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 email@example.com.
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.
Two architects of New York City’s controversial school progress reports acknowledged on Tuesday that the accountability system they developed needs to change.
Law school professor James Liebman, who devised the A-F grading system “from scratch” in 2007, said the school grades were initially useful as a “powerful motivator of educators to take responsibility” for student learning in their schools.
But after six years of relying on a narrow set of data — primarily state test scores and graduation rates — to hold schools accountable, Liebman said now is a good moment for “toning down on performance management.”
Liebman’s suggestions, which hewed closely to recommendations offered Tuesday by the Department of Education’s chief academic officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, come as an overhaul looms for the controversial grading system. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he would do away with the school grades, although he hasn’t yet said whether he would maintain the underlying data that contributes to them.
Liebman and Polakow-Suransky appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, a think tank run by former state education chief David Steiner, at which Polakow-Suransky released a report called “What’s Next for School Accountability in New York City?” The report outlined six areas for de Blasio to consider when he takes over in January.
The report is the latest effort by officials at the Department of Education, in their final weeks in charge, to influence how their favored policies fare once de Blasio and his chancellor takes over. Two weeks ago, a city-commissioned report on the way the system’s 1,800 schools are supported similarly detailed both strengths and weaknesses.
The issues that Polakow-Suransky, who is rumored to be seeking a position in the de Blasio administration, raised were in line with oft-cited criticism of the system. The department has tended to dismiss that criticism as attacks “by special interests” on the Bloomberg administration’s education reform policies, but Polakow-Suransky took a different tone on Tuesday.
“We do know where we struggle,” said Suransky, who declined to comment on speculation of his interest in working for de Blasio. “And we do know where the challenges and weaknesses encountered are.”
One weakness, Polakow-Suransky said, is that the city’s progress reports emphasize test scores, particularly in the elementary and middle schools. The emphasis, when combined with traditionally “weak” state exams, could have negative consequences in the classroom.
“If you have weak exams and if they send a signal to teachers that all you need focus on is the basic skills, then what you get is a narrowed curriculum,” he said. “And in the weakest classrooms, in the weakest schools, you get a focus on drilling to get to achievements just on those exams, which actually ignores the broader needs of students and often leads to a situation where kids are disengaged and aren’t actually learning the things that they need.”
He recommended factoring other data points, such as the department’s quality reviews and quarterly report card grades, into schools’ progress reports. Not including the quality reviews in the first place was “a mistake” that Liebman said he regretted.
The focus on a relatively small set of data has stifled creativity at stronger schools, Polakow-Suransky said, adding that some schools now avoid introducing new programs because they fear a negative impact on their grades. The concern is compounded by the fact that progress reports reflect only a single year’s performance, reducing principals’ incentive to pursue longer-term initiatives, he said.
The progress reports are also meant to inform parents about their children’s schools, but Polakow-Suransky and Liebman both acknowledged that the reports have not always achieved that purpose. In particular, a common criticism is that the grades are confusing to parents when they see that two schools at entirely different student performance levels — a school serving mostly high-need students compared with screened school that only has high performing students — can end up with the same letter grade if their students make similar progress.
“It may not give the info that, say, a parent is looking for when they’re trying to find a school,” Polakow-Suransky said, adding that a balance was needed to retain a way to credit schools that served more challenging students.
“Part of the solution, I think, to that is figuring out a way to represent this data in different forms for different audiences, where you actually create tools for parents that are different to the tools that you create for folks that are supporting and managing the schools.”
Liebman said he learned a valuable lesson about parent participation in education policy under the Bloomberg years. He said he presumed that better results for the system as a whole — pointing specifically to higher graduation and college-readiness rates — would be good enough for parents in the school system.
“The idea was that if you give parents better results, better service — 311 sorts of things — and more choice, then you don’t need politics, they don’t need participation, they don’t need to be involved because they’ll get what they want as a consumer,” Liebman said. “And I think that’s true for some things, but it turns out that public education is something that parents really, deeply want to be involved in.”
The committee will advise de Blasio as he crafts policies for his administration, which begins Jan. 1. Its composition signals de Blasio’s priorities now that campaigning has given way to governing — and the names on the list suggest that, on education especially, de Blasio plans to stick with the profile of staunch progressive that he cultivated on the campaign trail.
The committee includes Zakiyah Ansari, the Alliance for Quality Education’s advocacy director and a leading critic of the Bloomberg’s education policies; Cynthia Nixon, an actress who herself has worked with AQE; and Kim Sweet, a special education advocate whose organization has repeatedly sued the city under Bloomberg. All are public school parents.
While the list of civic, business, and cultural leaders does include some allies of the Bloomberg administration, none of the education names on the committee have been strongly aligned with Bloomberg’s school policies.
Charter school advocates, who have said they are cautiously optimistic that de Blasio would back down on his pledge to charge rent to some charter schools, are not represented on the committee. But one member, Children’s Aid Society head Richard Buery, does operate a charter school within city-owned space.
Buery has been a leading advocate of community schools, or adding more social services to city schools, an arrangement that de Blasio has said he would pursue.
Although de Blasio has said he will heavily weigh the influence of educators on his school policies, the committee does not feature any. One member, Brooklyn Academy of Music President Karen Brook Hopkins, was a member of the state’s education policy making board for four years until 2010.
De Blasio said today — during his first public appearance in days — that the transition committee “will result in a city government that is progressive, that is effective, and is diverse … It really reflects all the strengths of New York City.”
The list of committee members is below, with education-oriented members in bold:
Jennifer Jones Austin, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)
Carl Weisbrod, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)
Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, Studio Museum of Harlem
Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, President and Founder of Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
Cheryl Cohen Effron, Founder, Greater NY; Former President, ATC Management
Karen Brooks Hopkins, President, Brooklyn Academy of Music
Alexa Avilés, Program Officer, Scherman Foundation; Co-President, Parent Teacher Association of Public School 172
Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education
Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President and Special Advisor for Campus Planning, Office of Government and Community Affairs, Columbia University
Kate Sinding Esq., Senior Attorney, New York Urban Program, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Hon. Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, Former Councilmember, 40th District
MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO, Forest City Ratner Companies
Bertha Lewis, President and Founder, The Black Institute
Marcia A. Smith, President, Firelight Media
Ana Oliveira, President and CEO, The New York Women’s Foundation
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST)
Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation
Martha Baker, Executive Director and CEO, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW)
Dr. Katherine LaGuardia, Assistant Clinical Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Mount Sinai Medical Center
Dr. Conchita M. Mendoza, Chief of Geriatrics, University Hospital of Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital
Cynthia Nixon, Actress, Artist, Activist
Arnold L. Lehman, Director, Brooklyn Museum
Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater
Edward (Ed) Lewis, Founder, Essence Communications, Inc.
Richard Buery, Jr., President and CEO, The Children’s Aid Society
William Floyd, Head of External Affairs, Google, Inc.
Meyer (Sandy) Frucher, Vice Chairman, The NASDAQ OMX Group
Orin Kramer, Founder, Boston Provident LP
Vincent (Vinny) Alvarez, President, NYC Central Labor Council
Peter Madonia, COO, The Rockefeller Foundation
Ken Sunshine, Founder, Sunshine Sachs
Harold Ickes, Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff
Dr. Rafael Lantigua, Professor of Clinical Medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center
John Banks, Vice President of Government Relations, Con Edison; Board Member, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)
Douglas (Doug) Durst, Chairman, The Durst Organization
Derrick Cephas, Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Former CEO and President, Amalgamated Bank
Herb Sturz, Co-founder, Vera Institue of Justice
Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
Rabbi Michael Miller, Executive Vice President and CEO, Jewish Community Relations Council
Pastor Michael Walrond, Jr., Director of Ministers Division, National Action Network (NAN); Seventh Senior Pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church
Udai Tambar, Executive Director, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!)
David Jones, President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York (CSS)
Marvin Hellman, President, OHEL Childrens Home and Family Services
Rev. A.R. Bernard, Founder, Senior Pastor, and CEO, Christian Cultural Center
George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Dr. Steven Safyer, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Ken Lerer, Managing Director, Lerer Ventures; Former Chairman and Co-Founder, Huffington Post
Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director and Chaplain, Islamic Center, New York University
Marian Fontana, Board Member, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Families Advisory Council
Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL, Inc.
Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman, Gilt
Pam Kwatra, President, Kripari Marketing; Executive Committee, Indian National Overseas Congress
Elsie Saint Louis, Executive Director, Haitian-Americans United for Progress, Inc.
Vanessa Leung, Deputy Director, Coalition for Asian American Children & Families
Paula Gavin, Executive Director, Fund for Public Advocacy
Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York
Dr. Marcia Keizs, President, York College, The City University of New York
Jukay Hsu, Founder, Coalition for Queens
Arnie Segarra, Activist and Longtime NYC Public Servant
Elba Montalvo, Founder, President, and CEO, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc.
Mindy Tarlow, Executive Director and CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)
Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Executive Director, Queens Council on the Arts
That’s the message from supporters of Amendment 66 who are still reeling from their loss at the ballot box earlier this month when voters rejected a tax increase in order to finance a school finance overhaul law.
The symbolic corpse of Amendment 66 is cold enough for a political autopsy — and there have been several (here, here and here) — but it’s still too early in the mourning process to articulate how the state should move on and implement some or all of the reforms outlined by the ballot measure and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 213, supporters said Tuesday night.
“I’m still so disappointed,” said Denver Preschool Program CEO Jennifer Landrum. “I loved the whole package. I don’t want to think about having to take it apart.”
Landrum was a panelist attempting to address how Colorado should move forward after voters patently rejected the tax increase by 66 percent.
If the amendment had passed Colorado’s flat income tax rate would have risen to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000. Income above $75,000 would have been taxed at 5.9 percent. The extra money would have funded the school finance overhaul and provided for such things like full day kindergarten and funding for charter schools, funneled money to impoverished school districts, and changed how districts calculate their student enrollment among other changes.
Colorado’s income tax remains at 4.63 percent.
Onlookers called the married amendment and legislation, authored by State Sen. Mike Johnston, who also sat on Tuesday’s panel, the most progressive school finance reform effort in the nation.
Now backers face the reality they “can’t do it all,” Littleton Public School Superintendent Scott Murphy said.
The panel, at the University of Colorado Denver’s School for Public Affairs, was produced by EdNews Colorado.
Johnston would not elaborate on any specific legislation he plans on authoring in the 2014 legislature. And other panelists were hesitant to single out one specific piece of the legislation they believe could stand and be funded in a silo.
“For me there is nothing I’d want to give up (in SB 213).” Johnston, a Denver Democrat, said. “The question has to be, ‘What are the steps to achieve the full vision?’”
Gut reaction after the failure of Amendment 66 was that funding for education initiatives in Colorado would lie in the hands of local, not statewide, electorates.
That sentiment was echoed at Tuesday’s forum. But many panelists fear that scenario will only further the financial gap between large urban districts and small rural ones.
“I don’t think we’ll get there,” Murphy said.
Part of relationship between Amendment 66 and SB 213 was more funding for small and rural school districts, which, as Sheridan Schools Superintendent Mike Clough said, “have cut to the bone.”
The Sheridan district was banking on money from the passage of the ballot question, Clough said.
“We can expect to see larger classes sizes. We’ve already lost our consumer and family studies program. The challenges will keep coming until we find a way to address this,” Clough said. “The smaller you get, the more you feel the pinch.”
Urban districts aren’t that better off, Superintendent Murphy and Colorado Children’s Campaign Vice President Reilly Pharo said.
“There are a lot of unknowns for all of us,” Murphy said. Reserve funds at large districts have been spent down since the Great Recession and supplemental money from federal grants are drying up too.
Colorado is one of a few states with a growing student population, and those students are likely to be English language learners and living in poverty Pharo said.
“How we serve underprivileged kids is paramount in the conversation,” she said.
The postmortem did not impress Jeffco mother Rachael Strickland.
She had hopped to hear more solutions from the panel. She opposed the amendment because of, what she called, attached strings.
“We should be funding our neighborhood schools,” she said. “I don’t agree with the distribution of the money to charter and online schools. When you have funding tied to reforms parents don’t support, you’re going to see us vote ‘no.’”
As part of an ongoing series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins interviews teacher Sarah Casaletto about her work with the LEAD Compact.
Earlier this week, I shared excerpts of my conversation with Mark Sass, one of the teacher members of the LEAD Compact, a group taking on the behemoth task of reforming teacher licensure, including elements of recruitment, training, induction, professional development, and retention. Today, I am pleased to share pieces of my conversation with Sarah Casaletto, another teacher participating in the LEAD Compact.
Casaletto is in her third year as a teacher in Colorado, focusing on Secondary Special Education and Literacy Development at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle County. Before entering the classroom formally, Casaletto worked in the experiential education field, most recently directing an environmental education program in Seattle.
Why did you want to be part of the LEAD Compact?
It was posted on a district website, and it sounded interesting to be part of the policy side because I hadn’t done that before. I’m dual certified as a special education and general education teacher, so I was intentionally trained and educated to be an inclusive educator and to work with a variety of populations in my classroom, but some kids get overlooked in policy creation, given the diversity in our classrooms. I got into the LEAD Compact with that lens and as an opportunity to learn more.
As a teacher, what are your core values that guide your participation in the LEAD Compact? How is your perspective unique during licensure conversations?
My core value is protecting the integrity of the profession and ensuring what we do on the policy side is meaningful for those in the classroom. How do we look at ourselves as professionals, how do we maintain and grow that, and should that have a role in policy? Whatever ends up coming out of this should make sense for teachers, not just on paper. It should translate into real, honest, meaningful change for teachers. I also understand the student perspective, especially the students who struggle and the students who have disabilities. I do believe all students can learn, but we also have to face the realities of the students who are cognitively delayed and take a bit longer to learn. How do we honor that and protect those students in the policies that we make?
What were your main concerns around licensure before joining the LEAD Compact?
I disagreed with the fact that any teacher who has a license can just take a test and be able to work as a special education teacher. There are a lot of skills that get missed: teachers struggle with paperwork, legality issues, and collaboration. Another concern is that that there are not very many specializations within special education or other content areas like science.
How has your perspective changed since participating?
It’s evolving. For example, getting people into a classroom through an alternative certification route allows for diversity of candidates and allows for on-the-job training in context. Yet, there are a lot of issues that go along with that, the most important (being) the impact on the students. Also, the idea of opening up the floodgates to allow lower standards for getting a license and putting inexperienced people into the classroom right away could be a dangerous one. If we’re trying to elevate the profession and make it professional, then we should not lower the standards for licensure. I like the idea that access should be rigorous; you have to work hard to be a teacher because it’s a challenging profession. I’m really wrestling between the two, the idea that we can train up teachers in the classroom while they’re teaching versus really going through and putting in what needs to be put in.
Thinking three years into the future, if you could choose one thing that would be different about licensure, what would that be?
Licenses would actually mean something. I have an initial license, and I could have my professional license here in Colorado, but I don’t see the point in applying until my initial license expires. Currently, the only difference between an initial license and a professional license is an induction certificate. Since induction programs are state mandated, yet left to individual districts to design, each program is different. Our program was not differentiated based on teacher experience or even specialty area, meaning teachers could be in a class with a school psychologist learning about classroom management. For me, I felt it was a review of what I learned in graduate school. This model doesn’t seem to be an adequate way to support teachers, as it requires them to be out of the classroom for multiple days per school year, nor does is differentiate based on educator strengths and weaknesses. I feel my certificate allows me to teach, and it’s just a paperwork thing. They need to make licenses mean something, either by distinction or compensation.
Thank you, Sarah for sharing the unique perspective that you are bringing to the licensure conversation in Colorado. Mark and Sarah are examples of the type of collaboration and respectful dialogue between the policy and teaching world that will create lasting reforms that will have a real impact in classrooms across Colorado.
**The Donnell-Kay Foundation is among several funders supporting the work of the LEAD Compact.About the author
Sarah Jenkins is a fellow at the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, Sarah spent three years teaching kindergarten and first grade in two charter schools in the Denver Public School system.
Jason Griffiths, who left one of the city’s most selective high schools to take over at Harlem Village Academy High School over the summer, is no longer at the charter school, according to a letter sent to families on Tuesday. The school’s academic dean, who came to HVA with Griffiths from Brooklyn Latin School, will take over for now.
Griffiths resigned because of “personal reasons related to his family and his health,” according to the letter sent to families. Griffiths, who became a father this summer, did not respond to requests for comment. The school also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hiring Griffiths was a coup for the school, which boasts some impressive student achievement data and its own East Harlem building but has struggled to maintain enrollment, retain teachers, and keep discipline under control.
Its previous principal, Laurie Warner, resigned in February and the school operated without a leader until Griffiths came on over the summer. An HVA official said earlier this year that she left for personal reasons.
Now, Griffiths’ resignation is a blow that comes at a time when Harlem Village Academies, the network that operates the high school, needs to prove that its struggles are in the past. The network announced this fall that it aspires to open a graduate school to train teachers.
Parents and students outside the school on Wednesday said the latest departure is unsettling.
“This is the second principal that’s left in a year — we’re in limbo,” said Leslie Betancourt, the mother of a sophomore daughter and a son in eighth grade at an HVA middle school. “I feel like the foundation is falling apart.”
Betancourt said several teachers left at the end of the last school year — around the time the previous principal also left. Students said some of the teachers told them they had been asked to leave. The school, including founder and CEO Deborah Kenny, has not fully explained the turnover to parents, Betancourt said, adding that emails she sent to Kenny had not been answered.
“There’s something going on in the school system [HVA] that they’re not telling us,” Betancourt said. “We expect honesty. What we see and hear going on is different from what they’re telling us.”
Multiple students said changes had been made under Griffiths but that order had not yet set in.
“It’s hectic. Theres’s no order. They lose control because there’s not one person making decisions” due to the principal turnover, said a sophomore whose parent asked that the student’s name be withheld. “Teachers get frantic.”
The sophomore and another student said that, under Griffiths, the school had ended a demerit system that former teachers said had until recently been the school’s primary — and excessively punitive — approach to student discipline. But they said the system changes and the departure of several teachers had made this year feel less stable than last.
“I feel like last year was way better,” the sophomore said. Of Griffiths, he added, “I feel like he was struggling to cope with us.”
Griffiths told DNAInfo over the summer that he was attracted to HVA because of its small size and liberal arts focus, which make it similar in some ways to Brooklyn Latin. He also planned to add the prestigious International Baccalaureate program, which Brooklyn Latin offers, at HVA.
But the two schools are also very different. At HVA, high school students were originally admitted to the network’s two middle schools in fifth grade by lottery, many with significant academic ground to make up. Brooklyn Latin, on the other hand, accepts students based on their scores on a citywide exam required to be eligible for ultra-selective specialized high schools. While Brooklyn Latin, which is in Williamsburg, is the least selective of the specialized schools, its students are among the city’s highest-achieving and most driven.
“I know this is going to be a lot of work but I’ll have a lot more control,” Griffiths told DNAInfo. “And if we have failures we’ll have the opportunity to fix them or they’ll be my fault.”
Students on their way into classes today said they thought recent changes would allow the school to function even in Griffiths absence. And one said the school’s track record of frequent turnover had prepared it to weather the latest departure.
“We didn’t have a principal last year,” said Alana, a junior who declined to share her last name. “Now he left — it won’t change anything.”
The school’s complete letter to families is below:
We are writing to share with you that Jason Griffiths has resigned as Principal of HVA High and that effective immediately our Academic Dean, Cari Winterich, is the interim school leader, focusing primarily on the academic program. Ms. Winterich has been leading our teachers this year and we anticipate a smooth transition.
Mr. Griffiths informed us that he made the decision to resign for personal reasons related to his family and his health. As has been the case during Mr. Griffith’s leave of absence over the last month, Ms. Winterich, along with the faculty and staff, will continue to serve the needs of our students and families.
This news is difficult for all of us in the HVAH community. We have shared this information with your child today and have provided a forum with teachers and counselors to support students who need time and space to process the announcement. If you have any questions, we invite parents of 9th and 11th grade students to call Abena Koomson at 646—— and parents of 10th and 12th grade students to call Aria Gee at 347–—–. We encourage you to contact us, and we will reach out as soon as possible.
Most importantly, the HVA High team remains committed to our students. We care deeply about the well-being, academic achievement, and personal growth of every student. To this end we will continue to focus on academic rigor, authentic assessment, and our transition to the International Baccalaureate Programme. We will continue to strengthen our culture and to work hard to help students cultivate the independence they will need for success in college and beyond.
Thank you for your support and partnership.
The headline of this post has been changed to clarify that parents in Boulder are signing a petition to recall members of a charter school board, not the Boulder Valley board.
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.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed $20 million annex to a crowded Lincoln Park neighborhood elementary school continues to generate heat from a group of residents who fought for alternative options to deal with the problem. The proposal will be discussed at Wednesday's monthly Chicago Public Schools board meeting. (Tribune)
SEEKING LSC CANDIDATES: Chicago Public Schools is encouraging all parents and community members to seek seats on their Local School Councils. Candidates have until Feb. 26, 2014 to submit nominating forms. Elections will take place on April 7, 2014, during report card pick-up for both elementary and high schools, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The forms, along with additional information, can be found online, in the main office of any CPS school, CPS Network Offices, and the Office of LSC Relations at 125 S. Clark, 5th floor. (Press release)
IN THE STATE
EDUCATOR HONORED: The Illinois State Board of Education and the Milken Family Foundation Tuesday named Melissa Leisner, a seventh-grade English and language arts teacher at Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin as the 2013 Illinois recipient of the Milken National Educator Award. The Milken National Educator Award is given annually to teachers demonstrating exemplary skills and a personal commitment to education. Each winner receives $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation. (Press release)
IN THE NATION
CODING CURRICULUM: More than 60 high schools nationwide are developing and trying out a curriculum to get more high school students learning the many languages of computer coding. (The Kansas City Star)
RATINGS DISCONNECT: Even New York State's 2012 teacher of the year couldn't get the highest rating under the state's new teacher evaluation system. Kathleen Ferguson testified last week before a state Senate Education Committee that she couldn't get a "highly effective" rating because she teaches second-graders with special needs, and they do not do well on tests. (Syracuse.com)
CHURCH AND CLASSROOM: The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Mount Vernon city schools’ firing of an eighth-grade science teacher who was accused of advancing religion and the Christian theory of creationism in his classroom. But the court held that the district’s orders that he put away the personal Bible he kept on his desk violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and therefore would not have been sufficient cause to fire him.
On a whiteboard at Castro Elementary School in southwest Denver, Lauren Paley drew a pentagon and turned to her charges.
“Does every pentagon have five angles?” she asked.
“Yes,” Miguel, one of two students in her classroom, responded. But his answer didn’t pacify his teacher.
“Can you prove it?” she asked. So Miguel went to the board and pointed to the pentagon’s five angles, saying that’s the definition of the shape.
Paley is one of several full-time math tutors working at the school as part of the Denver Math Fellows, an intensive math tutoring program which expanded to 39 schools this year.
School officials are touting the success of the program at Castro and other participating school but the data from schools where it has been implemented suggests a more mixed picture.
The program, which launched in seven northeast Denver schools two years ago as part of turnaround efforts, aims to help improve the schools’ low math scores. Students receive hands-on math instruction in small groups of two to four kids. The tutoring time is built into the school day and supplements math instruction the students are already receiving.
The expansion to 39 schools this school year was an initiative funded under the 2012 mill levy, a tax measure which funded a number of enrichment programs throughout the district.
“It’s a similar model to (Teach for America),” said David Nachtweih, a spokesperson for Denver Public Schools. He said it is modeled on the idea of a service year, with the goal of preparing and encouraging college graduates with an interest in education to go into teaching.
Tutors hold a bachelor’s degree and pass a math assessment in order to be considered. Most, said Nachtweih, aim to go into teaching after completing the program.
The district is not releasing school-level data for any participating school other than Castro, which a district spokesperson said showed exceptionally strong growth. According to interim internal testing data released Tuesday, the program has made a big impact at least at Castro, where the percentage of students in the tutoring program scoring proficient or better has more than doubled. The number of students scoring in the lowest tier, “below basic,” fell 40 percent.
The district calculated the interim data by calculating how students did on a test in October compared to how they did at the start of the year. Across all 39 schools, the number of students passing the test by the second assessment almost doubled, to 17 percent. The number of students who scored at the lowest level decreased by nearly a fifth. The tests the district is using correlate relatively closely to end-of the-year TCAP scores.
If the seven pilot schools indicate anything about this program’s results, it’s that progress may not be steady. Schools that saw major gains in the first year of the program did not necessarily see them continue.
In the first year of tutoring, the schools all met the district’s goal for growth, a score of 60 or better. In fact, the schools received an average growth score of 73, which is 23 percentile points above the state average.
The district raised its expectations for the second year, to a score of 65, and added a school, DCIS at Ford. But schools’ growth flattened and even dropped in the second year. Only three schools met the new goal and two schools, including DCIS at Ford, failed to meet either the original goal or the new goal.
“The biggest factor in that change is adding grades,” said Antwan Wilson, who leads the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness for Denver Public Schools. His office oversees the math tutoring program. “Anytime you’re dealing with growth, adding kids can change that.” He would not comment on other factors at play.
Interim testing is not available for the northeast schools so it is impossible to know whether those trends have continued.
Several of the schools are still in the process of offering their full complement of grade levels. For example, in the first year of tutoring, Collegiate Preparatory Academy only offered ninth grade. In the second year, they added tenth grade and this year, they added an eleventh grade.
The high schools participating in the program, Collegiate Prep, DCIS at Montbello, High Tech Early College and Noel Community Arts School, saw drops in proficiency as high as 11 percent.
Wilson said that is due to a changing student cohort, unrelated to the effects of the tutoring program. He pointed to growth numbers as indicators of its success.
The district has also moved tutoring to eighth instead of ninth grade, in order to target students earlier and lower the number of students who enter high school already behind.
The growth at one school, DCIS at Montbello Middle School, not only dropped but fell below the state average in math during its second year. The school received a growth score of 44, which represents a 17 percentile point drop from the first year.
Wilson said that the district hired a new principal for the school at the end of last year and that the sixth grade math teacher left as well. He would not comment on whether those staff changes were tied in anyway to the school’s performance.
Participating schools include elementary, middle and high throughout the district, with tutoring for fourth, sixth and ninth graders. Look here for a full list of the participating schools.