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.
It was nearly 5 p.m. on a recent chilly November afternoon — in other words, a time of television, text messages, and snacks for most middle-school students.
And yet four sixth-graders at the Highbridge Green School in the Bronx were scouring a young-adult novel, “The Skin I’m In,” for clues about the way writers develop their characters.
“I would like to add on to what Manuelle said,” said Elijah Parrilla, waiting for a nod from his after-school literacy tutor. “It says, ‘Good writers get close to their characters.’”
The tutor, Aaron Whidbee, a former teacher from Yonkers, then asked another question about the chapter, and another student found the right answer. “You guys know what you’re doing here,” Whidbee said.
Highbridge is one of 20 district middle schools in a pilot program run by the city and private partners that extends the schools’ days by two-and-a-half hours — including an hour of small-group literacy tutoring for some students — in the hopes of raising students’ often alarmingly low reading skills. At Highbridge, for instance, 83 percent of sixth-graders read below grade level when they started the year.
“This is a huge opportunity,” said Kyle Brillante, principal of the new middle school, whose goal is to propel students ahead two grade levels this year. “It’s something we have to do.”
The roughly 2,000 sixth-graders in the pilot schools who stay late each day get a meal, an hour of academics and an hour of hands-on activities, including yoga, Salsa dancing, martial arts, robotics, and filmmaking run by nonprofits such as Citizen Schools, City Year and WHEDco.
Mid-level readers, who can decipher words but struggle to make sense of whole texts, spend their academic hour in four-student reading groups led by paid tutors. Other students get help in different subjects.
The three-year, $20 million pilot, known as Middle School ExTRA, began in September. It builds off of the city’s two-year-old Middle School Quality Initiative, which aims to boost literacy in schools in the bottom third of the district, where reading scores chronically trail those in math. The 20 extended-day pilot schools were randomly selected from the 89 now in the middle-school program.
To a degree, the longer-day-plus-tutoring pilot began in Houston.
There, in 2010, Harvard University’s EdLabs helped guide the local school district as it tried to turn around nine of its lowest-performing schools. One striking outcome was that sixth- and ninth-graders in those schools who spent an hour each day in “high-dosage” math tutoring — small-group instruction several days a week — improved as much as if they’d had an extra four to six months of schooling.
Back in New York, a nonprofit called The After-School Corporation had found that in a 2011 model program that paired schools with community groups to add three hours to each school day, students’ state-exam math scores grew at twice the citywide rate.
The groups wondered what would happen if they combined their models, but trained their sights on literacy instead of math. They approached the city’s Department of Education with the proposal and an enticement — $10 million raised by the Robin Hood Foundation from several groups.
The department, which had failed to find a school to use as a literacy model for its middle-school initiative, agreed to partner with the groups and — with the City Council — to match their funding. EdLabs will compare the reading gains of students in the pilot schools to other middle-school students to measure the tutoring’s impact.
“If it works, this is a powerhouse intervention,” said Michael Weinstein, the Robin Hood Foundation’s chief program officer, who noted that schools could adopt the intensive tutoring without major structural changes. “We’ll see.”
The literacy tutoring resembles guided-reading groups, where the tutors suggest ideas to consider while reading, the students read silently while the tutor holds one-on-one conversations, then the group reconvenes to talk about the text.
The tutor guides are highly scripted, with paragraph-by-paragraph questions for each book, since just over half of the tutors have a background in teaching or mentoring. Many of the tutors are retirees and all are college graduates.
But even with the guides, it’s possible for tutors to veer off-script or face unexpected student queries — as when a Highbridge student stumped her tutor by asking what “forage” meant. TASC has tried to keep instruction quality high through ongoing training and site managers to support the tutors.
Another early concern was attendance — would students willingly stay in school until as late as 6 p.m.?
After a bumpy start at some schools, several principals said they have achieved near-perfect attendance by pitching the program as an extension of the school day — “periods 9 and 10,” as several schools put it — not an after-school program.
“It’s not an option,” said Dwight Chase, principal of I.S. 109 in Brooklyn, where sixth-graders now leave at 4:50 p.m., instead of 2:20 p.m. like the other students. “This is the school day.”
Some principals praised TASC’s extended-day model, where the nonprofits that run the extra-hours sessions work closely with the principals to align the school-day and after-school instruction.
They added that with budget cuts that have choked arts funding and tougher standards that demand literacy skills in every class, the extra hours have proved invaluable — so much so, that some classroom teachers have volunteered to work overtime as program tutors.
“There are not enough instructional minutes from 8:30 to 3:30 in which we can provide this well-rounded education for our children,” said Dawn Brooks DeCosta, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, an extended-day pilot school in Manhattan.
Of course, it’s yet to be seen whether EdLabs’ impressive math-tutoring results will translate to reading. And extra school-hours aren’t inexpensive — the pilot costs about $3,000 per student, though that amount includes the trial-study costs.
Back at Highbridge, Elijah and his friend Manuelle Lamboy packed up their novels that afternoon and headed down to their chess and musical-theater classes. Manuelle knew he could be at home watching TV, but said he preferred the longer school day.
“It helps me become a better person on my own time,” he said.
This story is part of a multi-city series on expanded learning time, with funding from the Ford Foundation, which supports “more and better learning time” in high-need communities. Also participating in the series are the Notebook (Philadelphia), Catalyst Chicago, EdSource (California), and GothamSchools’ sister site EdNewsColorado.
Teach to One, a high-tech math program meant to precisely customize each student’s learning, often uses airport terminology to describe its model – inside I.S. 228 Monday, it was clear why.
About 180 6th graders buzzed around a vast terminal-like space made out of several combined classrooms on the left side of a hallway, while more than 120 7th graders filled a long open room on the right side.
The students had found their names and stations on large monitors – like those that list departure gates at airports – then headed to 35-minute sessions that included teacher-led lessons at smart boards, small group activities over workbooks and individual tasks on laptops.
“This is a game changer,” said Dominick D’Angelo, principal of the south Brooklyn middle school.
Now in its second year, with six schools in New York City and 9 others nationwide, the nonprofit-run program grew out of School of One, a city Department of Education-incubated project under Joel Klein that attracted national attention and outside funding but produced mixed results in its first year.
Teach to One announced the results of a Teachers College report Monday that found students overall in the program’s first year made above-average math gains. But results varied among the seven schools that used the program last year, with several showing less progress than the national norm on an optional math test taken in the fall and spring.
Critics, such as teacher Gary Rubinstein who visited I.S. 228 in 2010, have said School of One seemed more focused on test prep and game playing than critical thinking and note that two New York schools dropped out of the program after its first year. The creators say Teach to One made many improvements to the original model, noting that it is aligned to the Common Core standards, includes traditional teaching along with digital learning, and features applied math projects that require critical thinking.
I.S. 228 is the lone school to have piloted both the School of One model and now the Teach to One program, which the creators operate for free in New York in exchange for the early DOE incubation. All of its more than 1,000 students now use the program for math, except for 35 students with severe disabilities.
At the end of the 2011 school year, when I.S. 228 first knocked down several classroom walls and tried School of One, the share of sixth-graders in the program who passed the state math test was roughly equal to the city average. Last year, the share of those same students who passed was more than 40 percent above the city average.
On the seventh-grade side Monday, a veteran teacher led a lesson on fractions for six students, while another teacher oversaw small groups of students rolling dice for a probability project and a student teacher monitored children on laptops.
Student Shelly Barkan had just started a two-week unit, or “round,” centered on probability that had been specially designed for her based on a diagnostic test and other data. Another algorithm sets her class schedule using the results of a daily online quiz, or “exit slip.”
Shelly, 12, had sat through a teacher-led lesson for the first 35 minutes of the math class, and now was clicking through an animated laptop lesson starring outer-space characters for the second half.
“It’s much, much cooler than sitting in math class and taking regular tests,” she said, adding that she found the daily computer quizzes helpful.
Students on laptops are required to take notes and do computations in their notebooks, which forces students not to guess at answers and allows teachers to check their work. Students who ace their daily exit slips earn stickers.
Teachers said the program automatically managed some of the more labor-intensive parts of the job: grading daily assessments, tracking data and planning and differentiating lessons. (Teach to One’s system automatically draws from a bank of 15,000 lessons bought from the major publishers and offers them to teachers based on student needs.)
But teachers still have their work cut out for them. They must keep tabs on students as they move at their own pace through customized units, urge on less motivated students and answer to parents who can check each student’s daily progress online.
“We have to be on top of our game,” said teacher Oleg Leocumovich.
As the school day came to a landing Monday, the nearly 200 sixth-graders spread around the long room gathered their belongings as a school staffer with a microphone issued instructions – sort of like a flight attendant.
State policymakers got a message Tuesday from some key Colorado superintendents – time and flexibility are needed to effectively implement education reform programs.
The comments came during the Public Education & Business Coalition’s annual Superintendent Forum. The session started, as have most education gatherings in recent weeks, with discussion of Amendment 66’s defeat.
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg called the financial issues facing school districts “an enormous challenge right now.” He added, “We should get away from this silly debate about should there be more funding or should there be more reform.”
While the panelists generally agreed that schools need more financial resources, a lot of the conversation was about the need for time – and district flexibility — to thoughtfully implement school change.
Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson noted that districts are facing “multiple reforms, none of them bad,” but implementing several things at once is “resource intensive and time intensive.
“Our failing as a state is we say, here’s a reform to implement, and we’re not going to give you any resources.”
Some panelists said educational change has been too top down.
“The cumulative effect of the well-intentioned legislation … has been very challenging to my school district,” said Dougco Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen. “We’re mandated to do a lot of things we don’t feel are the right things. … I would roll back some of that.”
Littleton Superintendent Scott Murphy said, “There’s a great deal of power in letting each community” decide its course, and Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn said, “Too often our friends in the legislature” rely on simplistic solutions.
Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger picked up the same theme, saying, “There’s been an insensitivity to what’s going on locally.”
Other issues the superintendents touched on included:Watch the forum
strong>Education reform – “Our challenge is trying to find common ground on what reform is trying to achieve,” said St. Vrain Superintendent Don Haddad. “There’s a disconnect with some of the reforms” and what’s actually happening in classrooms, he added.
Common Core Standards – Celania-Fagen said, “The Common Core is an improvement but insufficient. [It’s] not high enough for what we’re aiming for in Douglas County.” Boasberg said, “The standards are right [but] it’s a matter of providing the kinds of supports” teachers need to use the standards effectively.
Early childhood education – Noting that A66 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 13-213, would have imposed significant facilities costs on districts for preschool and full-day kindergarten, Celania-Fagen noted that nevertheless “We’re going to have to find ways to do that.”
Poudre Superintendent Sandra Smyser said early childhood education is “a huge part of how we close the achievement gap. … That’s a big conversation for the state.”
Also participating in Tuesday’s event were Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull and Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski. The discussion was moderating by Donna Lynne, president of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pitching the $70 million he expects to collect from speed camera tickets next year as a way to help children — spending the windfall on a mix of after-school programs, early childhood education, summer jobs, violence reduction, crossing guards, police outside schools and other efforts the mayor calls a "Children's Fund." Truth is, there's no fund in the city's proposed budget, the Tribune reports.
Instead, the money from speed camera fines will go straight into the city's $3.3 billion general fund to spend as the mayor and City Council see fit. Talking about helping children is more politically palatable than discussing the revenue from speed cameras that drivers are starting to pay.
CHALLENGING A NARRATIVE: At a speech before the City Club of Chicago Monday, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery urged attendees to reject the convenient narrative that “schools and teachers are failing our students” and think more critically about an upcoming international report about American education. He also discussed how and why neighborhood schools need strengthening and the promise of public education reclaimed. “When the PISA report comes out next month, you inevitably will hear a frenzy of so-called ‘education reformers’ quickly surmise that given the United States’ ranking, teachers and schools must be failing our students,” said Montgomery, a high school English teacher of nearly 20 years. “We hear this false conclusion and snappy soundbite every time a new international comparison of education achievement is published. It’s convenient to skip over the details and land at this platitude, but it’s simply not true. …the United States has the highest poverty rate among the developed nations that participate in PISA, a factor that has a very significant impact on academic performance. When you apply poverty indicators, U.S. schools come out on top in every category." (Press release)
IN THE NATION
THE END OF PUBLIC EDUCATION: Philadelphia’s public education system, with roughly 140,000 students, is struggling for survival, but it's not alone. In cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Chicago—all of them with sizable black populations and long histories of entrenched poverty—lawmakers have responded to budget crises with cuts to public education and market-driven education reform agendas. (Colorlines)
DUNCAN SPARKS FUROR: Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a gathering of state superintendents of education last week that “white suburban moms” were rebelling against the Common Core academic standards — new guidelines for math and language arts instruction — because their kids had done poorly on the tough new tests. “All of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought … and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said at the event Friday. Two hours later, with those comments sparking outrage on social media, Duncan told POLITICO that he “didn’t say it perfectly.” And he formally apologized on an Education Department blog Monday.
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.
When Ames Prather took his two sons to register for eighth grade at Denver’s Morey Middle School last summer, the boys were asked to fill out a form saying they would try their best on the TCAPs, state tests given every spring to third through 10th-graders.
Prather, a former teacher and now a technical writer, had his sons leave the forms blank and explained to school staff that they would not be taking the TCAPs.
His reasons were simple. Each year, around testing time, he noticed a change in his kids. They came home demoralized, with shoulders slumped and heads down.
“No joy in what they’re doing, no joy in education,” said Prather. And after the tests were over, it seemed that instruction mostly ceased for the remainder of the year.
This is the first time that Prather, who also has a 12th-grade daughter, will join hundreds of other Colorado parents in opting out of the tests. Advocates of opting out believe this could be a big year for the movement in Colorado, particularly in districts like Douglas County where there appears to be a groundswell of opposition to high-stakes testing.
And that opposition is not just among frustrated parents who believe testing narrows the curriculum, takes time away from instruction and is unfairly used to evaluate teachers and penalize schools.
Top administrators in Dougco, the state’s third-largest district, recently called the amount of testing “madness” and said students, at some level, are taking mandated tests almost every day of the year.
Superintendent Liz Fagen skewered the overuse of standardized tests on the district’s web site earlier this fall, saying they measure low-level skills and create a “focus on mediocrity.”
In Denver, outgoing school board member Andrea Merida attributed her decision not to run for reelection in part to her belief that “high-stakes standardized testing is destroying public education today.”
Scott Murphy, superintendent of Littleton Public Schools, said he sees the need for some mandated assessments because they can provide valuable data to teachers. Still, in the last couple years he’s become increasingly concerned about the proliferation of testing, particularly in early elementary grades and even preschool.
“It’s time to throw a flag up and say there may be a foul here,” he said.Not just TCAPs
While refusing the TCAP is probably the most widely executed opt-out in Colorado, some parents have started to resist the use of commercial assessments at school long before their children reach third grade. These can include reading assessments like DIBELS, DRA2 or PALS, all approved for use under the READ Act, a new state law meant to ensure students read proficiently by the end of third grade. Other commonly administered tests include MAP, aimsweb and Acuity.
The increased number of tests being administered under the READ Act and the new Common Core Standards may be adding fuel to the fire of the opt-out movement, but testing proponents believe that such assessments can help schools do their job better. In addition to providing important information to parents about how their children are doing, they say test results help teachers tailor instruction and provide a common tool to help evaluate school effectiveness.
But not everyone agrees. Stefanie Fuhr, a former elementary school teacher, has a first-grader at Saddle Ranch Elementary in Douglas County. She opted her daughter out of the aimsweb assessment last year and aimsweb and MAP this year. She also opted her four-year-old daughter, who attends a private preschool, out of an early childhood assessment called Teaching Strategies GOLD.Do your homework
Fuhr, who has a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education Curriculum, said she saw the harm of standardized tests during her 20 years as a teacher. Although she attempted to sell one principal on authentic assessment, a method that relies on an array of student work samples to judge performance and progress, her efforts were brushed off.
“I knew…we were becoming obsessed with the numbers,” she said. “I know from the inside…this is not what’s best for children.”
Opt-out activist Peggy Robertson, who works as an instructional coach in a Denver area district, said assessments like MAP, DIBELS and Acuity don’t support real learning, take up lots of time and turn teachers into data managers. Teachers have so many corporate tests to administer, they no longer have time to use their own assessments, she said. Stripped of the ability to make assessment decisions, they have a hard time trusting their own judgment.
Syna Morgan, system performance officer with Douglas County schools, agreed that mandated tests are gradually squeezing out teacher-made assessments embedded in instruction, which she believes are the most valuable kind.
Although Robertson, one of six founders of the organization United Opt Out National, said it can be hard to witness the day-to-day impact of excessive testing, she added, “I think it’s incredibly important for experienced teachers to stay in the system and fight this.”Looking at trends
The Colorado Department of Education tracks the number of students who opt out of the TCAPs each year. In reading, the subject with the most “parent refusals,” the number appears to have gradually declined over the last several years, from about 1,636 in 2010 to 946 in 2013.
Advocates say the true numbers of parents seeking to opt their children out has been suppressed because school administrators often pressure or cajole them into changing their minds. Parent Sylvia Martinez, of Greeley, said when she met with the principal at her daughter’s elementary school several years ago to explain her rationale for opting out, the principal insinuated that since the girl had choiced in, she could lose her spot at the school if she didn’t take the test.
Martinez, a criminal investigator employed by the state, replied that she would then begin an active and noisy campaign to rally parents at the school to opt their children out as well.
“I said, ‘You don’t want to go there.’”
While parents don’t always relent to intimidation, they may choose a method of opting out that doesn’t include an official letter to the school, a meeting with the principal or some other clear indication of their intentions. Instead, some may instruct their children to leave the test booklet blank, X out the first page or fill in random answers. Others may keep their kids home from school on testing days.
In addition, it appears that there’s no clear standard for how districts should determine the number of parent refusals. Morgan said the state’s tally is probably not very accurate.
“It’s very squishy,” she said, “And there’s not a process.”
Until this year, Dougco did have a one-page form that parents could sign to opt their children out of TCAP testing. In fact, parent Karen McGraw, who used it last spring to opt her twin sons out of the 10th-grade TCAP tests, remembers being surprised there was a defined procedure in place.
But Morgan said the district had to get rid of the form after the CDE clarified that any kind of opt-out forms or waivers are prohibited.
Despite that direction, Megan McDermott, assistant director of communications at CDE, said in an e-mail that “The documentation requirements for parent refusal are locally determined.” Asked why Douglas County had to eliminate its form, she replied in an e-mail, “State statute is clear that all students must be assessed. CDE has made that requirement clear to districts.”
If at least 95 percent of a school’s students don’t participate in the TCAP in two or more subjects, the school could drop to a lower “plan assignment” under the state’s performance framework. While parent refusals are one factor that can lower participation rates, there are several others, including incomplete or misadministered tests.
McDermott said in an e-mail that some Colorado schools have faced this sanction for not meeting the 95 percent threshold, but didn’t know if it was solely due to parent refusals.Where things go from here
While the preferred strategies of strident opt-out activists may diverge from those of district leaders who are frustrated with testing, both want state leaders to hear their message, particularly as a new set of state tests based on the Common Core are poised to enter the scene next year.
Morgan said Dougco administrators are currently having conversations with state legislators and state board of education members about their concerns. She also said she understands parents’ reaction to the crush of mandated tests and hopes they go beyond opting out and voice their opinions at the state level.
“I appreciate the momentum and the interest…It’s been a lonely journey to raise the concern,” she said.
Murphy said district assessment specialists are another key group that should be heard.
“CDE needs to listen to these people. These people have concerns about the validity and reliability of some of these tests.”
Murphy said parents, meanwhile, should file strong objections to the current testing environment. While he did not endorse opting out among parents, he said, “I respect that and I understand a lot of it.”
For some parents however, opting is the strongest and clearest message they can send to local and state leaders. And while current opt-outs represent a tiny fraction of young test-takers, activists hope the movement will grow enough to render high-stakes tests non-functional.
Fuhr, who believes Colorado is the state to watch this year, said, “We’re trying to starve them of the data and they’re starting to notice.”
The vice-president of the Adams 12 Five Star School Board, Norm Jennings, argues that policymakers should learn from the failure of Amendment 66 that voters want to reform the school system, not the funding. And join EdNews for a panel discussion on the future of school finance in the wake of Amendment 66 Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. RSVP here.
Supporters of Amendment 66 had plenty of reasons for why they felt the Constitutional ballot question was so soundly defeated. Some of the reasons given were: voters were distracted by the floods (that occurred a month before ballots were delivered in the mail); distrust of government competence to run a large program (understandable); federal government shutdown (???); and voter aversion to increased taxes (which really means Pro 66 folks think 65 percent of the state’s voters are just plain stingy).
Not one supporter suggested that perhaps voters understand something they don’t –- the assumption that more funding will lead to better student outcomes is wrong.
Most voters probably don’t know about the colossal failure of unlimited funding in the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD). A federal lawsuit alleging segregation overseen by a federal judge gave the KCMSD a blank checkbook and ordered the state of Missouri to essentially fill in whatever amount they requested. The request came to a total of $2 billion (on top of normal funding) from 1985 to 1997. The judge finally put an end to the spending orgy when that money failed to produce a meaningful difference in the academic performance of students. Scores were flat and achievement gaps were unchanged. The adults benefitted as district employees were given raises and additional staff were hired, vendors sold lots of new curriculum, and contractors built new facilities. As far as the students were concerned, they could have lined up along the banks of the Missouri River and watched that money float by for all the good it did them.
KCMSD should have been a warning siren that massive spending on public education just doesn’t produce results. In fact, the only result massive additional spending produced was a more expensive version of crappy.
We’d be a whole lot better off if we paid attention to the parts of KCMSD that were ignored –- the system. I believe voters know this intuitively.
Too many people have “bad teacher” stories. Everyone knows one –- the wasted year or class that voters suffered through as students themselves; the children’s teacher that just frustrated parents because their child wasn’t learning; the teacher that appeared to be performing on-the-job early retirement; the complaints they hear from nieces and nephews, cousins, grandchildren, neighbors, etc. Fortunately these “bad teachers” aren’t the majority, but there are enough of them that they are a drag on the whole system.
Why did an organized $10 million spend in favor of Amendment 66 still lead to a two-to-one defeat? Because voters know that no amount of additional funding will remove bad teachers from classrooms. Voters understand that no amount of funding will eliminate job protectionism that keeps bad teachers in classrooms. Voters suspect that eliminating job protection for bad teachers would not pose a financial burden on districts. Voters also suspect that more money in the name of “attracting and retaining great teachers” will also end up in the pocket of bad teachers and the cycle will continue unbroken but more expensive.
I have an analogy that explains the paradox that more money doesn’t produce better academic results. Education is like a V-8 engine that has three fouled out spark plugs and adding more money is like putting higher-octane gas in the tank. The higher-octane gas will help the five working spark plugs produce more power and mask some of the problems. But higher-octane gas is no substitute for replacing the fouled out spark plugs.
If we want to improve education we need to focus our reform efforts on the system –- not the funding. We need to replace those spark plugs.About the author
Norm Jennings is the Vice President of the Adams 12 Five Star School Board and has been involved in volunteer and leadership capacities in our district for 12 years. He recently earned a MBA with certificates in both Change Management and Entrepreneurial Studies. He has been married for over 20 years and has a child in high school and another child in the marching band at the University of Alabama.
A+ Denver CEO Van Schoales reflects on lessons that supporters of school finance reform should learn from the failure of the school tax measure Amendment 66. And join EdNews for a panel discussion on the future of school finance in the wake of Amendment 66 Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. RSVP here.
Reform-minded school board candidates swept the largest districts in the state for the first time ever. At the same time, voters rejected Amendment 66 by a 2 to 1 margin. One might think that the same voters who wanted to reform school districts would also want to reform the school finance behemoth — assuming they understood that 66 might make school finance more equitable, targeted and transparent.
Why didn’t the $10 million spent on the campaign lead to better results? What lessons should be learned? Here is a little Monday morning quarterbacking, a reflection on what might have gone wrong, what we might learn and what we can do differently next time.
I supported 66. It would have been a great step forward and I knocked on doors trying to convince voters of the same. Finance reform is necessary, along with full-day kindergarten and high quality early childhood education, if we are serious about having a world-class public education system. No higher performing system, whether Massachusetts, Shanghai, the Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden, lacks these components. Maybe we need to regroup and take much smaller bites of the apple to build a public education system that lives up to our desires and the needs of our state.
However, we all (winners and losers in the 66 fight) must ultimately take stock of what happened and what is possible in Colorado on the reform and funding fronts before we return to the education battlefield to do what each of us believes is necessary to improve public education.About the author
Former teacher and principal Van Schoales is the chief executive officer of A+ Denver, an advocacy group supporting improvement in Denver Public Schools. Previously, he was executive director of Education Reform Now, a national education policy and advocacy non-profit organization.
After we announced the creation of Chalkbeat a few weeks ago, we promised we would continue to give you updates on what’s going on behind the scenes. Today, we want to introduce you to Chalkbeat New York’s bureau chief Philissa Cramer.
Many of you already know Philissa, who has been with GothamSchools since it launched in 2008, so consider this a reintroduction.
In this interview (that Philissa was kind enough to do despite being very busy helping our new bureau chief in Tennessee), Philissa talks about why she’s excited about GothamSchools becoming Chalkbeat New York and how readers can help her reporting team on their “focus area” reporting topics.
Also, get to know our other bureau chiefs by checking out their interviews here: