Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High School earned the lowest mark on its city progress report today, making it one of just two schools ever to receive the failing grade three years in a row.
The Department of Education has closed many schools that have netted F’s since it began awarding the annual grades in 2007, but Boys and Girls has always managed to stay away from the chopping block. It will escape closure again this year, this time because the Bloomberg administration has simply run out of time to shutter any more low-performing schools.
Instead, Chancellor Dennis Walcott is scheduled to appear Thursday at Boys and Girls, not to intervene in its academic program but to join the school’s powerful supporters to cut the ribbon on a new health center there.
But while other department officials previously have supported Principal Bernard Gassaway as he has annually promised improvements that have not materialized, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said today that a school with Boys and Girls’ record should be “cause for serious concern.”
“I think sometimes when something’s not working you need to look at bringing in a new team of educators in that school community,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky of schools with a string of Fs. ”It doesn’t make sense that that would be off the table, but it’s not really our decision to make.”
People close to the Bedford-Stuyvesant school said today that even though the city hasn’t closed the school, the stigma from perennially being labeled as failing is doing the same job, just slowly.
“They’ve gotten such a bad rap throughout the years that people just will not send their children there,” said Lisa Dunn, a former PTA president at the school.
Before this year, no school has ever been stuck for so long on the lowest grade in the city’s six-year history of A-F grading system. Today, both Boys and Girls and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx received their third consecutive F’s. Both schools have strong alumni associations, long and storied histories, award-winning athletic programs, and support among local politicians.
In Boys and Girls’ case, powerful supporters — including City Councilman Al Vann and Regent Lester Young — have repeatedly convinced the Department of Education to extend the school’s lease on life while Gassaway, their hand-picked principal, could be given time and space to implement his turnaround plan. Gassaway said when he came to the school in 2009 that he needed three years to show improvement.
Gassaway would not comment on the school’s latest marks. But he publicly said last month that he might resign over the city’s proposal to install another school inside Boys and Girls’ massive Fulton Avenue building.
That building is far emptier than it used to be just a few years ago. In 2007, Boys and Girls enrolled more than 4,000 students. Following a class action lawsuit that charged Gassaway’s predecessors with warehousing disruptive students in an auditorium and the simultaneous rise of small schools in the area, enrollment plummeted. This year, fewer than 1,000 students attend the school.
And few of those students are thriving, according to city data. Daily attendance hovers around 75 percent and four-year graduation rates were just over 40 percent in recent years, about two-thirds of the citywide rate. Just one in five students met minimum academic standards necessary to move onto college or has managed to stayed in college for at least two years after graduating, according to the latest city data.
Gassaway and Boys and Girls supporters have long argued that the school has been a victim of the city’s enrollment policies, which have frequently come under fire for concentrating high-needs students in struggling schools. Those policies, they have said, made it hard to attract high-performing middle-school students, though a screened program for accelerated students in partnership with Long Island University is now in its third year. Over the years, they said, students who were the farthest behind in school and with the most problems at home made up a larger proportion of the population.
The school has made several efforts to address those needs, including with the health center that Walcott is inaugurating on Thursday. Gassaway opened a highly touted ”Care Center” last year and recruited a network of community-based organizations to expand social services in the school.
Sources close to the school say most of those organizations are no longer actively working with the school, with the exception of Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration, whose director Colvin Grannum is also a longtime ally.
Gassaway did not respond to requests for a list of community groups working in the center, but he said in an email that it was not diminished. And he noted the new school-based health center.
But the school’s low performance is dismal even in comparison to other struggling schools. Like all low-ranking schools that the department has opted not close, Boys and Girls has received “targeted action plans” with extra resources.
According to the department, most of those schools have improved in response to this extra help. Of all schools that had the assistance plans in 2012-2013, 37 percent improved by one grade this year, 28 percent improved by two grades, and 11 percent improved by three or more grades. A few of the schools netted lower grades. Boys and Girls was part of the 14 percent of schools to stay the same.
A few students have managed to thrive at Boys and Girls. Dunn, the PTA president, allowed her son to attend Boys and Girls to play basketball on the condition that he enroll in the Long Island University program. She estimated that he earned a dozen college credits by the end of his sophomore year.
This year, though, Dunn became part of the school’s student flight when her son transferred to a high school closer to where they live in Queens, in an effort to cut down on his commute. She said she was initially “shocked” to hear it had not improved, but added that the number of students who entered ninth grade already many years behind in reading and writing had taking up a larger share of the population.
What to do with the school, its students, and its hulking building in Bed-Stuy will be among Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s education challenges. Though de Blasio has pledged to support struggling schools rather than shut them down, Boys and Girls’ recent history suggests that extra help isn’t enough to turn the school around.
Shifting political winds in the area could also fracture the coalition that has pledged to support Boys and Girls in the past. Vann is leaving the City Council, while another longtime member of the school’s advisory group, Jitu Weusi, died this year.
And Dunn said she thought the constant negative attention that the school receives has “stigmatized” it so much that students no longer want to attend. She suggested that the school’s fate might be sealed when she recalled her experience taking her son to an enrollment center before high school so he could join Boys and Girls’ championship basketball team. She asked the department official to add Armando to the school’s register.
The response she said she got: “Why are you sending him there?”
Rows of tiny children shivered inside puffy coats on the steps of City Hall Wednesday to make the cutest case possible for daycare, after-school, and full-day preschool funding.
Their plea wasn’t directed at the outgoing mayor, but the incoming one, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, whose campaign was fueled by a pledge to tax the rich to pay for full-day pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds and after-school programs for all middle-school students.
“We are here today … to say: take your campaign promise and turn it into a reality,” said Wayne Ho, chief policy officer for Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, one of more than 150 advocacy groups and service providers in the Campaign for Children, a coalition formed to fight cuts to early-childhood and after-school programs.
De Blaiso recently named FPWA’s executive director, Jennifer Jones Austin, as co-chair of his transition team. One of her roles, the campaign said last week, is to lead the push for universal pre-K.
The coalition’s 19-page plan urges the next administration to commit $150 million of the city budget to fund these programs, which is the amount the City Council has had to cobble together in recent years after the mayor’s office cut the funds from its budget.
The plan also proposes the creation of a new Office of Early Childhood to focus on children aged five and younger.
The coalition argues that early-childhood programs — which include subsidized childcare, Head Start and universal pre-K — prepare children for school while freeing their parents for work. Its plan asks de Blasio to extend his vision beyond the full-day-preschool and after-school pledge.
The report says that the city’s early-childhood system serves about 140,000 children, but that thousands of eligible children still miss out. And one of the city’s main after-school programs has shrunk by about 35 percent since 2008, the report adds.
De Blasio says his proposed income tax on households that make more than $500,000 would raise about $342 million, which would finance full-day preschool for all the city’s four-year-olds, including the 38,000 now in half-day pre-K and the 10,000 others in none. He also says the tax would fund more after-school programs.
De Blasio’s tax plan would require state approval, which could be an uphill battle, as well as a legislative tweak that would allow the city to spend the money on full-day pre-K.
Officials released what could be the city’s final round of school grades today, emphasizing stability even as major changes are likely imminent.
The Department of Education and City Hall will soon be full of new officials, and last year was chaotic for different reasons—Superstorm Sandy and the first round of the state’s new, tougher Common Core-aligned exams. That meant today’s release was marked by little fanfare and lowered stakes.
The A to F grades and accompanying school progress reports are based mostly on calculations of student test scores, and they have become a signature of Mayor Bloomberg’s focus on school accountability since the city began giving them out in 2007. But they may not stick around at all, as mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has promised to eliminate those grades and pause the school-closure process.
So the 45 schools that received Fs and 102 that received Ds this year will not be considered for closure this year, as has become the norm.
The overall grade distribution across schools—fixed for elementary and middle schools, but not for high schools—remained fairly steady, despite across-the-board score decreases following the introduction of new state tests. Overall, 27 percent of the 1,624 schools receiving grades earned As, 36 percent earned Bs, 28 percent Cs, 6 percent Ds, and 3 percent Fs.
Some of this year’s scores also felt the impact of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated a number of city schools. Eleven hard-hit schools that would have received low grades had those grades withheld, though they did receive overall progress reports.
The results were good for new unscreened high schools, which continued to outperform high schools opened before 2002. Sixty-seven percent of the new schools earned an A or B, compared to 46 percent of the older schools. For charter schools, the results were also positive, with 69 percent earning an A or B.
De Blasio has called those letter grades too simplistic, though he hasn’t yet said what he would replace them with or whether schools would still be assessed by the complex algorithms that go into the grades.
Bloomberg rebuffed de Blasio’s assessment of the school grades at another event on Wednesday, saying that they made it easier for parents to understand school quality. “Getting it down to something that they can use is not making it too simplistic; quite the contrary, it is making it useful,” Bloomberg said.
But Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who presented the results on Wednesday, said he sees middle ground. “I hope that, there’s a sense that when we look at these questions, it’s not a dichotomy,” he said. “You don’t have to either do progress reports or no progress reports, you don’t have to either do no accountability or yes accountability. You can find ways to address whatever concerns are out there and build them into the system in a smart and thoughtful way.”
This year, adjustments included a new metric for college and career-readiness, after the department heard complaints from teachers and principals that their students were doing well in college despite not having exam scores that met the city’s college-readiness threshold.
They were right. Though only 25 percent of the class of 2011 was deemed college-ready by their state scores, an additional 23 percent of students who graduated then are still in college after three semesters, and high schools are now receiving credit for preparing those students as well.
The city also emphasized the success of its efforts to work with schools that received Ds or Fs in recent years but that the city decided not to close. Of the 76 schools with one of those plans last year, 76 percent improved at least one letter grade this year. Eleven percent improved three or more grade levels.
That may be a result of a suggestion in a recent report on school networks. “Although it is not widely discussed (either by the DOE or its critics), the last few years have seen the DOE take steps to test out more assertive direct support models for struggling schools,” that report said.
The city will release a list of schools eligible for “early intervention” because of low performance on Thursday.
And while Polakow-Suransky said it wasn’t his place to advocate for the specific continuation of the school grades, Bloomberg was happy to do just that.
“I would certainly urge my successor to keep going,” the mayor said.
Patrick Wall contributed reporting.
Correction: This story previously misstated the number of schools that received Ds. That figure is 102, not 202.
For the first time, the State Board of Education is hearing specific recommendations about its legal options and mandates when a school district is deemed failing for five years.
The conversation is being held as two small rural school districts edge closer to the possibility of losing accreditation.
No Colorado school district has lost its accreditation since a 2009 law created a framework to assess schools and districts and built a ratings system to hold them accountable for student achievement.
A district’s accreditation is directly linked to the rankings established in the framework, which span from “distinction,” the highest rating, to “turnaround,” the lowest. When a school or district earns a turnaround or priority rating, it is given five years to show improvement or risk state sanctions.
The five year period is often referred to as the “accountability clock.”
While there has been public speculation about what the state might do, until now the state board has not publicly explored what steps it must take if a district runs out the clock without improvements.
“The state is entering uncharted territory,” said Peter Sherman executive director for the state’s district and school performance unit, which tracks and supports turnaround districts.
2013 district ratings
Here are the 2013 statistics for Colorado school districts under the state’s five-step system.
On Wednesday, the state board was briefed on this year’s district performance framework reports. Vilas Schools, in southeast Colorado, and Karval Public Schools, about 75 miles east of Colorado Springs, both earned turnaround status for a fourth consecutive year.
If the Karval and Vilas districts maintain their trajectory, Sherman said on Tuesday, in a year’s time, the state board will be compelled to strip their accreditation beginning July 1, 2015, which is likely to have adverse effects on their students.
“We will be very clear with the board that it is an action they’d have to take,” Sherman said.
What’s more open to interpretation is what steps the state will require districts to take in order for accreditation to be re-established. Possible scenarios include a complete reorganization of a district, school closures or converting failing schools to charters.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen told the board if Vilas and Karval were to shutter their online programs they would move off turnaround.
Both districts, and those with similar status, have been assigned performance managers to find solutions before accreditation is stripped.
“We don’t want them to get to the end of the clock,” Sherman said. “It’s our intention to work with (school districts) to improve.”
Several larger school districts are one year behind Karval and Vilas, including Pueblo District 60, Sheridan and Adams 14. Other large districts that remain in “priority improvement” status, one step above turnaround, include Aurora, Mapleton, Montezuma-Cortez and Westminster.
Ratings for 81 percent of districts didn’t change from 2012. Some 12 percent of districts moved up at least one level.
Seven districts plus the Charter School Institute moved off the clock by moving to “improvement” status from priority improvement. That list includes Denver Public Schools, Englewood and Greeley.
Two districts, East Otero and Trinidad, moved down the scale into priority improvement.
Accreditation contracts are extended to school districts in July after they have a six-month period to evaluate their ratings and develop an improvement plan.
Possible outcomes of the loss of accreditation include, but are not limited to, the withholding of federal funds, possible student disqualification for scholarships and devaluation of diplomas.
“The loss of accreditation, as we know it, is not a good state of affairs to be in,” he said.
— Todd Engdahl contributed to this report
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the Englewood school district’s performance framework rating. As of this year’s rankings, they are no longer on the accountability clock.
A member of PACE’s Teacher Licensing Committee, Shawn Bailey, argues that the state should’t lower barriers to entering teaching, but rather focus on making its standards better.
The debate about the future of licensing teachers appears to be split into two groups. The first believes in lowering the hurdles for receiving a license in order to open the profession up to a larger group of teaching candidates. The second believes we should raise the bar and make it more difficult for potential teachers. I think we should do both — make it less complicated on the front end to attract more potential, but more rigorous on the back end to protect our students from low-quality teachers.
I am proud to be a part of the Teacher Licensing Committee for my association, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE). Our committee is a group of diverse educators that are delving into the details and discussing our various belief systems about the profession. We hope to reach some consensus on recommendations for improving the way that Colorado licenses teachers.
I believe that if we truly want teaching to be a valued and respected profession, then we should raise the bar for entry. However, too often the mandate to “raise the bar” translates into “make the list of requirements longer.” We don’t need more meaningless requirements, we simply need better ones.
I graduated with honors from one of the top teacher colleges in the state of Texas. During my student teaching, my mentor had a reputation for being demanding and often didn’t pass students unless she believed they would be successful. I received high marks on all of my evaluations. I have completed my master’s degree in education, and am currently working on my doctorate.
However, I recently took the licensure exam for Colorado and did not score high enough to become licensed.
I don’t want this article to be viewed as sour grapes. I understand that I have to continue preparing and take the exam again. However, for me it begs the question, “How is this possible?” How is there such a disconnect between my course work, my evaluations in the classroom, and my scores on the Colorado licensing exam?
To meet the goals of creating a system of licensure that is neither complicated nor exclusive, yet is more rigorous, I support:
To attract a large pool of talent, the residency should not require any box-checking or mandatory course work to be accepted. We need to attract the best and brightest from all backgrounds. However, it must require demonstrated and proven success to finish with a professional license in hand. This achieves the goal of being less complicated, less paperwork, and more inclusive initially; yet it adds more rigor before awarding a full license.
I mentioned my student teaching experience was challenging and my mentor was a tough critic. My story is not typical as I have heard stories from other teachers who felt unprepared. Many say their student teaching experience was easy, their mentor teacher viewed it as a break from teaching, and that it didn’t prepare them at all for managing a classroom and teaching students on their own.
Would we go into surgery if we knew the surgeon only had simulated experiences performing the surgery, unless there was a proven surgeon by his or her side? Would we drop our cars off with a mechanic that had limited experience under the hood and no accomplished mentor looking over his or her shoulder?
Mentor teachers should be the most dedicated, proven teachers that we have available. While mentoring others, they should not have other class loads detracting from their duty to train the next generation of great teachers. Furthermore, they should be better compensated to ensure we attract the best to be mentors.
Before awarding licenses we should give new teachers authentic experiences, over prolonged periods of time, and base licensure awards not on box-checking or how well they take an exam, but on their proven abilities in front of students.About the author
Shawn Bailey, M. Ed. is a member of the Teacher Licensure Committee for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.
A school accountability era in New York City is going out not with a bang but with a technical briefing in the basement of the Department of Education’s headquarters.
That’s where Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky will be unveiling this year’s progress reports, the letter grades that the Bloomberg administration awarded annually to schools since 2007, to reporters. The setup is similar to what has happened in the recent past but a far cry from the early years of the progress reports, when Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein used to tout the scores — and their improvement from the previous year — with great fanfare.
The letter grades are not the biggest school story today for Bloomberg and his current chancellor, Dennis Walcott. They’re appearing together early this afternoon at a high school in Hell’s Kitchen to announce a donation from AT&T to fund a new software engineering curriculum.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he wants to overhaul how schools are assessed, so today’s grades could well be the last that schools receive, at least under the current system. What they show will become a lasting data point in Bloomberg’s education legacy, along with the city’s higher graduation rate and this year’s dramatic test score decline because of the state’s new standards.
We already have one hint about what this year’s progress reports will say. On Monday, Polakow-Suransky said at a panel event that the lowest-performing 15 percent of schools from last year — all of which received “Targeted Assistance Plans” if the department opted not to close them — had come out ahead on this year’s reports. Three-quarters of the schools with the plans saw their grades go up by at least one letter; 40 percent rose by two letters or more, he said. (Those data points are repeated in a report released Monday about how the city supports schools.)
The grades are based on complex algorithms that compare student progress and performance across schools with similar students. Although the formulas have been tweaked every year, the big picture has remained the same: Elementary and middle school grades have been based almost entirely on state test scores, while high school grades factor in graduation rates and how quickly students earn credits, as well. More recently, high school grades have also reflected how well students are prepared for college, based on whether their students are exempt from remedial courses and stay enrolled over time.
This year, high schools are getting more credit for their graduates’ persistence in college than in the past, although graduates’ college readiness still amounts to only 10 percent of each school’s score. For the first time, middle schools’ scores will based in small part on their graduates’ performance in high school, and elementary schools will see for the first time how their students are doing in middle school, although that won’t factor into their progress reports.
The city also changed the way schools are compared so that schools are grouped with other schools that have similar students. Principals had long complained that the city’s old formula compared schools with many high-need students to schools with relatively few, and schools with many high-need students have been more likely to receive low scores.
The Bloomberg administration devised the grading system in large part to give parents more detailed information about their schools and to shift the focus from raw performance to the progress that students make every year, in an effort to make the point that some schools with struggling students propel them forward faster than others. But de Blasio and many others have criticized the reports’ single letter grades for offering too simplistic a view of school quality.
Usually, the city uses the grades to determine which schools to consider closing. This year, because the closure process would span the two mayoral administrations, no schools will be closed. But Walcott said last week that the department would let low-performing schools know that their progress did not meet standards nonetheless.
Online guides to this year’s progress report formulas offer other indications that the department plans to plow ahead with the progress reports even after the end of the year. Principals have been told to expect additional changes, including the incorporation of the middle school student achievement data point into elementary schools’ grades.
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.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday lauded his new lieutenant governor pick, Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools chief, as a white knight — a school reform champion — who now would help focus his expertise on fixing the state’s pension crisis. However, Vallas' detractors paint a dramatically different picture of his accomplishments. (Sun-Times)
Vallas served his last two years as superintendent of schools in Bridgeport, Conn., where groups heaped criticism on him for everything from approving no-bid contracts, using school funds to pay his attorney fees to failing to improve test scores, complaining all the while that he shut out parents and teachers from critical decisions.
THE CROWDING ARGUMENT: Greg Hinz writes that some neighborhoods with crowding problems may well gripe at the prospect of spending $18 million to $20 million on a school with relatively few minority children, as CPS has proposed doing for Lincoln Elementary School in Lincoln Park, which has more students than it was designed to hold. Only this fall did Chicago Public Schools shut dozens of facilities, mostly on the West and South sides, saying they served too few students and no longer were affordable. (Crain's)
TIF TALLY UNCLEAR: Chicago schools are in line to get a small infusion of cash from City Hall that parents and activists say could help offset significant school budget cuts made over the summer. But it remains unclear how much individual schools will see. Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he planned to again declare a more than $49 million surplus on money sitting in the city’s 151 tax-increment financing accounts. A TIF surplus would be distributed to the city’s taxing bodies according to state law, with about half of the total amount going to Chicago Public Schools. (WBEZ)
PUBLIC-PRIVATE SCHOOL DEBATE: A new book challenges popular assumptions about the superiority of private-school education and raises questions about the political imperatives behind current school-reform and policy initiatives that are based on market theory. While market theorists promote consumer choice, school autonomy and privatization as the panacea for the problems in America’s public schools, many of their policy and reform initiatives are “misguided” and not supported by the evidence, say the authors of “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” (University of Chicago Press).
Nearing the end of its work, the group that is studying possible changes to Colorado’s teacher licensing requirements remains undecided on a key issue – whether or how to connect license renewal to teacher evaluation.
The issue dominated the Tuesday meeting of the 35-member LEAD Compact Working Group, which is trying to develop recommendations about possible licensing legislation for the 2014 legislature.
A subcommittee has been studying the issue since the compact’s October meeting and returned with some suggestions – but not firm recommendations. That sparked an afternoon-long discussion that ended with the subcommittee being asked to do more work.
“We’ll see if we can nudge this forward or not,” said Janesse Brewer of the Keystone Center, who helps facilitate the group’s meetings.
The main group meets again Nov. 20 and is supposed to finish its work during a final session Dec. 2-3.
Linking license renewal and evaluation has been the elephant in the room since the group was convened last spring by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.
Johnston, who favors using teacher evaluation results for renewal of teacher licenses, considered introducing such a bill late in the 2013 session but didn’t pull the trigger because of a crush of other legislative business and uncertainty about a licensing bill’s prospects. He and the governor created the panel after the session adjourned for the year.
The panel is also discussing related issues such as teacher preparation, induction programs for new teachers and increasing the number of teacher candidates. But the tie between license renewal and evaluation is the big issue.
The evaluation system laid out in Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191 creates an annual teacher rating system of highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective, based half-and-half on professional skills and student academic growth. Being tested statewide this year, the system goes into full effect in the 2014-15 school year.Do your homework
The nine-member subgroup came up with some possible ways to use evaluation results in license renewal. But, “We do not have consensus on this possible compromise,” said group member Sue Sava, director of the Stanley Teacher Prep Program.
Among other ideas, the group discussed creating a new alternative license, under which candidates would be required only to have a bachelor’s degree, pass a background check and pass a content test or have relevant work or academic content knowledge.
The subcommittee discussed limiting such a new license only to hard-to-staff schools, such as in rural districts, and also delaying use of evaluations in license renewals until 2017, after more data is available about the reliability of the SB 13-213 evaluation system.
And, Sava stressed, “There would be no revocation of licenses based on effectiveness.”
“There are a lot of things in this proposal I would have changed,” said Johnston, who was a member of the subcommittee, which held three telephone meetings. But, he said, “I think it’s a strong proposal.”
Several other members of the subcommittee made similar comments, although none wholeheartedly endorsed the ideas.
Several compact members still are concerned about how and when to use evaluation results in license renewals, and that discussion continued for some time. Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, and others argued that SB 10-191 wasn’t intended to be used for license renewal.
Later in the afternoon, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, floated the idea of tying evaluations only to a new license category – master teacher. (Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee and a key Johnston ally on education issues.) But the group didn’t coalesce around that idea, and that’s when Brewer suggested the subcommittee have another go at the issue.
The group’s work is funded by the Donnell-Kay and Rose Community foundations, and representatives of those two sit in on meetings.
Asked by Brewer to wrap up the day, Donnell-Kay head Tony Lewis said, “I would push hard to think how it [licensing change] affects kids. There are a whole lot of adult issues on the table today.” Commenting on concerns about the validity of evaluation data, Lewis said, “Certainty in data is impossible. … At some point you have to move.”
The group Thursday also heard a presentation by Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project. He argued that different types of teacher preparation – university programs, alternative prep and residency – don’t necessarily produce different results in the quality of new teachers. States should worry less about raising the bar to licensing and more about monitoring the performance of teachers in their first few years of work and removing those who aren’t effective, he said.
The University of Colorado Denver’s Dean of the School of Public Affairs, Paul Teske, offers thoughts on what credentialing in other professions might teach us about how to license teachers. (These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.)
Now that the vote on Amendment 66 is done, teacher licensure is perhaps the most important education issue on the current policy agenda, with a likely bill in the spring legislative session. And, with Senator Michael Johnston taking the lead, there is little doubt that this will continue to be a high profile issue. I’m glad many stakeholders are involved in the LEAD discussions that have been covered by Ed News.
The New Teacher Project (TNTP) report for CDE in August 2012 developed the case for improving licensure via a larger applicant pool but also a more selective process to get and retain the most qualified teachers, based upon student achievement outcomes, not inputs. These are probably good goals, but unfortunately not the way licensure typically works in most other licensed professions.
I want to offer some unsolicited opinions and ideas that I think should be part of the picture, by looking at evidence from other professions. It is odd that the teacher licensure discussion is considered in isolation and rarely linked to a much larger literature on occupational and professional licensure, performed by state agencies — in Colorado’s case, the Department of Regulatory Affairs. Yet, the TNTP report doesn’t cite a single study outside of the education sphere.
Many other occupations besides teaching are licensed by the states; in fact, nearly one-third of American workers are in a field that requires licensure, a figure that greatly exceeds the approximately 11 percent who are in unions. Professional licensure is a bigger deal than most people realize, and it is even more common in fields that, like teaching, require a college degree. Some 800 professions require licensure in at least one American state, and some 1,100 occupations have some form of associated government regulation (Council of State Governments). Recent data show that 85 percent of those in licensed professions are required to take an entry exam of some kind, and 70 percent require continuing professional education. Still, there is a lot of variation across the 50 states in specific occupational regulatory policies, as is true for teacher regulations.
The simple rationale for these regulations is basic consumer protection, by assuring a minimum standard of training and presumed quality for these professionals. Often, a particular amount or type of training is specified by regulation, and it sometimes includes additional continuing education, to keep up one’s professional knowledge over time. There may also be sanctions for licensed professionals who do not practice appropriately.
As an alternative view, occupational licensure at the state level is often characterized by economists as an example of “captured regulation” where the regulated profession, and related gatekeepers, really control the regulatory decisions and use them to their advantage. From this perspective, regulation explicitly creates artificial entry barriers, often by requiring considerable education and training that is not actually necessary, for someone to enter the field of cutting hair, giving massages, or (perhaps) practicing medicine. Such barriers, in turn, seek to raise the incomes of those already in the profession, by keeping others out, and limiting supply, at least at the margin.
In my 2004 book “Regulation in the States” (Brookings Institution Press), I reviewed the empirical literature and performed some new studies of occupational regulation. The literature suggests that professional regulation is more complicated than either extreme view. Some of it seems to serve the public interest by assuring minimal quality standards, while some of the regulations create entry barriers and raise incumbent incomes. Politically powerful groups do seek to have legislatures pass and maintain regulation that makes it more difficult for others to enter their field. Sometimes the implementation of day-to-day regulation is performed by commissions that are made up mostly of members of that profession. Kleiner and Krueger (in their 2013 Journal of Labor Economics article titled “Analyzing the extent and influence of occupational licensing on the labor market”) find that, on average, licensure raises wages by 18 percent, compared to wages in states where licensure is not required.
My own theoretical thinking on this topic is guided by a particularly challenging chapter in Milton Friedman’s 1962 classic book, Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman attacks occupational regulation and takes an extreme free-market position — that medical doctors should not be licensed, and that anyone should be able to hang out a shingle saying “medical services available here.” In Friedman’s view, the market will sort out who is a good medical practitioner and who is not. (I don’t agree with Friedman on this case, but I give him full credit for taking on the most challenging case — regulated massage therapists or movie projectionists would have been easier. The average salary of an MD in the US and the successful lobbying of the AMA on things like the scope of practice by nurse practitioners nevertheless suggest some elements of captured regulation in medicine).
Friedman also lays out a useful framework for thinking about licensure. In this framework, there are three levels of government intervention in the marketplace worth thinking about.
At the most basic level (“registration”), a practitioner would have to register with the government that they are engaged in the profession. So, in a hypothetical world of non-licensed MDs, practitioners would have to register that they are serving patients. This would allow the government to contact them and figure out things like how many patients have the flu or have been treated for communicable diseases. But, no one is ruled out of practicing, as this is lightest possible form of regulation. It could also be used to ensure that the professional does not have a criminal background.
At the next level is voluntary “certification.” By completing a third-party training program, as with a CPA or a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), a professional can seek to show that they are better trained than a run-of-the-mill accountant or financial planner, and presumably charge a higher fee for their more expert services to clients who need it. This provides differentiation that might be valuable information to consumers, but doesn’t limit anyone from practicing in the field.
Licensure is the most intrusive degree of professional regulation — as in the real world, where no doctor can practice medicine without a license. Of course, within the category of licensure, there are many ways to actually implement it, and that seems to be the focus of the LEAD group.
This framework generates some interesting questions related to teacher licensure. Is there concern that the current system limits entry into teaching, especially by those with a background that doesn’t include a university school of education training or training by alternative license providers? Are there a lot of people in that category? Does the current system limit entry and raise teacher incomes? Are high teacher salaries a big problem?
“Yes” answers to these questions may be part of the reasons for pursuing this issue, but at the same time, American education and teacher training programs in particular are often criticized as having standards that are too low for teachers (say, in contrast to Finland, where Amanda Ripley’s “The Smartest Kids in the World” book and other reports suggest barriers to entry are really high and pay is high). Are entry barriers keeping out lots of candidates and raising teacher pay above market rates? Can it be true that our current system both allows future teachers with poor skills and backgrounds in and keeps many qualified people out? Perhaps that is possible via licensure, and is even happening, but it seems like a bit of a contradiction that should be thought through.
Other Ed News articles have captured comments that schools and districts might need more flexibility in hiring teachers. Perhaps, a la Friedman, they should be allowed to hire “non-licensed teachers”? It may be a matter of semantics, but if experiments are to be tried, another way to think about this might be: teachers must be “registered” to show they are not criminals and that they are practicing; a district could choose to hire any registered teacher, but then takes some responsibility for the outcomes; some teachers could seek “certification” perhaps by any institution (government approval of such institutions would be counter to Friedman’s approach, but could also be another variation); and then real licensure might be limited to a group trained by government approved institutions who pass a test as well.
For most regulated professions, the consumer of the service is an individual, so a minimum threshold of quality and training is very important, as these buyers may not be sophisticated in their knowledge. For teachers, the intermediate consumer is the school or district (this is often true of MDs as well, who often work for hospital, group practices, insurance companies, etc), while the family or students are the “real” ultimate consumer. But families are rarely in the position of actually “choosing” a teacher — they might get to choose a school, and usually get whatever teacher is assigned to them at that grade level. That places the burden on the state, districts, and schools to make sure that good teaching takes place, whether it is by registered, certified, or licensed teachers.
Regarding licensure, it is also useful to think about the regulations in related categories: input, process and output regulation. Inputs relate to the requirements to enter the profession, the process is about what is required to maintain the license, and outputs are the results – are licensed professionals truly better at what they do?
For teachers and process, the proposal on the table seems to be to link continuing licensure to teacher evaluations from 191, with the chance to lose the license with a few years of inadequate performance.
Looking to other regulated arenas might be instructive here too, and the evidence is that relatively few other professionals actually lose their licenses, as long as they pursue adequate continuing education. Some argue this is because the review committees are often stacked with people from the same profession who are unlikely to suspend their colleagues. Far fewer than one percent of MDs lose their license, for example, even though the malpractice suit rate is higher, and the occasional horror story of a near-blind surgeon usually involves someone practicing with a valid license.
In the end, I’m not sure the evidence from other regulated professions supports one “side” or the other in the teacher licensure discussions. I do think that looking at other areas of occupational regulation raises some good questions and perspectives about entry barriers, wage effects, competition, training programs and the ease or difficulty of getting into and through them, evidence that others are seeking to join the profession and are regulated out, who the consumers are, and whether or not licensure actually ensures good teaching.About the author
Paul Teske is Dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and a University of Colorado Distinguished Professor. He has written eight books and dozens of articles and book chapters on education policy and regulatory policy.
The city’s next public advocate isn’t afraid to raise her voice on education issues.
Letitia James’ aggressive oratory against charter schools and co-locations has earned her standing ovations in crowded school auditoriums, effusive praise from Diane Ravitch, and skepticism among charter school parents. And her increasingly vocal presence in education activism provides a clear glimpse into what mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s closest progressive allies want from him on education.
“I think you can view me as a partner in ensuring that the mayor of the city of New York honors his commitment to reform the school system as we know it,” James said in a recent interview. “Now it’s time to put the rhetoric into action. And my role is to ensure that in fact the rhetoric is actualized.”
Currently a City Councilmember representing Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and much of Crown Heights, James will soon be the city’s second highest-ranking official. Though the power of the public advocate has historically been limited, she may end up playing a larger role given her close relationship with de Blasio.
But James, an outspoken critic of charter schools eager for large-scale shifts in the city’s education policies, has been more condemnatory than de Blasio when speaking out about the city’s public schools. ”They have pretty much dismantled public education,” she said of the Bloomberg administration. “I see it wherever I go, and I just see the inequities.”
Politics will necessarily hem de Blasio in once he begins governing from City Hall, where he will almost certainly face continuous pressure to moderate the stances he took during the campaign on charter schools and school closures. And James says she won’t hesitate to hold de Blasio to account if he does.
At a transition event yesterday, James told the Observer that de Blasio is a friend—”But nonetheless, putting that aside, I have a job to do. And New Yorkers elected me to be checks and balances on Mayor Bill de Blasio,” she said.
That’s been a more natural stance for past public advocates, who have been at political odds with the city’s mayor for the position’s 20-year history. But James and de Blasio appear in public together frequently, offered strong endorsements of each other during the campaign, and share many positions.
“I don’t think, in terms of education, we diverge on much of anything,” James said, referring to de Blasio.
James’ solution to that dilemma is to remake the office, not the relationship. “The office of the public advocate could utilize more of its oversight powers. It could sue. It could hold hearings all throughout the city of New York, hearings which really focus on parent involvement,” she said. “My emphasis is going to be a lot on litigation.”
Over the course of the campaign, de Blasio made some of his own educational priorities clear: universal pre-K, a plan to charge well-financed charter school networks to operate in public space, a moratorium on school closures, and the elimination of the school letter-grade system.
More broadly, James said she and the mayor-elect agree on the need for “a more comprehensive idea of education,” meaning more resources for schools, smaller class sizes, and what she termed “disbanding standardized testing.”
The desire to de-emphasize testing is why she said she would be consulting Carmen Farina, the former second-in-command at the Department of Education who later criticized the use of test scores to measure schools, during her transition. (Farina, whose name has been floated as a possible chancellor, has been informally advising the de Blasio campaign.)
If charter school advocates are hopeful that de Blasio can be swayed toward more pro-charter positions as the governing process begins, they definitely won’t find such flexibility from James. She speaks of “charter schools” and “public schools” as separate entities, and repeatedly referred to what the money the city spent supporting charter schools could do for other parts of the school system.
James attended Brooklyn public schools—P.S. 39 and M.S. 88 in Park Slope, and Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge. At Fort Hamilton, she recalled being offered Spanish, Latin, and French, and having school nurses, guidance counselors, and afterschool programs available.
That wealth of options is not available in many district schools, she said—a problem she says was caused by the Bloomberg administration giving charter schools space in public buildings.
“Charter schools obviously provide so many things to so many children,” she said. “It just appears that charter schools have basic services and beyond … and public schools just have basic services, if that.”
Given that the budget of the public advocate’s office has been slashed in recent years, James is counting on de Blasio’s sympathy for her cause and her ties to councilmembers to give her office more cash—and more influence—on education issues citywide.
“I think this is an opportunity to form an alliance when necessary, to continue to provide oversight, and to be critical from time to time as well,” James said.
Sen. Mike Johnston often compared his school-finance reform law to a high-powered car that just needed “gas” from Amendment 66 to whisk Colorado into a bright future of education reform and improved student achievement.
But voters declined to pay at the pump, and Johnston’s Senate Bill 13-213 is sitting on blocks in the legislative garage. The question now is, will Johnston or others try to salvage it for parts and build a couple of compacts, and will anyone be willing to pay for them?
In the days following A66’s defeat, Johnston and other amendment backers were cautious about predicting what they or others may do.
“I can’t answer that yet,” Johnston told EdNews on Election Night when asked about which pieces of SB 13-213 he might try to resurrect. The Denver Democrat was similarly circumspect in later media interviews, although he certainly didn’t close the door on reviving parts of SB 13-213.
But lawmakers love to propose education bills, and with more than $1 billion in the State Education Fund, a dedicated account used to supplement annual school funding, there’s little doubt there will be some attempts to revive pieces of Johnston’s omnibus bill from last session.
Minority House Republicans were first out of the gate last week, announcing they’ll introduce 2014 bills to change how student enrollment is counted, provide better facilities and transportation funding for charter schools and to improve transparency of school district finances. Most of those issues were addressed in SB 13-213. (Get details in this news release.)
Another part of the GOP package is a bill by Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, to increase funding for English language learners and to extend the number of years students are eligible for such funding. She, along with Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, saw the 2013 version of that idea die in committee. SB 13-213 contained significant increases for ELL students as part of the overall K-12 funding formula.Disassembly may be difficult Pricey shopping listEstimated costs of some SB 13-213 components
It’s hard to break out figures for some of the bill’s more expensive elements, including additional funding for at-risk and ELL students, more preschool spaces for at-risk children and full-day kindergarten for all students. But there is consensus that those elements would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Leanne Emm, CDE budget chief, says the cost of those as separate programs would require new calculations.
Figures reflect new spending and are from a legislative staff analysis of the bill.
Johnston also frequently liked to describe SB 13-213 as a “grand bargain,” a plan that had something for every education interest, from more money for districts to some additional funding for charters to a modest amount of autonomy for principals in spending money on at-risk students.
“I think the beauty of 213 was that it was a comprehensive package,” notes Kayla McGannon, a lobbyist who had education clients.
Given that its pieces were so interconnected, SB 13-213 may be tough to disassemble. And even if parts of the law surface in 2014 as separate bills, they face the same problem that Johnston’s big bill did – they need gas.
The total SB 13-213 package would have cost an estimated $1.3 billion in 2015-16, its first year of operation. That would have been on top of the $5.7 billion Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing be spent on district support in 2014-15.
So big-ticket elements of SB 13-213 are expected to be off the table because there’s no money to fund them.
But Capitol observers still expect Johnston and others to consider reusing smaller pieces.
The most likely one is a change in counting student enrollment. District funding currently is based on attendance counts taken during a small window around Oct. 1. Many legislators and educators favor switching to the system called average daily membership (ADM), under which student counts are taken frequently throughout the school year and averaged. The education theory behind ADM is that districts will have a greater incentive to keep students enrolled.
But rolling out ADM isn’t without cost – estimates run between $5 and $10 million – and it would take some time to implement. Even SB 13-213 wouldn’t have changed the count system until the 2017-18 school year.New bills will get close scrutiny
Even relatively small and largely one-time costs like changing to ADM may face opposition.
That’s because school districts, now without the prospect of an A66 boost, will be pushing hard to get as much support as they can from the current school finance formula.
Hickenlooper is proposing that basic K-12 support, known as Total Program Funding, increase only by inflation and enrollment growth in 2014-15, as required by Amendment 23. That would put total program at about $5.7 billion in state and local revenues. The governor’s plan proposes very little change in what’s called the negative factor, a mathematical formula used by the legislature to reduce school funding from what it would have been under the full terms of A23, the 2000 constitutional amendment that will continue to guide education funding now that A66 is dead. It’s estimated districts have lost more than $1 billion in funding over the last few years because of the negative factor.)
Districts lost a fight with Hickenlooper and the Joint Budget Committee last spring over reduction of the negative factor. Districts are expected to resume the battle in January and to resist spending money on new education initiatives instead of using it to trim the negative factor.
“Most districts want more money spent out of the State Education Fund” on total program, said one lobbyist. “I think it’s going to be a rough year.”
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said recently, “Our legislators need to understand the burden and stress unfunded mandates have placed on educators across the state. We would caution the upcoming Colorado General Assembly against adding any new education reforms to this over-burdened education system.”
Other education advocates also think the state perhaps should focus on successfully implementing education reforms already in the pipeline.
This school year districts are rolling out new academic content standards, a new early literacy program and evaluating principals and teachers under the terms of Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark evaluation law. That system will be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year, along with new online tests.
“We need to regroup and focus on things that already are in law,” said Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which was a major backer of SB 13-213 and of A66.
Speaking of those initiatives, Sen. Rollie Heath said, “If we get all of that right I would be very happy,” adding, “I don’t see a lot of meaningful [new] things happening” during the 2014 session. The Boulder Democrat was Johnston’s cosponsor on SB 13-213 and will be Senate majority leader next session.
There’s even some stray Capitol chatter that the defeat of A66 could put existing reforms – or at least their timetables – at risk.
Tony Salazar, CEA executive director, acknowledged that risk recently, but he added, “It’s too early to say if delays are needed.”
Even Hickenlooper, speaking with reporters last week, said, “If 66 had passed we would have been able to implement Senate 191 at a high level,” along with other programs. “The money’s not there now.”
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.
She says she’s not interested in the job herself, but Carmen Farina has a clear vision for how Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s chancellor should lead the city’s schools.
That vision includes some big ideas — including converting empty classrooms into dormitories for homeless students to forcing real estate developers to build space for early education — that the retired educator says have been on her mind recently. On Monday, Farina shared her thoughts publicly on an education panel about the transition underway at City Hall between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations.
Farina said her philosophy around education policymaking represents an approach that’s been absent at the Department of Education in recent years.
“I want to see us have a system where people do things because they have a sense of joy about it, not because they have a sense of fear,” Farina said during the panel, which was part of a daylong conference about the transition at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Farina’s four-decade career as a teacher and administrator in city schools included Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of the system in 2002. She helped oversee an initial restructuring under mayoral control, serving as one of 10 regional superintendents and then moving up to head the department’s instructional division for two years.
Farina has been an unofficial advisor to de Blasio on education, a relationship that dates back more than a decade to when they worked in the same Brooklyn school district. Before he was elected to the City Council in 2001, de Blasio served on the District 15 school board at the same time when Farina was superintendent.
The close ties have led to speculation that she might be de Blasio’s pick for chancellor, a rumor she squelched last month and again on her way out of the room after her panel appearance. She declined to offer the name of a good candidate to fill the position, arguing that de Blasio and people who are helping him with the transition should handle the selection privately.
“When we voted for Bill as mayor we assumed he heard our concerns and would make the right decisions on his picks for commissioners and chancellor,” she said.
Some of what Farina said on the panel hewed closely to priorities that de Blasio campaigned on during the election season. Like de Blasio, she called for the inclusion of more voices than just the mayor’s on the Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member school board that sets education policies.
She also offered an idea that could address space issues that could stand in the way of de Blasio’s proposal to expand the number of available pre-kindergarten seats and after school programs for middle school students. Real estate developers, she said, should be required to build early childhood education centers that would also serve as community centers for middle school students.
And Farina had a radical solution to serve some of the roughly 18,000 children who are currently housed in city’s homeless shelter system.
“We need to turn some of our large high schools into dormitory schools,” she said, so that homeless students can be accounted for in the hours when they’re not supposed to be in school. (Many large high schools currently house multiple schools, putting them near or over capacity.)
Farina was critical of the Bloomberg administration’s approach to low-performing schools, which largely relied on closing them and opening new schools in their place. An alternative to closing schools, she proposed, is to pair principals from schools with mirroring student populations, where one school is performing well and the other isn’t, to exchange ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
“Principal-to-principal, teachers-to-teachers, are the best vehicle to professional development that I know,” she said.
The panel featured plenty of praise for the some current Bloomberg policies, too. Joining Farina on the seven-member panel was Cass Conrad, executive director of CUNY’s Early College Initiative, who touted the hundreds of small schools that have been created in the last 12 years.
Another panelist, Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, said the city’s evolving school accountability system — dominated by schools’ annual progress report card grades — was worth saving, but with some changes. He said recent changes to the system were providing a more accurate picture of school quality than ever and that bringing test scores, which currently make up most of the scores, into balance with other measures would improve them more.
He also said a pilot to allow schools to opt out of the citywide accountability system had attracted roughly 50 schools and would further test different approaches to measuring school performance.
Michelle Obama, after nearly five years of evangelizing exercise and good eating habits, will begin a new initiative on Tuesday that seeks to increase the number of low-income students who pursue a college degree. (The New York Times)
A NEIGHBORHOOD DIVIDED: The city said Monday it will build an annex with about 19 classrooms and a multipurpose room on the site of Lincoln Park Elementary School. The $18 million project was announced to cheers from parents and community members who had pushed for an addition at the school. But another group of parents and community members urged Chicago Public Schools to consider other options that included redrawing boundary lines to move some students into other schools. That faction argued that the neighborhood was using its wealth and political power to get more space for Lincoln Elementary even as other schools in the city face more severe overcrowding. (Tribune)
CAMPUS RIFT: A blog written by Chicago State University faculty members that has been critical of the school's administration was sent a "cease and desist" notice by university lawyers Monday, deepening an ongoing rift between a group of professors and administrators. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
HOMELESS STUDENTS: The Great Recession caused by the 2008 economic and housing crisis has technically ended, but the number of homeless students nationwide continues to swell, as school districts' capacity to help them shrinks. If added together, homeless students now would make up the largest school district in the country—at nearly 1.17 million, considerably more than the entire student population of New York City public schools. (Education Week)
On a windy Monday last month, the main school campus in the small northeastern town of Haxtun quietly buzzed. Teachers walked the hallways heads together and deep in discussion. Lunch time was a rush of moving bodies.
But there were no students in sight. On this day, the teachers were the students and the instructors.
Teachers from ten rural districts in northeastern Colorado gathered in Haxtun, just 30 miles from the Nebraska border, to figure out how to translate the mandates of the Common Core to their classrooms.
The Common Core State Standards, a shared set of expectations about what students are supposed to know, are being rolled out across the state this year, and districts are finding implementation challenging.
The ten districts these teachers came from face an even bigger hurdle, as none had curriculum specialists and only one had any kind of written curriculum at all. Instead, teachers used textbooks to guide their instruction. Each classroom went at its own pace and even taught different material. The differences between districts were even greater.
So the group of districts decided to adopt the sample Common Core curriculum written by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and collaborate on training to teachers to use it.
All ten districts are members of the Northeast Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), a regional consortium that coordinates shared services, including professional development and distance learning. The Northeast BOCES, which also includes two districts who are not participating, helps to coordinate this curriculum collaborative.
So every month, teachers and school administrators gather in Haxtun to familiarize themselves with the curriculum, write assessments and agree on grading standards.Writing the tests
The collaborative had to pick a starting point for curriculum training, so this fall the focus is math. Teachers in subjects other than math team up to work on their own area.
During this session, the expectation was that all groups would create the first test that they’ll give to their students based on the new curriculum. Teachers worked to write test questions that are aligned to the new standards and difficult enough to challenge students.
In a classroom of first grade instructors, a table of teachers worked on a unit on measuring and telling time.
One teacher suggested that students measure objects found in their desks. “Pick an object shorter than this pencil and longer than my thumb” was one possible instruction. But the logistics of how that would work under testing conditions got more complicated.
“How much do we want them digging in their desks?” said one of her table mates. They agreed to have students take the object out before testing started.
The group also stalled over the wording of a question about students’ ability to tell time. The question asked students when they got up for school. Then students had to construct a clock, fill in the hands to show their wake-up time and finally write that time on a digital clock (see the example assessment for similar questions).
“But what if it says 2 p.m.?” said one teacher. She said students might not know what time they got up or write when they want to get up.
“As long as the two answers match, it’s fine,” said Susan Rogers, the first grade teacher for Wray school district.
By 2:30 p.m., when the workshop ended, the first grade teachers had three new assessments to take back to their classrooms.
“If you lose that test, you’re walking home,” one Holyoke teacher said to her colleague, who had the master copy of their newly minted assessment.
Teachers said that the new standards presented a challenge for them, but that they thought the extra work was worth it.
“We’re free to teach it the way we want to teach it, but it’s good to know what the bottom line is,” said Kristie Pelle, a Holyoke first grade teacher. She said, especially in math, she has already seen benefits for her students.
“I felt like math was one of the things [where] we needed to change curriculum,” said Pelle.
She also anticipated that the change will smooth the transitions between grades. “When my first graders go to second grade, [the teachers] know where to pickup, they know where [the students] left off.”Beyond the core
Teachers in all subjects gathered for the training, including those not traditionally covered by testing. Since Monday was about assessments, figuring out how to apply the Common Core standards to grading outside of traditionally tested areas required creativity on the part of teachers.
In the group for arts curriculum, the teachers designing a curriculum to assess fifth grade art projects found themselves balancing the need for clear grading protocols and the desire to encourage creativity.
“Do we give it to the fifth graders?” asked another teacher. “I would not want to hand this to students and say welcome to fifth grade art.” No, they agreed, they would use a different ones for students to grade themselves.
The challenges of grading art projects was not lost on them. They struggled to find a balance of rewarding creativity and encouraging clarity.
“Does a spider have four or eight legs?” Rhonda Mehring-Smith, Holyoke’s art teacher, suggested for the kind of benchmark she would use for students.
She said she thinks there are still ways to encourage kids to use their imagination. “I intentionally never put up an example because then they just copy it instead of being creative.”Scheduling conflicts
The process leading up to this day of work has not been simple. Getting districts and teachers used to going their own way on the same path was difficult.
“As part of this consortium, [the districts] all had to get on the same path,” said Tim Sanger, the executive director of Northeast BOCES. One district left the collaborative because there wasn’t consensus among staff members.
The ten districts had to create a common calendar in order for all teachers to attend the trainings. The calendar, which included shared school breaks and TCAP testing windows, required uniting school districts who feel their local control has faded.
“That was the hardest thing,” said Sanger. He said schools had very different academic calendars, even down to how many days a week students were in school. Several school districts had four day school weeks. Another, Holyoke school district, hadn’t had spring break in years.
All these changes require considerable district support, which means that superintendents had to do a bit of marketing for the project.
“Superintendents going back to their staff and selling it is a huge piece,” said Sanger. But, he said, the results have been good. “Seventeen years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”The end of the day
By the end of the day, according to Miles, all of the groups completed at least one assessment and many had finished the entire math curriculum.
That meant the collaborative was a month ahead of their target and groups had time to work on other projects and even just chat. A group of kindergarten teachers, who rarely see each other, spent the afternoon sharing war stories and discussing how they manage their classrooms.
That collaborative spirit didn’t surprise Sanger. Rural districts, he said, work differently than urban ones.
“We’re a different animal, so to speak,” said Sanger. “We have to share more resources, we have to network more.”
The assessments teachers build this year will be used in classrooms right away but the collaborative will continue. Both teachers and administrators agree it will take more than a year to see results.
“Kids have gone through curriculum with different expectations,” said Carly Daniel, a first grade teacher at Holyoke School District. “So it’ll take some backfill.”