared to teach,” according to a job description on their union’s web site. They are also asked to monitor hallways and school yards during recess to “help keep schools safe for kids.”
Paid about $14 per hour, aides are among the lowest paid employees in a school. In 2011, the city laid off 438 aides — five percent of its workforce — to close a budget gap.
The letters are posted below.
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg stopped by Grant Beacon Middle School on Wednesday morning to help teach an eighth grade language arts class. Boasberg visited the classroom as part of a district-wide effort to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.
“The best way to say thanks is to help teachers in the classroom, to respect what they do and be willing to help,” Boasberg said.
The students were preparing to make their own public service announcement by watching, discussing and analyzing public service announcements. Grant Beacon uses a tech-based blended learning program, and on Wednesday students were using iPads to follow an online lesson prepared by their teacher, Jacob benEzra. Boasberg circled the classroom, asking students questions, sitting down with small groups and — once or twice — correcting a student whose hands were drifting toward an iPad’s screen when they weren’t supposed to be.
“I had not been part of a class here with the blended learning model, and I was impressed by how natural the use of technology was,” Boasberg said.
Boasberg, who started off the class with a question-and-answer session about social challenges, leadership and making change, helped the students with the lesson alongside benEzra.
“He did really well,” benEzra said after the lesson. “My suspicion was that he’d be a lot more uneasy, but he’s just a natural. I work with a lot of student teachers, and they’re hesitant to sit down with students, especially middle schoolers who can seem hostile. And just his ability to dive right in and freely share is just exemplary.”
The school’s principal, who observed the class while typing notes on a laptop, agreed.
“For a first-year teacher, it was pretty good!” joked Alex Magaña, the school’s principal, after the class. He promised to send Mr. Boasberg his notes.
Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday signed the bill intended to expand student participation in breakfast programs at high-poverty schools. The media event took place at Rose Hill Elementary School in Commerce City and included breakfast in a classroom.
The Adams 14 district, where Rose Hill is located, has been a leader in providing breakfast to all students after the school day starts.
The new law would require that schools with 80 percent of more students eligible for free- and reduced-price meals to serve breakfast after school starts and to all students, even those not individually eligible. Advocates for the bill argued that serving breakfast after the bell rings would increase participation and that serving all students would ease the embarrassment some low-income students feel when they’re the only ones eating.
The bill was backed by a collation of mostly health-related groups, including the Colorado Health Foundation, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and LiveWell Colorado, plus the Colorado Education Association. Other education groups had issues with the bill, primarily about possible extra costs. After the first year the program threshold drops to 70 percent, and some districts believe that schools below the 80 percent level won’t be fully reimbursed by the federal school nutrition program.
There’s been a flurry of activity this week in the Denver Public Schools board election.
Longtime school finance lawyer Mike Johnson Wednesday officially launched his campaign to fill the central Denver seat now held by term-limited Jeannie Kaplan.
“I finally decided I could organize my life to make this work and that is was too important not to do it,” Johnson said. “The issues in central Denver are in a lot of ways keeping up what we’re doing right now. I think we’ve had incredible success in schools in central Denver. I think people are excited about sending their kids to the schools.”
However, Johnson said he believes more needs to be done to ensure that all families have the means to attend the schools they choose. To that end, he said he supports expansion of transportation systems similar to the Success Express shuttle system in Far Northeast Denver.
Johnson, who is the legal counsel for the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which has provided $1.1 billion to construct and renovate 170 schools in Colorado, also said the district could do a better job of educating people about how the choice system works.
Johnson puts himself firmly in the camp with the board majority who support Superintendent Tom Boasberg and a raft of reforms in the district, including a portfolio approach to new schools in which the district opens its arms to new school ideas from anyone who can come up with a solid program that meets district needs.
So far, he said he has been endorsed by longtime education advocate Anna Jo Haynes, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, former DPS board member Les Woodward, environmental lawyer and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s wife Susan Daggett and former U.S. Congressman David Skaggs.
“I think Tom Boasberg is doing a great job. I think the school district is headed in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t think it’s perfect, and there are things I’ll disagree with… from time to time.”O’Brien also pondering run for DPS board
Also in this camp is former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, now head of Get Smart Schools, who said she is considering running for the at-large seat now held by board President Mary Seawell. Seawell shocked her colleagues when she announced last month that she would not seek re-election due to work and family issues.
O’Brien, a well-known figure in Colorado and former head of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, would no doubt generate huge dollars and high-profile support in her campaign bid.
Get Smart Schools is a 5-year-old Colorado nonprofit dedicated to expanding the number of charter schools as well as other autonomous schools serving low-income children in Colorado. To that end, the organization offers a leadership development program to identify and train leaders for such schools and works to help charter schools thrive through advocacy at the policy level.
O’Brien previously told EdNews she is especially interested in focusing on quality school leadership by providing support and training to principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. She has also expressed interest – in her role at Get Smart – in expanding the reach of successful charter school programs in traditional schools as well.
O’Brien said she didn’t think her work for Get Smart would create a conflict of interest should she serve on the board but she said she would consult with district counsel. DPS board member Nate Easley served as vice president of the Denver Scholarship Foundation while he served on the board.
O’Brien said she wouldn’t announce her decision until after Memorial Day weekend.
“I do know education has been the heart and soul of my career over many years,” she said. “I think DPS is at a point where there are some really interesting decisions it needs to make…the directions it can go for English language learners, and getting reading sores up in elementary schools, and schools on the turnaround clock.”
However, O’Brien said she had professional and personal issues to consider as well. Her running a campaign and serving on the board would have to be a “win win” for Get Smart Schools.
“I also have a nonprofit to run, and I really like having my private life back,” she said. “It’s a matter of taking a deep breath over Memorial Day weekend… and at least having the time to think and do pros and cons.”Union organizer running for Merida’s seat in SW Denver
Meanwhile, another candidate for DPS board member Andrea Merida’s seat in southwest Denver is union organizer Rosario De Baca.
De Baca is a mother of five and field organizer for Colorado Wins, a union representing 31,000 state employees. She recently helped organize custodians at the Auraria higher education campus who were upset about working conditions there.
De Baca is also a former community organizer with the American Federation of Teachers who worked on Obama’s first campaign.
In October, De Baca expressed concerns about Denver schools on a Facebook page promoting an informational event by opponents of the 3B bond.
“I am pretty upset that upkeep at neighborhood school languishes, kids go to classes without AC, libraries limited and classrooms are intolerably hot. Yet DPS wants to pump huge sums into Loretto Heights (privately owned). I WILL NOT VOTE TO FUND UPGRADES OF A PRIVATE BUILDING. Privateers are making money fist over barrel and cheating students and educators of necessary funds for our neighborhood schools, then attack same for “failing.””
De Baca was scheduled to address the Denver metro branch of the Colorado Latino Forum Tuesday evening. The forum was supposed to endorse candidates in the DPS but opted to postpone those decisions until August or September, according to Denver chapter co-chair Lisa Calderon.
Cod and black bread anyone? How about a hike up a glacier or an afternoon of whale-watching?
An Aurora fifth-grader will soon get the chance to try out these Nordic delights after winning a five-day trip for two to Iceland on Wednesday for his efforts to eat healthfully and stay physically active. The Kenton Elementary School student earned the grand prize through 5th Gear Kids, a wellness program for fifth-graders launched last fall in the Aurora and Cherry Creek school districts. Icelandair is one of the program’s prize partners.
5th Gear Kids, which was available to 6,700 fifth-graders this year, is funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and run by the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, Children’s Hospital Colorado and the two school districts. Students earn points in the program by doing sports, using recreation facilities, choosing healthy foods at King Soopers and ordering healthier menu items at restaurants like McDonalds and Subway.
It was already slim odds that education would get much action from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature this session after they increased school aid, funded several education grants, and amended the teacher evaluation law during budget negotiations in March.
But in the aftermath of a federal corruption dragnet that has brought down several lawmakers, any glimmer of hope that education could get some attention seems to have vanished.
“With this legislative session, with all the corruption, I would be surprised if anything gets passed,” said Mona Davids, who runs the New York City Parents Union, a parent advocacy group. State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, of Brooklyn, sponsored a bill to end mayoral control that Davids lobbied for. The bill’s long odds grew even longer after Montgomery’s named surfaced last week as one of seven lawmakers recorded in the home of former Senator Shirley Huntley, who was cooperating with investigators to reduce a prison sentence. Huntley was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for embezzling funds from a charity she ran.
Davids said she believed Montgomery, who has not been charged, has done nothing wrong. Still, she said she doubted the bill could proceed before the session ends on June 30. “It’s May, but it’s over,” Davids said.
Davids’ pessimism reflects a growing sentiment in Albany that began shortly after the legislature passed the budget, when the first corruption cases surfaced. Since then, four lawmakers have been arrested on corruption charges as part of a federal investigation that seems to broaden by the week. As a result, even Cuomo’s agenda — which include a women’s equality act, publicly-funded campaign finance, and bringing casinos to New York — is in doubt.
Lobbyists, legislative aides, and advocates said in interviews this week that it’s not unusual for education to be placed on the back burner after the budget gets passed, though they said the recent events have further doomed the outlook.
Education was a top priority in 2010, when the state needed to pass laws to qualify for the federal Race to the Top grant, but since then, “most of the action has been around the state budget,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “Once the budget passes, that’s it.”
Williams said it’s been like that for the last two years, in response to steep budget cuts to education spending that have chilled lobbying efforts.
Occasionally though, hot-button issues do arise and get placed onto Governor Andrew Cuomo’s agenda. That was the case last year, when one of the last bills passed by the legislature before going home for the summer was a law to shield teacher evaluation ratings from public view.
This year appears was different, sources said.
“A lot got addressed in the budget,” a legislative source said. “There is no clear issue.”
This year’s budget included funding for grant programs that Cuomo championed through his education reform commission, including money for extended day, community schools, universal prekindergarten, and early college high schools.
Those were relatively easy compared to an amendment to the teacher evaluation law that Cuomo pushed for. The amendment inserted a financial penalty for districts that aren’t implementing their approved plans according to the law’s intent.
“Nobody wanted to touch this thing,” a source close to the negotiations said. “The union on one side, Bloomberg on the other. Both have strong advocates, but at the end of the day, they were sort of forced to figure out a solution.”
The unions are still hoping for traction on some of the bills they’ve proposed. The state teachers union’s big push is the “Truth-about-testing Act,” which would require the State Education Department to audit the costs of the state’s testing program. The two sponsors of that bill, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Sen. George Latimer, did not respond to requests for comment.
At the city level, the United Federation of Teachers is hoping to push longstanding priorities on its agenda, including changes to the mayoral control (it isn’t supporting Montgomery’s bill), place a temporary ban on school closings, and require local approval for school siting plans. It also is backing a bill that would eliminate the waiver option available to New York City chancellor candidates with no education experience.
The legislative session closed early this week due to a holiday. Speaking at a press conference to announce support for a bill to improve working conditions for farmers in the state, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he still had big plans for the rest of the session, beginning with the introduction of the DREAM Act next week and reforms to policing tactics known as stop-and-frisk.
“I would hope that we can stay focused on the kind of legislation I’m talking about,” said Silver.
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.
In a May 3rd memo, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago wrote: “Chicago Public Schools have asked the Chicago Fire Department to assist in its transition strategy with the closing of over 50 schools. And that involves having a strong physical presence on each safe passage route for all welcoming schools for three weeks," WGN TV reports. The head of the Fraternal Order of Police says that request shows that the Chicago Police Department is not up to the task.
UTILIZATION OUT, RESOURCES IN: The rhetoric around school closings is now about focusing resources, writes Curtis Black of Newstips.org. This shift in communication strategy is dictated by the fact that school closings turn out not to be about deficits or utilization — given they won’t save money for several years, if ever, and since the “utilization crisis,” caused by adding 50,000 charter seats during a decade when CPS lost 30,000 students, is being addressed by adding more charters. CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett now says closing schools will allow CPS to provide libraries, air conditioning, iPads and “learning gardens” at a small group of receiving schools.
DEPAUL DEAL: Word leaking out of City Hall indicates that a big chunk of the financing for a new DePaul arena would come from the pot of cash that robs millions from public schools, WLS is reporting. This would be very controversial because Emanuel is on the point of closing 54 schools.
ANOTHER WAY: CPS has an alternative to school closings, turnarounds and charters, according to writer Rob Warmowski: a school improvement approach called Focused Instruction Process that was developed by non-profit Strategic Learning Initiatives and was used successfully in six Chicago schools and is now being used in several high schools outside Chicago. Catalyst has this op-ed about the approach and its success.
TEST TOUTING: In an attempt to slowly change the academic culture of Proviso Township High School District 209, teachers, administrators – even the PTO – have been reminding students of the importance of state testing. The results seem to have paid off with significantly more participation, especially at Proviso East High School. (Forest Park Review)
IN THE NATION
THE FIRE NEXT TIME: In the Atlantic, John Tierney writes that he sees a new revolution taking shape in American K-12 public education.
CORE SUPPORT: Backers of the common core intensify their efforts to tout the standards in the face of high-profile opposition in some states. (Education Week)
Students who were turned away from city charter schools this year could fill some of the city’s grandest landmarks, according to the New York City Charter School Center’s final tally of charter school applications.
According to the center, more than 69,000 students applied for 18,600 seats at the city’s soon-to-be 183 charter schools for next year. After filling their seats in lotteries last month, the schools had to turn away more than 50,000 students, the center said today, noting that this year’s wait lists contain more students than Yankees Stadium or the Great Lawn in Central Park could hold.
The center held a press conference today on the steps of City Hall to tout the numbers, which reflected a slight increase in the number of families applying to charter schools since last year as 24 new schools prepare to open this fall.
Citywide, the number of students applying to charter schools is rising less quickly than the number of seats in charter schools, so the odds of admission actually rose this year. But that wasn’t true at every school.
“Our demand is always high, but this year it’s higher than ever before,” said Shubert Jacobs, principal of Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, which he said had received 1,500 applications for 50 seats. The mother of two children at the school, Nadine Graham, appeared at the press conference and said her family was “truly fortunate” to have won spots in the school’s lottery.
Charter school wait lists are both politically significant and hard to pin down. The charter sector points to the size of wait lists as evidence that the public wants more charter schools. But charter school advocates in other districts have come under fire for counting students who apply to multiple schools twice on districtwide wait lists.
The city’s numbers count individual students, not applications (there were 181,600 of them, according to the center, mostly submitted online). But even so, because applicants are automatically added to wait lists if they are not selected in schools’ lotteries, it is unclear how many students on wait lists are unhappy with the schools they end up attending.
The tally announcement came days after several Democratic candidates for mayor said at the teachers union’s spring conference that they would not support raising the limit on the number of charter schools that can operate. The limit was last lifted in 2010 after a bruising legislative battle and now stands at 214 for New York City, which this fall will have 183 charter schools in operation.
Department of Education Senior Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the latest application numbers showed that the candidates are out of touch with families in the city want.
“While some want to turn back the clock to when New York had only a handful of public charter schools, these record application numbers show parents overwhelmingly demand them,” Sternberg said. “We believe in giving them those choices.”
James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, which recently launched an ad campaign aimed at building support for charter schools, said the press conference highlighted three independent charter schools in part because mayoral candidates have aimed their fiercest criticism at networks that manage multiple charter schools.
In addition to criticizing charter schools, leading Democratic candidates have also taken aim recently at high-stakes testing and policies that curb teachers’ creativity in the classroom.
In his comments, Jacobs touted his school’s low student attrition rate, the fact that it allows teachers to write their own lessons, and its emphasis on measures of student learning other than state test scores.
The executive director of Colorado GEAR UP, Scott Mendelsberg, highlights attempts around the state to prepare students for college and reduce the need for remediation.
Quick, what is one-half divided by one-sixth?
If you encountered that question on a test today, how long would it take you to reach back across your years of education to remember the formula for multiplying fractions?
Many students in Colorado’s graduating class of 2011 would have trouble with that question, based on the results of the annual remedial education report released April 16 by the state Department of Higher Education.
The report found 40 percent of the Class of 2011 who enrolled in a state college or university needed remedial help before they were ready for college-level work. Most of those – 51 percent – needed help in math.
Unfortunately, these numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been involved in education for long. As the former principal of Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, I was as frustrated as my students – many of them the first in their families to go to college – by this added obstacle to higher education.
But I believe more attention needs to be paid to the work now being done in K-12 districts and on college campuses across Colorado to reduce the need for remedial courses and to lessen the time students spend in these classes.
These efforts are thoughtful, bold – and unprecedented in our state’s history. Consider three examples:
1. The Colorado Community College System has approved dramatic changes in how remedial classes are delivered. Students who need help will no longer be placed in courses that can consume up to four semesters.
Instead, community colleges by fall 2014 will offer individualized solutions that include brief refresher courses or placement in a college-level course with an accompanying support class. The goal is completion of any remedial work in one semester or less.
2. Partnerships between K-12 and higher education have resulted in efforts such as those in Aurora Public Schools, which is posting lower remediation rates. In APS, students whose 11th-grade ACT scores show they may need remedial help can take the courses as high school seniors.
For example, students can take a remedial math course in the fall followed by a college algebra course in the spring.
3. More than a dozen middle and high schools across Colorado are tackling the remediation issue even earlier, through participation in the federally-funded Early Remediation Pilot. In this initiative, nearly 700 eighth-graders and ninth-graders are enrolled in math classes that mirror the work done in remedial math courses on college campuses.
This effort – a partnership between Colorado GEAR UP, which I lead, and Adams State University in Alamosa – is in its second year. As students complete the classes, they receive a transcript from Adams State documenting their work.
The transcript is important because it allows our students to begin taking college courses as early as grade 10, with GEAR UP picking up the tab. So students are putting their math skills to work right away.
Statistics show our students are the most likely to need remediation – they’re typically low-income, minority and the first in their families to go to college.
We’ve proven our strategies can help them succeed: GEAR UP students graduate high school, enroll in college and persist in college at higher rates than state averages. And GEAR UP students graduate high school having already earned 17 college credits.
But many of them still need remediation in college, whether because they are poor test-takers or because they forgot – like many of you, perhaps – the simple trick behind dividing fractions.
These three examples aren’t the only efforts underway in Colorado to address the remedial issue. But they highlight the promising work that can be done when K-12 and higher education join forces for better outcomes for students.
Oh, and the trick behind dividing fractions? Flip the second fraction upside down and then multiply it by the first fraction. So 1/2 multiplied by 6/1 equals 6/2 or 3.
Anybody ready for division with fractions and whole numbers?About the author
Scott Mendelsberg is executive director of Colorado GEAR UP, a pre-collegiate access program serving low-income and minority students. He is a former principal of Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, where he helped create the state ASCENT program, allowing high school students to graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year college degree.