UPDATED: Teachers at UNO charter schools have voted 87 percent in favor of joining a union, an Illinois Federation of Teachers spokeswoman said.
The announcement comes just days after scandal prompted the state to cut off capital funding to UNO charter schools, and it means the city's charter teachers union will roughly double in size. According to the Illinois Federation of Teachers, more than 20 percent of charter teachers in Chicago will now be union members.
Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS) began an organizing drive in earnest at UNO charter schools after the charter operator signed a “neutrality agreement” last March. On Wednesday, under the terms of the agreement, an arbitrator began tallied cards signed by union supporters to verify that a majority of teachers wanted the union.
Jessica Hanzlik, an 8th-grade teacher at UNO Soccer Academy, says that the drive to organize UNO teachers began six weeks ago when the school announced the neutrality agreement with Chicago ACTS.
For years before that, she said, ACTS had done outreach but not a specific organizing campaign.
“They always would periodically call charter school teachers to see if we were happy with our jobs, how things were going,” Hanzlik says.
The organizing drive has given teachers an opportunity to talk about “big-picture education issues,” Hanzlik adds, like strengthening the teaching profession and advocating for students.
Hanzlik hopes a union will help UNO put in place some kind of “peer accountability” system, such as peer evaluations. “Teachers feel a lot of pressure and accountability from above, and we want to start thinking about how to hold each other accountable,” Hanzlik says.
She says a union could also strengthen teachers’ voice in how the school is run, particularly when it concerns school climate.
“We have been working really hard to figure out how to help teachers feel a sense of ownership over their work,” Hanzlik notes. “I think that when this idea was brought to (UNO’s administration), they saw it as an opportunity.”
Emily Rosenberg, director of DePaul University’s Labor Education Center, says that teachers in charter schools are organizing for the same reasons as the public school teachers who first formed unions.
“It’s back to the 1900s,” Rosenberg says. “They don’t have any control over their working conditions, over their class size, whether they get positions they are supposed to get, whether they get raises, whether they get vacation days. This is just history revisiting itself.”
The biggest issue, Rosenberg says, is unfair treatment on the job. “It’s the very tentative nature of your work,” she says.
Before Wednesday’s card tally began, Rosenberg heard that “the cards are flying out of the hands of the reps” for teachers to sign and show their support for a union.
“This neutrality agreement has made all the difference in the world in terms of teachers feeling safe to go ahead and organize,” Rosenberg says.
Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, says that the agreement has been key to getting a foot in the door at UNO.
Without the agreement, recent rulings that charter schools aren’t covered by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act mean that the union would have had to conduct a secret-ballot election after a campaign period during which both employers and the union can set out their perspectives.
“[Employers] will hire anti-union law firms, they will hold captive-audience meetings. Often they will intimidate or fire [teachers],” Montgomery says.
Union expansion uncertain
Chicago ACTS’ ability to unionize other charter schools may be limited for that reason. Years of legal battles have kept it from gaining a foothold at Chicago Math and Science Academy, and at Latino Youth High School.
An April 18 secret-ballot vote at Latino Youth, which was 10 to 1 in favor of a union, may put an end to the strife, says Chris Baehrend, a teacher at the school who is also vice president of Chicago ACTS.
“We’ve gone almost three years without a proper say in how the school is run, how the budget is run, having a salary scale. It’s dispiriting,” Baehrend says.
In Sept. 2010, Baehrend says, a majority of teachers signed union cards. But the school asked the National Labor Relations Board to intervene, claiming that the state educational labor relations law didn’t apply because Latino Youth is a charter school.
But now that the vote is wrapped up, Baehrend says, “we have our letter ready to demand to bargain” as soon as the results are certified by the National Labor Relations Board.
Baehrend says working conditions, turnover and firings prompted teachers to unionize. He says that a month after he was hired at the school in fall 2009, his pension match was cut, requiring him to fork over the entire 9 percent of his salary to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. His health insurance premium went up 50 percent.
“We didn’t get any new textbooks,” Baehrend says. “We were taken to a place called SCARCE in Glen Ellyn--schools dump off old textbooks and educators can go there to pick them up. There were no computers for classroom use. The photocopier often didn’t work. It was like, how do you teach like this?”
He wants to see teachers represented on a committee that makes hiring and firing decisions at the school. He’d also like to see teacher-led professional development and more advance notice for teachers regarding whether their jobs will continue from year to year. In one case, he says, he was notified a week before school started. “We have lost so many great teachers because we don’t even know if we have a job,” Baehrend says.
Montgomery says charter unions may continue to grow.
“If people think that somehow the path ahead to better schools is to deprive teachers of the ability to organize, they are deeply misguided,” he says. “Unions will change the way they look, but you are never going to get rid of people seeking a collective voice in where they work, whether it’s Starbucks, Boeing, or schools. That’s the way human beings work--they want their issues addressed.”
A proposal to move a popular middle school with an international focus out of Denver’s trendy Stapleton neighborhood and into a much more diverse and generally less affluent part of town is drawing questions from parents in both areas.
Denver Public Schools staff are proposing to locate McAuliffe International School, in its first year of operation at Swigert International School in Stapleton but already a sought-after option by families, into the soon-to be half vacant Smiley Middle School building in Park Hill beginning in fall 2014. The Denver school board is expected to vote on the plan May 16.
District officials portray the move as a win for both communities.
For Park Hill, it means a desperately needed high quality middle school option in an area where schools have struggled academically and which has among the highest rates of families choosing schools outside their neighborhood boundary.
For Stapleton, it means McAuliffe, a school in the process of becoming an International Baccalaureate program, will have the space it needs as it continues to grow and will be able to equitably serve all students in the northeast region.
But some Stapleton parents don’t want to lose a high-quality middle school right in their midst that their children can bike or walk to. And parents of current McAuliffe students from Stapleton worry about their middle-schoolers sharing a campus with a high school, since the middle school is being relocated to a building that also shares space with Venture Prep High School.
Some Park Hill parents, meanwhile, worry Stapleton parents could get preferred status in the choice process over their kids at the newly placed McAuliffe.
“For folks that are opposed – some are concerned about sharing space with a high school,” McAuliffe Principal Kurt Dennis said Tuesday. “Some are concerned about a shift in school culture. But it all comes down to how we execute it. If we continue to provide kids with a great education, all those concerns disappear. If we don’t, a lot of people will say, ‘I told you so.’”Stapleton parents worry about shared boundary
Compounding matters is a district proposal to create a shared middle school boundary for McAuliffe and up to five other middle schools covering a much larger geographical area than the schools had previously served. Smiley has historically had its own relatively compact neighborhood school boundary in Park Hill and McAuliffe’s boundary was confined to Stapleton.
The demographics in the two school boundaries are very mixed. In Stapleton, 70 percent of the residents are white, 13 percent Latino and 10 percent black. Greater Park Hill is made up of very different populations. South Park Hill has similar racial demographics to Stapleton. But in northeast Park Hill, 14 percent are white, 51 percent black and 30 percent Latino.
District officials say if there are enough quality options, all students should get into their top choice middle school under the new boundary system.
“Ideally what you’re looking at is having a nice cross section of kids from all parts of northeast Denver,” Dennis said. “There will be five high quality choices in the area. I think it’s a really good balance in terms of race and socioeconomics and student achievement as well.”
The notion of larger boundaries shared by multiple schools is one the district is keen on employing as a way to guarantee high quality school seats for every child in the district. Shared boundaries are already in place in the Far Northeast as part of a sweeping effort to turn around low-performing schools. In Stapleton, a shared elementary boundary is in place.
However, if too many students opt for the same school, or schools, then top choices may not be guaranteed — and that has sparked fears from parents that their children may be shut out of McAuliffe.
Shannon Fitzgerald, head of choice and enrollment services in Denver Public Schools, said some Stapleton parents with younger children are worried since they’ve already had trouble getting their children into Swigert International – even when they live literally next door since three Stapleton elementary schools have a shared boundary.
“They’re very nervous about their kids being able to access McAuliffe,” Fitzgerald said. “People are feeling burned about the Swigert thing.”
Fitzgerald says she’s trying to help parents take a longer view.
“We can’t guarantee every single kid would get into McAuliffe,” she said. “Parents are having a hard time getting their heads around …another school. We anticipate there will be more than enough middle school seats. And they will all be high quality options.”
Furthermore, Fitzgerald said the new boundary and middle school plan should ensure – and expand – socioeconomic and racial diversity in all the area schools.
“We strongly believe schools have a lot more success if they have a heterogeneous makeup,” she said.
McAuliffe Principal Dennis agreed, but said the demographics of his school may not change that much under a new shared boundary. He said half his students already come from Park Hill. About 22 percent of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, an indicator of poverty, and 40 percent are racially diverse.The end of Smiley
The move, which would occur in 2014-2015, is possible because the school board in December voted to phase Smiley out due to lagging test scores and declining enrollment. The Venture Prep school board also agreed – with some nudging from the district – to close its middle school, also located at Smiley.
These decisions ultimately leave Venture Prep High School at Smiley — along with lots of extra seats.
The siting of McAuliffe at Smiley seems increasingly likely due to support from the school, as well as high profile backing from school board president and McAuliffe parent Mary Seawell.
“I’m excited to send my daughter there,” said Seawell, who has been working on plans related to McAuliffe and a shared middle school boundary for more than a year. “McAuliffe is going to have to move no matter what… This is more accessible as a neighborhood school than where it would go otherwise.”
McAuliffe aims to reach build-out with 630 students.
“There has been a general consensus that it makes sense,” Dennis said. “It’s in the best interest of both the school and kids from both Park Hill and Stapleton that we do make the move.”
View McAuliffe and Smiley middle schools in a larger map
Among other things, the 2013 survey found that:
These are a few of the findings in a preliminary report released by the New Teacher Center, the organization that administers the survey, based on responses from more than 33,000 educators representing 55 percent of the state’s teachers.
This represents an 8 percentage point increase from the 47 percent responding in 2011 and a 19 percentage point increase from the first TELL Survey in 2009.
On average, 57 percent of elementary school educators responded in the survey, 61 percent of middle school educators responded, 48 percent of high school educators responded, and 35 percent of educators from other types of schools, such as alternative or vocational responded.
Sixty percent of schools in the state met or exceeded the 50 percent response rate threshold required to receive an individual school-level data report and 112 of the state’s districts had sufficient response rates to attain district-level data.
Here are other key findings:
Similar to 2011, it appears that the state’s newest teachers are not necessarily receiving strong mentoring support that will help them get better, faster. About one-quarter of the 3,853 teachers in their first three years were not assigned a mentor in 2013.
There will also be additional analyses and reports examining the connections of teaching and learning conditions with student achievement and teacher retention; validity and reliability of the survey instrument; and a variety of group comparisons (principals and teachers, etc.). All resources and reporting will be made available electronically at www.tellcolorado.org.
The New Teacher Center is a national non-profit dedicated to “improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers and school leaders,” according to its website. NTC works with schools districts, state policymakers and educators across the country to develop and implement induction programs aligned with district learning goals.
An escape route from the city’s most struggling schools that Department of Education officials touted as a significant innovation is unlikely to be an option for many eligible families, parents and advocates say.
When the city closes low-performing schools, new students aren’t allowed to enroll and current students stay on until they graduate. The arrangement has drawn criticism from state officials, families, and advocates who say high-need students see morale and support decline as their schools diminish in size.
This spring, just before finalizing plans to close 22 schools, department officials said they felt a “moral imperative” to help students who want to leave closing schools do so. They said they would mail transfer applications, including a list of possible destination schools, to all 16,000 students in the 61 schools that would be in the process of phasing out this fall.
“They presented it to families as an alternative to protect their children,” said Emma Hulse, a community organizer with New Settlement who has helped South Bronx families fill out transfer applications.
“But when the package actually hit people’s mailboxes, we realized it’s not a meaningful alternative,” she said.
The transfer rule represented a tweak to a longstanding process required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Under that law, struggling students in schools that have landed on the state’s list of low-performing schools must be given the option to apply for seats in higher-performing schools. The new policy made students in closing schools that are not on the state’s list also eligible for transfer, and gave them all preference for open spots over students in other schools.
But the numbers suggest that few of the newly eligible students will end up in a different school. Last year, out of 143,141 students who were eligible for transfers, just 700 were placed in other schools through the transfer process, according to department data.
Department officials would not provide data about how many eligible students actually applied for transfers last year. But one major obstacle for those who did is that schools must have open seats in order to accept transfers. And high-performing schools tend also to have strong enrollments.
An added issue is that some schools that might be desirable destinations for students fleeing phase-out schools did not appear on the list of options the department distributed. (Transfer applications were due last month.)
Geraldine Maione, the principal at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education School in Brooklyn, said she has received phone calls from parents at nearby Sheepshead Bay High School, which will start phasing out at the end of the year. Maione said the parents want their children to be able to transfer to Grady, especially since it is setting up a new nursing program at a time when Sheepshead Bay’s is closing.
But Grady is on the state’s “Priority” list of low-performing schools, which means it can’t be on the list of schools that accept transfers — even though the city gave Grady a high B on its most recent progress report. Another nearby school, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, also cannot take Sheepshead Bay students for the same reason.
“We’re being measured by too many different rulers,” said Maione, who has struggled to maintain her school’s enrollment in recent years. “So which one do we stand by? I don’t know.”
Hulse said parents she worked with had encountered a similar problem. Many Spanish-speaking families preferred bilingual programs. P.S./M.S. 194, which received an A from the city, could have been a good match for their children, but it is on the state’s “Focus” list. (It is also operating well over capacity already.)
“If the list was expanded to include other schools offering bilingual options in the Bronx, like P.S./M.S. 194, we could have given these parents better choices,” Hulse said.
The state used data from the 2010-2011 school year to create its Priority and Focus school lists, State Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said. But the most up-to-date NYC progress reports available are based on last year’s data, so schools that have shown improvement aren’t on the transfer list. Tompkins also said the state and city evaluate schools slightly differently.
But he said any disconnect between the city and state accountability lists would not affect many students.
“Even were it permissible to meet federal and state requirements regarding public school choice through offering students the choice to transfer to a Focus or Priority School that had a high NYC Progress Report grade, the effect on the number of transfers would likely be extremely modest,” Tompkins said.
GothamSchools found 24 Priority or Focus schools in the Bronx and 20 in Brooklyn that received at least a B progress report grade and at least a “proficient” quality review rating from the city. Those schools do not appear as possible transfer destinations on the lists families have received, even though some schools on the list got lower grades from the city.
But even if families can find a high-quality school with open seats, getting in and getting there remain challenges.
The department publishes transfer packets in nine languages. But Hulse said many Spanish-speaking parents came to New Settlement needing help with applications because they received information only in English.
“It’s terrible because it’s something so important and I can’t fill it out on my own,” said Ana Montero, whose child attends P.S. 64. “I have to find someone else to help me.”
Also, many parents depend on school buses to get their children to school. But the city won’t provide busing for students who attend school outside of their home borough, a problem for elementary school families looking to secure a transfer. High costs forced the city to eliminate inter-borough busing in 2011 for No Child Left Behind transfers, according to Robert Carney with the Office of Pupil Transportation.
Magatte Ndiaye’s daughter is in the third grade at P.S. 64. Since she has to be at work at 7 a.m., she can’t take her daughter to school in Manhattan, and she doesn’t think there are many good school options in the Bronx.
“If they send her to Brooklyn or Manhattan … and she can’t have buses, she’ll have to stay at P.S. 64. And I don’t like that because it’s a failing school,” she said. “And she has two more years … even if she passes here and goes to middle school, she may be lower than the other people.”
Edna Wilson, the grandmother of another third-grader at P.S. 64, shares Ndiaye’s concerns. She found a number of good schools on the transfer list for her granddaughter — but they were all in Manhattan, too far for her to travel.
“It seems like they give you one thing and then take something else away,” Wilson said.
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.
Construction stopped Tuesday on a new, state-funded charter high school being built on the Southwest Side for the state’s largest charter-school operator, the politically influential United Neighborhood Organization, after the project’s general contractor said UNO has fallen behind in its payments for the work, according to the Sun-Times.
DANGER ZONES: Nearly half of the 1,054 youths murdered in Chicago during the past five years were killed within census tracts where schools are closing, according to The Chicago Reporter. But CPS says it's preparing safety plans to address potential problems related to gang turfs and street violence. Its Safe Passage program, which stations adults along routes that students take to school to oversee their safety, has been budgeted a nearly $8 million increase in funding next year and will be implemented at all of the receiving schools.
CHARTER GREEN LIGHT: A charter group's bid to open a school in McKinley Park cleared a big hurdle Tuesday, when the city's zoning board approved a switch to convert a vacant factory into one of the city's newest charter schools. "Everything is ready to go," said Salim Ucan, vice president for Des Plaines-based Concept Charter Schools, which operates 27 schools across the Midwest, including the Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park. (DNAInfo.com)
FROZEN MEALS: Dozens of Chicago Public Schools food service workers rallied Tuesday afternoon to call for an end to quickly prepared frozen meals that can be readied in smaller kitchens by fewer workers. According to Unite Here Local 1, which organized the rally, 25 percent of CPS schools serve prepackaged meals that arrive at the schools frozen. In a statement, the district said sites that serve frozen meals often "don't have full kitchens or their space doesn't meet code standards to prepare food." (Tribune)
CHARTER BARTER: Several area school district superintendents are asking parents and others to support legislation that would impose a one-year moratorium on the creation of new virtual charter schools.
The move follows the recent rejection by 18 suburban school districts of a proposed online charter school for children in kindergarten through high school. (Tribune)
GAME'S ON—AGAIN: The baseball game between Walter Payton College Preparatory High School and Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy was rescheduled again, this time for May 11. Last weekend, Payton's baseball team forfeited the originally scheduled game. Payton's coach William Wittleder told several news outlets that parents didn't want their sons to travel to Brooks' home field in the Roseland neighborhood on the city's Far South Side. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
RHEE FINANCED: The Walton Family Foundation, a supporter of school choice and parent-empowerment causes, announced today that it would invest $8 million in StudentsFirst, a school improvement advocacy organization led by former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The foundation's $8 million in funding, which will be doled out over the next two years, is an increase from the $3 million the foundation has given StudentsFirst since 2010. (Education Weekly)
Updated 9:45 a.m. May 1 – The House voted 59-5 Wednesday morning to pass the bill that would revise the state merit scholarship program.
On Tuesday evening the had given preliminary approval to the bill, which would provide a modest reintroduction of state merit scholarships, a program that hasn’t existed for years because of budget cuts.
The bill has the backing of the powerful University of Colorado lobby and is sponsored by the majority and minority leaders in the House. Preliminary House consideration of the bill consumed all of three minutes, including adoption of an amendment.
The bill does two things. First, it allows state colleges to adjust their ratio of resident and non-resident students in order to admit more non-residents, thereby raising more revenue from out-of-state tuition, part of which can be recycled into merit scholarships for high-achieving Colorado students.
The second part of the bill would allocate $3 million in state funds for merit scholarships, money that would be spread among state colleges and universities. The floor amendment adopted Tuesday would restrict the scholarships to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their classes and have a 3.7 grade point average. The minimum award would be $2,500 a year.
The Department of Higher Education reportedly still has concerns with the bill, so Senate debate on the measure could be interesting. If the House gives the bill final approval on Wednesday, it could be considered by a Senate committee this week.
Another recently introduced measure, Senate Bill 13-279, squeaked out of the Senate on an 18-17 vote Tuesday and now has to go through the whole process in the House – with just six days left in the 2013 session (unless lawmakers decide to meet over the weekend).
The measure, by Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, would require new school buildings to meet various energy-efficiency standards. A couple of Democratic senators joined all Republicans in voting no on the bill, which is disliked by school districts because they’re worried about extra costs.
“This bill is terrible,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. “This bill does nothing for our kids.”
It’s been assigned to House Education, which is expected to hear it on Wednesday.
Votes were more lopsided on three other bills that received final Senate approval, including:
Three education-related measures only cleared committee on Tuesday so still need floor consideration.
At a rare early-morning meeting, the Senate Education Committee voted 5-3 to pass House Bill 13-1021. The bill would limit jailing of truant students for no more than five days at a stretch and encourage school districts to improve their services for “chronically absent” students so that they don’t end up in court for truancy.
This bill was introduced on the first day of the session in January but has been rattling around ever since while school district and criminal justice interests tried to strike a balance on how many new requirements to impose on districts.
Another bill that’s been around since January moved from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to appropriations on Tuesday.
House Bill 13-1171 would allow schools to stock epinephrine injectors for use on students experiencing allergic reactions. (Currently only students with known allergies can bring injectors to have them on hand at school.) This measure also has been subject to in-the-weeds negotiations, primarily involving the role of school nurses and liability protections. The bill would allow other school employees to give the injections, if they’re properly trained.
“We have had many hours of working on an amendment,” said sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.
During a quick meeting on the House floor, the House Appropriations Committee voted 8-5 to advance House Bill 13-1007, which also was introduced on opening day. Later in the day the full House gave the bill preliminary approval. Update: The bill got final approval on a 37-26 vote Wednesday morning.
The bill would revive the Early Childhood and School Readiness Legislative Commission, a study group of lawmakers. The commission is a pet project of two Democratic lawmakers who are active on education issues, Sen. Evie Hudak and Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, both of Westminster. The bill was in jeopardy but has been kept alive by stripping all legislative funding from the commission. Instead, an outside group, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, will provide staff support for the group, and lawmakers won’t receive any expense reimbursement for serving on the commission. (The Children’s Campaign has supported the body in the past.)
The city doled out $38.5 million in back pay to schools staff who were wrongly required to work overtime on a buggy special education data system, according to payment details released today by the education department.
Nearly 30,000 therapists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists received the overtime payments this month after an independent arbitrator ruled in January that the Department of Education violated the United Federation of Teachers’ contract. The first round of payments, on April 12, totaled $2.6 million for 1,700 occupational and physical therapists and the second and final payment — $35.9 million — went out to the rest of employees today.
The total number of educators who qualified for overtime far exceeded UFT’s estimates, which hovered at around 10,000. The UFT filed the labor complaint in mid-2011, charging that staff should not have been required to work outside of their contractual school day.
The unintentional overtime centered on time that educators spent plugging data into the Special Education Student Information System. According to teachers and union staff, the program does not have basic functions that are routinely found in other computer programs, such as an ‘auto save’ feature.
In a statement today, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that SESIS continues to be unnecessarily time-consuming for teachers and a wasteful example of the city’s pricey technology contracts.
“Thousands of hours that teachers could have spent helping kids were wasted trying to get this boondoggle of a computer system to work,” Mulgrew said.”But just as CityTime cost the city millions of dollars year after year, until SESIS is fixed or scrapped it will continue to be a money pit.”
Department of Education officials defended SESIS, which tracks student attendance and keeps a record of services that special education students receive.
“Keeping accurate and complete records on services provided to special needs students is necessary to ensure that we are providing quality services, and we are working to ensure that all staff are properly compensated in accordance with the arbitration award,” Connie Pankratz said.
Wading in to the growing backlash against the Common Core standards today, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called for a moratorium on using scores tied to the new standards to make important decisions.
Weingarten made the proposal in a speech before business and civic leaders at the Association for a Better New York, days after students across the state completed tests aligned to the Common Core for the first time and months after local union leaders began sounding the alarm about the state’s Common Core rollout.
She praised the learning standards and said she did not oppose testing students on them. But she said a “failure of leadership” and a “broken accountability system” could derail the Common Core’s chances of boosting student achievement in New York and beyond.
States and districts frequently use test scores to decide which schools to close and students to retain. Increasingly, they are also using test scores to measure teachers’ performance, a policy shift that Weingarten has supported but many of her members have not. Waiting at least a year before acting on the scores of Common Core-aligned tests would give students and teachers the chance to adjust to the higher standards and let states and districts assess whether the tests are yielding meaningful results, Weingarten said.
“That’s what assessment and accountability are supposed to be,” she said. “You see if the whole shebang works, before you say it’s ready for prime time.”
The moratorium proposal netted the national union leader swift criticism for impeding the nation’s first successful push to get multiple states to set shared expectations about student learning. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, meant to allow comparisons of students across states, although only Kentucky and New York have administered tests tied to them so far.
“Every reform effort through history has had people, special interests, saying let’s slow down, let’s put the breaks on this, we’re not ready,” said city Department of Education spokesman Andrew Kirtzman, who attended the speech. “It can’t happen. The Common Core is the future and it has to move forward.”
StudentsFirstNY, the state branch of a national education advocacy organization headed by Michelle Rhee that often opposes policies that teachers unions support, said Weingarten was attempting to “derail teacher evaluations” and was part of the “education status quo” that calls for “endless delay.”
Weingarten’s proposal was aimed at a national audience, and she exhorted parents, teachers, and students to write letters to their state education commissioners to advocate against attaching stakes to Common Core test scores. Legislation is on the table in several states to roll back the Common Core, which some on the right say comes dangerously close to a federal intrusion into local education decisions.
But she also focused heavily on New York City and state, where union leaders have complained bitterly about the lack of Common Core-aligned curriculum materials available to teachers. Weingarten cited NEST+m, a highly selective school for gifted students on the Lower East Side, as an “the exception, not the rule” because teachers were able to spend dozens of hours rejiggering their lesson plans to reflect the new standards’ emphases on critical thinking and informational texts.
She also alluded to local protests against “field testing,” or the practice of administering test questions that do not count to assess their quality. Weingarten said she agreed with the state that field testing is essential to developing high-quality tests.
Yet for New York City students, Weingarten’s moratorium would not require many changes. State education officials have said they will not label additional schools as low-performing based on this year’s scores. In the city, which has used test scores to decide which schools to close, a lame-duck mayoral administration won’t be able to close any schools at all. The city has also set aside the use of state test scores to decide which students should be held back. And because the city has not reached a teacher evaluation deal with its local union, test scores won’t factor into teachers’ annual ratings.
Most other districts across the state do have teacher evaluation systems in effect that weigh student test scores, an arrangement that has caused anxiety as state officials have warned that scores are likely to plummet this year. But the ratings will look at how teachers’ students do as compared to other teachers’ students, not compared to past scores. And in a statement released today in response to Weingarten’s speech, State Education Commissioner John King said, “We have asked districts to be thoughtful in their use of the data from this first year of Common Core assessments when evaluating teacher performance and we have every confidence that they will be.”
Yet even state education policy makers are divided about whether the state has been as cautious as it should have been in rolling out the new standards. After the speech today, Harry Phillips, a member of the state Board of Regents, approached Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch with a question.
“Don’t you think the commissioner should say it shouldn’t be high stakes until we get the curriculum in?” Phillips asked. The state is creating free reading and math curriculum materials that are tied to the Common Core, but they won’t be complete until the end of the year.
Tisch replied, “I think we’ve always been silent on how districts use the test.”
Speaking to reporters, Tisch repeated a defense of the standards that she has made over and over in recent weeks, as parents and teachers expressed increasing anxiety about the impact of the new tests.
“When we continue to educate to a lower standard…we are saying that New York State can not, will not be competitive in a 21st century economy,” she said. “I say the day for a low standard is over and let’s figure out a way to embrace a new challenging standard.”
Lametrios West has made a point to separate himself from the trouble around him. Despite heavy rain and steady cracks of lightning, the 14-year-old Kershaw Elementary School student made his way on a recent afternoon to the nearby Teamwork Englewood, a community organization whose after-school programs draw boys and girls from the surrounding area. Here, he holes up to “get out of the neighborhood.”
Staying out of trouble means closing himself off from the outside world. “It’s hard but I can do it,” he says. “By staying in the house, going to school, coming here. The only areas where I go is where I know people.”That’s going to be more difficult for young people like Lametrios next year, as neighborhoods throughout Chicago experience a massive reshuffling of students under a plan by Chicago Public Schools to shut 54 schools citywide.
In Englewood and West Englewood alone, six schools--John P. Altgeld Elementary School, Elaine O. Goodlow Elementary School, Arna Wendell Bontemps Elementary School, Elihu Yale Elementary School, Granville T. Woods Elementary School and Benjamin Banneker Elementary School--will close, meaning many students will have to travel across unfamiliar turf next year.
The danger Lametrios is trying to elude is grave. Nearly half of the 1,054 youths murdered in Chicago during the past five years were killed within census tracts where schools are closing. In all, these tracts only cover about a quarter of the city. West Englewood’s Goodlow Elementary had the highest number of young people killed within its tract of all the closing schools, with 37 overall. To the Southeast, Altgeld isn’t far behind, with 34 youth homicides.
Within this environment, young people have taken to forming cliques along neighborhood lines. The block where Lametrios lives, at West 64th Street and South Lowe Avenue, falls under the umbrella of the Black Disciples gang, but it is also run by a clique called “Lowe Life”--what his Teamwork Englewood mentor Michael Tidmore calls “a gang within a gang.”
Lametrios has some friends active in Lowe Life. “They be doing dumb stuff, so I don’t like to be around them ‘cause they do things I don’t want to do,” he says. “So if I know they’re [going] to do something, I would go in the house or something.”
But as Tidmore explains, despite his best efforts Lametrios faces the constant possibility of being indicted by geography. He lives on Lowe, meaning he represents his street, and to some degree its gang.
Tidmore presents Lametrios with a hypothetical scenario in which the youngster heads toward Paul Robeson High School, just one major block to the southeast. “Would those guys on Parnell [Avenue, one block east] connect you to Lowe Life?” Lametrios nods matter-of-factly. “Even though they might know [Lametrios is] not a part of that, just because he lives on Lowe, if they do something to him, it’s like they did something to all of Lowe,” Tidmore explains.
On a map, it seems what CPS is proposing to do is straightforward enough. The receiving schools are all nearby those that are closing--for the most part, within a mile radius. But in neighborhoods like Englewood, crossing from one block to another can mean entering enemy turf. The distance between Daniel S. Wentworth Elementary School and Altgeld is just half a mile, but it involves crossing South Halsted Street, which according to Tidmore is a major territorial dividing line.
In response to safety concerns, CPS has proposed measures to address potential issues. Its Safe Passage program, which stations adults along routes that students take to school to oversee their safety, has been budgeted a nearly $8 million increase in funding next year and will be implemented at all of the receiving schools. CPS has also said it will bus some affected students if their former school is more than 0.8 miles from the new location. But this will only be provided temporarily until current students have graduated.
Back at the Teamwork Englewood headquarters, Lametrios zips up his hoodie and prepares to leave. Like a typical teenager, he plans to spend his evening at home playing video games. But he isn’t your average middle-schooler. Fitting in with the in-crowd has no draw for him. “I don’t want to end up dead. I wanna do something positive with my life,” he says.
Next fall, Lametrios will remain at Kershaw for his eighth grade year, while elsewhere throughout Englewood, students from formerly separate schools will be merging. Lametrios says if he were one of them, he’d be worried about his safety. Again, geography is the main concern. “You could just be in the wrong place.”
--Angela Caputo helped research this article. It was originally posted on The Chicago Reporter’s “Chicago Muckrakers" blog.
A Queens school that has won accolades in the past for encouraging its students to adopt healthy behaviors is taking things a step further by eliminating meat from its cafeteria.
The Active Learning Elementary School, which serves young students in Flushing, is the first school in the city to go all-vegetarian, and city officials say it might be a pathbreaker nationwide. Chancellor Dennis Walcott, a fitness and diet junkie himself, visited the school for lunch today.
Instead of serving sloppy joes or roasted chicken, the school will serve up “healthy recipes such as roasted chickpeas, braised black beans with plantains, tofu vegetable wrap with cucumber salad, vegetarian chili served with brown rice, falafel, and roasted tofu with Asian sesame sauce,” according to the city’s press release.
Principal Robert Groff said in a statement the city distributed that the change was spurred on by the school’s students. “We discovered early on that our kids were gravitating toward our vegetarian offerings, and we kept expanding the program to meet the demand,” he said.
Students at TALES, also known as P.S. 244, have put the school on forefront of healthy eating before. The school dropped flavored milk from its drink choices two years ago after students pointed out the sugar content on the milk’s nutrition label. The change helped the school win special recognition in 2011 from President Bill Clinton for its role in combating obesity and unhealthy lifestyles among children.
Other schools that have adopted “Meatless Mondays” or made other efforts to reduce meat consumption have focused on the environmental advantages as well as health benefits. But TALES still has some steps it could take to reduce its environmental impact. According to a picture from the school that NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ tweeted today, the new vegetarian meals are being served on styrofoam trays.
Aspen Community School has beaten the odds and raised the $4.9 million needed to match a $4.2 million construction grant from the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today program.
The school has been something of a poster child for the difficulties some charters face in raising matching funds for BEST grants.
Aspen Community is a 127-student K-8 charter in the rural Woody Creek area. It tried for a BEST grant three times before winning one last August, but it still had to appeal to the state construction board to lower the original, higher match requirement. The school plans to improve its hilltop campus, which is centered on a log building more than four decades old.
The school is working to raise an additional $2.5 million for other campus improvements and hopes to do that by September 2014. Groundbreaking is planned for spring 2014.
As CPS prepares to close dozens of schools, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has promised that none of the keys to the shuttered schools would be handed over to private charter operators.
But the district is proposing 11 co-locations, eight of which involve charters moving into buildings with traditional neighborhood schools. The proposals have reignited fears among some activists, parents and even school staff--not only about the logistics of space-sharing but that the co-locations are just a back-door way of kicking out a traditional school.
There’s precedent for their anxiety: Co-locations in CPS have not worked out smoothly and have been marked by tenuous relationships between students and staff. In some cases, charter schools have taken over.
Still, concern about co-locations is not just about sharing buildings with charter schools. Teachers and parents at Marshall Middle School are also alarmed at the prospect of sharing a building with Disney Magnet 2 High School.
Beginning of the end?
Two high schools also appear to be in a particularly precarious position: Bowen and Corliss.
Both schools are in similar straits—located in tough South Side neighborhoods, struggling to lower dropout rates and raise test scores. Both have the building capacity for about 1,000 students but have enrollment of only around 500.
CPS proposes to have both Bowen and Corliss share buildings with Noble Street charter schools. Noble Street charters have an average of 50 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on the Prairie State exam, compared to a district average of 32 percent. And though students do not take entrance exams for charters, Noble Street expects students to attend an orientation to pick up an application in order to be part of the admissions lottery (a step that critics say makes the charters selective, in comparison to neighborhood schools).
Noble Street leaders have not completely signed on to the co-locations yet and are still looking at the option, said Angela Montagna, the charter operator’s director of external affairs. A CPS official said charter schools could turn down the offered space, but won’t be offered alternative.
Chris Goins, slated to be principal of the Noble Street at Corliss, said he is recruiting students from the Pullman neighborhood and engaging the community to sell them on the school.
Corliss Principal Leonard Harris said he doesn’t see Noble Street as a threat, but rather as offering more opportunity to students in the area. “I am not fearful,” he said. “Corliss is a good school.”
However, three teachers from Corliss showed up at a public hearing in April to voice their concerns.
Eva Dervin said she and other teachers want to know if the co-location is a precursor to a phase-out. “If so, we should be told that at the beginning instead of being told two years down the line,” she said.
Mandy Walker-Edwards added that students who don’t meet the expectations of Noble Street will land at Corliss.
“Now, instead of us getting selective enrollment status like Noble Street, we will still be a [neighborhood] school,” she said. “We have to take whatever student at whatever academic status. It is like you are pitting one school against the other. One gets selective enrollment and you tell the other, take whatever [student] is out there.”
“Nothing to help our students”
At Corliss, the principal is putting a positive spin on the co-location. But at Bowen, Principal Jennifer Kirmes talks about her trepidation at the prospect and her dismay at not being consulted before the plans were drawn up.
The exterior of Bowen’s main building is a gracious, red brick. But inside, it’s age show. Some ceiling tiles are missing and paint is crumbling. The school will get some repairs because of the co-location, though CPS proposes to put Noble Street in an annex. Noble Street receives a lot of private donations and usually does a complete renovation before moving in, and Kirmes wonders how this will make her students feel.
Kirmes is also upset she was never consulted before the plans were drawn up. She recently won funding, through the city’s Ready to Learn program, to open a preschool in a part of the annex that once housed one. “It has little toilets and little sinks, so it doesn’t need a major renovation, just a little elbow grease,” Kirmes says.
She plans to offer Bowen students the option of career education courses in early childhood, giving them the chance to do an internship at the preschool. The early childhood program will go forward, but Kirmes doesn’t have the money to renovate another space and doesn’t know where she will put the preschool if the annex is occupied.
Kirmes also points out a safety concern. Noble Street schools do not, as a practice, have metal detectors. The charter’s students will have to use a gym in the main building, and Kirmes says security staff are worried about students being in the main building without having been screened.
“I want to be cooperative and collaborative, but I also want us to survive,” Kirmes says.
Bowen recently experienced a dramatic shift in 2011, when it was consolidated back into one school after being split up into four small schools. Teacher Magen Kilcoyne points out that the current crop of juniors started freshman year at a small school, went to a consolidated school their sophomore year, got a new principal their junior year and now will face having a “completely remapped building.”
“It does absolutely nothing to help our students in terms of much needed resources and the overall quality of their education,” Kilcoyne says. “It does, however, tell them that they are not a priority and are very much dispensable to those at the top. What picture does this paint, when another fully functioning, [highly] resourced school takes up their space? It seems quite clear that this is just the first step in slowly destroying this public school.”
A third high school that will co-locate with a charter is Hope, which will share its building with a new KIPP middle school. Several Englewood residents attended public hearings to say they wanted KIPP to come to their neighborhood and no Hope representative came to oppose it.
Ironically, however, Hope used to have middle grades, with a 6th through 12th grade configuration. At that time, Hope was the highest-scoring school, at those grade levels, in the area.
When Englewood High School was closed to make way for Urban Prep and Team Englewood, Hope was turned into a receiving school for high school students and was stripped of its middle grades. Since then, its test scores have plummeted.
Not just concern about charters
Charter takeover remain the biggest concern among some activists and parents, in particular those at Wadsworth Elementary in Woodlawn. CPS is proposing that the University of Chicago Charter High School-Woodlawn take over the Wadsworth building that both schools have shared for several years. The charter will take in 60 more students.
“Do you think it is fair for Wadsworth school to relocate to another building just because the University of Chicago wants to expand their charter school?” said Wadsworth LSC chair Pamela Jernigan, sparking applause at a public meeting in April. “CPS, if you really want to make a strong impact and impress us all, then put a moratorium on all charter school actions. They are only options and not solutions to the public school fiasco.”
Later, Jernigan said the experience of building-sharing has not been good. For one, it has provided a sharp contrast between a school that has a wealth of resources and one that does not.
From the day it opened in 2006, the charter school had a lab of brand new Apple computers. Students also had laptops. But up until last year, Wadsworth had a room of outdated computers, Jernigan said. “It sends the wrong message to children.”
Jernigan also doesn’t like the fact that Wadsworth’s students are being sent a few blocks west to Dumas, into an area along 67th Street that is considered more dangerous. “If it weren’t for the charter school, Dumas would likely be coming here,” she said.
But Shayne Evans, director of the University of Chicago Charter Schools, insists that the charter school didn’t request and doesn’t need the rest of the building, even with the additional students. He also notes that he and the school’s staff have not assessed the rest of the building, nor have they inquired about how much it would cost the charter in facilities rent paid to CPS.
Though specific plans have not been developed, Evans says it might be better to build a new high school, rather than try to make an old elementary school work.
Yet Evans says he would like the school to enroll more students. As one of the few charters with an attendance boundary, the school got about 700 applications this year for a class of 160 students.
“We have a huge demand and we are trying our best to serve it,” Evans says.
Colorado Mountain College this week will award 58 bachelor’s degrees — a first for the community college that has 11 campuses in the central and northern mountains.
The 2010 legislature gave CMC the power to award four-year degrees in a limited number of fields, and the college launched programs in business administration and sustainability studies in the fall of 2011. The students graduating this week combined previous credits with CMC studies to earn their degrees.
The CMC bill passed easily three years ago. Things were different this year, when heavy lobbying pressure from four-year schools led to the defeat of Senate Bill 13-165, which would have allowed the state community college system to offer a limited number of four-year degrees in technical subjects.
CMC is a local district junior college, meaning it raises revenue from property taxes and receives only a limited amount of state funding.
The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education and the Greeley Education Association made many compromises but ultimately came out of this year’s negotiations with a new master agreement for the 2013-14 school year that, among other things, increases a teacher’s workday by 30 minutes.
GEA members ratified the contract April 24 by more than 90 percent of those voting, said GEA President David Delgado. The Board of Education approved the contract Monday by a unanimous vote.
Changes in the master contract include:
“GEA and the district kept the best interests of students and teachers in mind throughout the process,” Delgado said.
Meanwhile, Board of Education President Doug Lidiak had this to say: “This will be helpful to our teachers and empower our principals for the long-term benefit of our students.”
The revised contract will go into effect July 1, 2013 and continue through June 30, 2014.
One of our nation’s most enduring themes is that education and prosperity go hand in hand. As we move deeper into a global economy dominated by knowledge, technology and innovation, and an increasing number of jobs require a postsecondary degree, educational access and attainment are more important than ever.
So it should be no surprise that our failure to keep up with the rest of the world on matters of education poses dire consequences for our economy and national prestige.
Here are some important statistics: the U.S. ranks 14th in global college completion and by 2020, an estimated two-thirds of all jobs will require an education beyond high school.
We have seen a troubling trend for low-income and minority students — students who, in the past, have been left to fend for themselves. This is particularly true for Latinos — who represent the fastest-growing, youngest demographic in the country. Thousands of Latino students, who have with the smarts and skills to succeed in college, aren’t even applying. Increasing degree attainment among this particular demographic is essential, considering our nation’s goal to re-establish our place as the world’s leader with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. As the U.S. strives for global competitiveness, training a new generation of workers is increasingly critical.
As a young man who grew up on the streets of the South Side of Chicago and today is a successful businessman, I have a particular appreciation for the importance of a well-educated, diverse workforce. I have seen the devastating effects of repeated cycles of poverty on those who can’t break it. That’s why I feel so strongly that all students who are academically prepared for the intellectual demands of college — no matter their location, background or socioeconomic status — have a right to fulfill their potential.
I have known many Latino students, in particular, who have the academic potential to succeed in college but lack role models and resources. They need support and guidance. They need parents, teachers and schools that foster a college-going culture in the earliest grades.
If you work on behalf of students or feel your expertise could help to support traditionally underserved students, I strongly recommend that you attend “Prepárate™: Educating Latinos for the Future of America” from May 1 to 2, 2013 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. Hosted by the College Board, the conference will convene the voices and best practices of some of America’s most respected educators and advocates to improve academic success and opportunity for Latino students. Teachers, counselors and administrators from high schools and colleges will address critical issues within Latino education and focus on successful strategies that include: creating opportunities for students to experience challenging high school course work that prepares them for college; strengthening students in math and science for STEM careers; and ensuring high school graduation and improving timely college graduation rates. To register and for more information, please visit http://preparate.collegeboard.org.
We face, in no uncertain terms, a crisis that threatens our nation’s long-term health and prosperity; America’s success in the 20th century was achieved not only through the might of our arms but the dexterity of our minds.
It is our responsibility as parents, elected officials, administrators and business leaders to support each and every one of our students. We must be advocates and we must keep pushing our students to achieve greatness above and beyond even their own expectations. If we fail, our failure will become theirs. If we succeed, our success will echo for generations.
Martin Cabrera, Jr.
Cabrera Capital Markets
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.
After dropping hints in interviews and public appearances for weeks, AFT President Randi Weingarten is formally weighing in on the backlash to the Common Core standards today by calling for a moratorium on consequences attached to Common Core test scores.
Weingarten is making the proposal right now in a speech to business and civic leaders at the Association for a Better New York, a pit stop for public figures with new ideas to float. Among the high-profile audience members is state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who helped steer New York’s adoption of the tougher standards and has defended the state’s decision to test students on the standards before teachers had curriculum materials aligned to them.
Weingarten is expressly saying that she is not opposed to testing students on the new standards, which emphasize critical thinking and problem solving skills. She just doesn’t want states or districts to judge schools, teachers, or students according to the test scores.
“When states and districts get the alignment right — moving from standards to curriculum to classrooms to feedback and improvement — student success will follow,” Weingarten is saying, according to her prepared comments. “But until then, a moratorium on stakes is the only sensible course.”
The full text of the speech is below, and we’ll have more complete coverage, including reactions from Tisch and others, later today.
Making Common Core Standards Work before Making Them Count
Remarks for AFT President Randi Weingarten
Association for a Better New York
New York, NY
April 30, 2013
Our obligation as a nation, and my obligation as an educator, is to help children achieve their potential, participate in our democracy and propel our economy forward. In today’s world, that means our students must be prepared to compete—not on the basis of their test-taking skills, but on their ability to solve problems, analyze and apply knowledge, and work with others.
So, what if I told you there is a way to transform the very DNA of teaching and learning to move away from rote memorization and endless test-prep, and toward problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork—things I know many of you have been advocating for years? And what if I told you there is a way to do that not a generation from now, but for students today, who will be the employees you’ll hire tomorrow?
In these are the potential to do that.
These are the Common Core State Standards for Math and English language arts that have been adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 states, including New York. The pages within these binders lay out the kind of learning I have seen in classrooms in Finland, Singapore and other top-performing systems throughout the world. These standards establish high expectations for all students, regardless of whether they’re from Bed-Stuy or Beverly Hills, Bay Shore, Long Island, or Birmingham, Ala.
Before I get to the importance of these binders, let me do a one-minute advertorial for the AFT.
We’ve proposed a way for all prospective teachers to get ample experience in real classrooms alongside practicing teachers—and to meet a high entry standard—like in medicine or law.
We’ve created a system to make teacher evaluations constructive exercises that provide for continuous improvement and feedback, and that fairly identify those who are not cut out for our profession. A system that recasts tenure not as a guaranteed job for life, but rather as a guarantee of fairness.
We are confronting the devastating effects of poverty by advocating for and establishing community schools to meet the social, emotional and health needs of children. We’re fighting for public schools that are safe, collaborative and welcoming environments, and for the resources kids need—so that budget cuts don’t cause lifelong harm.
We’ve done these things because our goal is to make sure every child can get a great public education.
And that’s where the Common Core State Standards come in.
I predict these standards will result in one of two outcomes: Either they will lead to a revolution in teaching and learning. Or they will end up in the overflowing dustbin of abandoned reforms, with people throwing up their hands and decrying that public schools just don’t work. And the coming months will determine which outcome comes to pass.
There is reason for both optimism and pessimism.
What has me optimistic is that teachers want these standards to succeed. We recently polled our members, and 75 percent of our teachers support the Common Core standards. That’s no surprise—because teachers, including many AFT teachers, played a fundamental role in the design and review of these standards.
We’re talking about less memorization, less racing through a course of study, and more searching for evidence and conceptual understanding. All of which help students to be college- and career-ready.
I recently visited a public school on the Lower East Side that’s making this transition—the NEST+m School. I saw fourth-graders learning about Columbus’ New World expeditions in a manner aligned to the Common Core standards. It was remarkable. There was none of the “In fourteen hundred ninety-two / Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” that you might remember. These students were reading passages from Columbus’ diary describing his experiences in his own words. They delved deeply into multiple perspectives, including making inferences from works of art from the vantage point of both Native Americans and the European explorers of the time.
In the movies, this type of dramatic change could take place in the space of one inspirational montage set to song. But not in real life.
Teachers at NEST+m told me that it took them roughly 50 hours last summer to review and understand the standards, to work through how they shifted their approach to teaching and learning, and to develop lessons aligned to them. They’re still at it—meeting weekly to discuss what’s working and what isn’t, as they use these standards in their classrooms. And they’re getting a lot of help from faculty at Hunter College, corporate partners at Sony and others.
It’s fantastic that those teachers have the opportunity to approach the standards that way, and that their students are already benefitting. But it’s deeply troubling to realize that what’s happening at NEST+m is by far the exception, not the rule.
And that’s what has me pessimistic. These standards, which hold such potential to create deeper learning, are instead creating a serious backlash—as officials seek to make them count before they make them work. That’s what we’re seeing here in New York, as you have witnessed in the last few weeks. And it is happening throughout the country.
In an editorial pointing out how far from ready its state is to transition to the new standards, the Los Angeles Timesprinted a tweet from one teacher that said it perfectly: “Within a couple of years, ‘we start testing on standards we’re not teaching with curriculum we don’t have on computers that don’t exist.’”
That teacher speaks for many teachers throughout the country who have not yet been trained or prepared to teach in the manner envisioned by the Common Core. In that same poll in which 75 percent of teachers supported the Common Core, a similarly overwhelming majority said they haven’t had enough time to understand the standards, put them into practice or share strategies with colleagues.
The writers of the standards have voiced the same concerns. William McCallum of the University of Arizona, who co-wrote the Common Core math standards, says, “Implementation is everything. … Preparation of teachers … is crucial.”
But what McCallum deems as “crucial” is being treated as “optional” in too many systems and by too many policymakers—including the federal government, which is spending $350 million on new high-stakes tests aligned to the CCSS but nothing specifically targeted to prepare teachers.
There’s a logical and effective way to turn these standards into classroom practice and student success. First, educators need to unpack the standards—which means they need to fully understand what they are. Then, as UFT president and AFT vice president Michael Mulgrew has repeatedly said, they need a curriculum, which New York City just said won’t be in place until this coming September. Then, teachers need time and support to adapt their teaching, and need try it out in classrooms with their kids, both of which we saw at NEST+m. Then you can see, through a bunch of different measures, if it’s working.
That’s what assessment and accountability are supposed to be. You see if the whole shebang works, before you say it’s ready for prime time.
But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, in New York state, the assessment has been fast-tracked before the other pieces were put in place. And the result is this destructive anxiety that kids and teachers have endured these past few months. Throughout New York, students in grades 3-8 just took math and English tests on material they may never have even seen.
The New York City Department of Education’s recent announcement of a K-8 curriculum is welcome, but announcing a curriculum one month before assessments are administered begs the question: Is this about deep learning or desperate cramming?
And it looks like they’re repeating the same mistake for high school students. A year from now, the Regents Exams will be aligned to the Common Core, and there’s still very little instructional material available at the high school level.
With the tests that students here in New York have just taken, scores will drop—not because there is less learning, but because the tests are evaluating skills and content these students haven’t yet been taught.
A parent from Queens, quoted in the Daily News, summed it up: “It’s unethical to give kids a test when you know they’re going to fail.” The Wall Street Journal quoted a superintendent from Long Island who reported that a couple of kids started throwing up during the tests. One child went to the bathroom and refused to leave. He said that a number of children walked out of tests crying.
There are ads all over New York telling parents that scores will drop, which is the responsible thing to do, but I can’t help but think that if more time on the front end were devoted to getting this right, they wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the back end inoculating against the results.
And while you can argue that the drops will just reset the baseline, that’s not the case. Across the state, scores from this spring’s assessments may be used to determine whether students advance or are held back, to designate a school’s performance, and even to determine whether schools stay open or shut down. And they will be used as 20 percent of teacher evaluations.
Can you even imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained in it or provided the necessary instruments—simply being told that there may be some material on a website? Of course not, but that’s what’s happening right now with the Common Core.
The fact that the changes are being made nationwide without anything close to adequate preparation is a failure of leadership, a sign of a broken accountability system and, worse, an abdication of our moral responsibility to kids, particularly poor kids.
The AFT has tried to fill the breach, as have others. For example, we’ve built a powerful online tool to provide educators with resources aligned to the Common Core standards. With TES Connect, our British partner, the AFT created Share My Lesson—a Web-based resource for teachers to share materials with each other. I compare it to a digital filing cabinet full of materials, lesson plans and ideas. Some teachers have told us that Share My Lesson is their only source for resources to teach to the Common Core standards.
The AFT has already trained hundreds of teachers in Common Core-aligned math and reading courses so they can support thousands of others.
And the AFT Innovation Fund provides grants and expert assistance for local union-led reforms—and has made significant investments in Common Core implementation across the country. Take, for example, the teachers at the Edwards Middle School in Boston, who, with the help of the Innovation Fund, are spearheading the creation of Common Core-aligned lessons. And in the three months they’ve been on Share My Lesson, these hugely popular resources have been downloaded more than 28,000 times.
By the way, our members’ dues support each of these efforts.
We are walking the walk. Time and again, we’ve made a choice not simply to call out what doesn’t work, but to demonstrate what does. This is the solution-driven unionism we are proud to practice. But it’s not enough for the AFT and our members to walk the walk. Others must walk with us.
I cannot say this more simply: We are committed to the success of our students. That means getting the transition to Common Core standards right. That’s why today I am calling for a moratorium on the stakes associated with Common Core assessments.
I am proposing that states and districts work with educators to develop clear tasks and a clear timeline to put in place the crucial elements of Common Core implementation. And until then, the tests should be decoupled from decisions that could unfairly hurt students, schools and teachers.
When scores drop as sharply as they’re expected to, it will send an inexcusable message to parents: Your child is far from meeting the standards. And she needs to meet the standards to get into college. But we don’t have a plan, and nobody’s accountable for getting her there. Except for the teacher, who hasn’t been trained. And you can just imagine how that teacher feels.
New York State Education Commissioner John King made the right choice not to do double tests—the old and the new. But the solution isn’t double tests, or a single test that nobody’s prepared for. It’s for everyone at every level—state, district, school—to support the work of teaching to the Common Core. When states and districts get the alignment right—moving from standards to curriculum to classrooms to feedback and improvement—student success will follow.
But until then, a moratorium on stakes is the only sensible course.
Right now, somebody’s probably tweeting, “Weingarten is against accountability.” Dead wrong. We’re not avoiding accountability. We’re trying to make accountability real.
Let me be clear about what this moratorium is and isn’t: We aren’t saying students shouldn’t be assessed. We aren’t saying teachers shouldn’t be evaluated. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be standardized tests. We’re talking about a moratorium on consequences in these transitional years.
It’s kind of amazing that it’s necessary to call on states and districts to implement the Common Core before making the new assessments count. But that is what I feel compelled to do today. Districts, states and policymakers: Administer student assessments, perform teacher evaluations, but use them to understand and respond to student and teacher needs in this transition. Just like businesses let data improve products, let the data inform instruction and improve policy. That way we can help teachers and students master this new approach to teaching and learning, and not waste time punishing people for not doing something they haven’t yet been trained or equipped to do.
This moratorium—this transition period before high stakes are attached to the assessments—can’t be a period of inactivity. It must be a time of intense activity in order to properly implement the standards. In this time period, states and districts should put in place a high-quality implementation plan and field testing.
An implementation plan must include curriculum, professional development and time—but they aren’t sufficient. A high-quality implementation plan also means involving the frontline educators who are responsible for engaging students in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and the other skills expected in the Common Core. And the plan can’t just be imposed from on high. It needs to be designed with and by teachers—ideally through their collective bargaining agent. The only way this will succeed is if teachers have input and ownership. Teachers rise to the occasion. The more input and supports they have, the more confident they are about mastering these instructional shifts.
Parents must be a part of this also. Schools and districts must keep them informed and engaged.
And this transition requires dollars. A recent study, from the Fordham Institute, estimated that the cost of implementation could run as high as $12 billion nationally. And let’s be real: If funds can be repurposed, great. But remember, schools and students have already endured four years of deep cuts to education. And this year, funding has dropped yet again in more than half the states. While the sequester may no longer be causing headaches at airports, it’s taking a hatchet to education funding for poor children.
In sum, implementation plans must lay out what is needed, spell out how to get there, and make it clear how they will be supported, financially and otherwise, by teachers, political leaders, administrators, parents and the community.
Let’s talk about field testing: We need to ensure that the standards, the curriculum, the teaching and the testing are actually aligned. Timelines will vary, but we are calling for at least a year to field-test a sound implementation plan.
Field testing is important any time a new process or product is introduced. Just ask successful businesses. For the Common Core, it would serve as a time when teachers can give and get feedback, share ideas, and try out methods of teaching to the new standards in their classrooms every single day. So if businesses field-test new products as a matter of course, why, in education, would we do something less, especially with something as revolutionary as the Common Core?
Once those two parts—an implementation plan and field testing—are completed, that’s when it makes sense to attach stakes to the assessments. But even then, let’s stop this out-of-control fixation on testing, test-prep and paperwork.
There is still an opportunity to give teachers and students the tools and time they need so students can meet the new challenges and higher expectations with confidence. New Yorkers should insist on this, as should those in every state that has adopted these standards.
Other states, like Kentucky, and cities, like Cleveland are trying. In Cleveland, back in 2010, the education community came together to jointly develop a detailed rollout plan for the Common Core State Standards. Their plan calls for a three-year period to build an infrastructure for the Common Core so that they can implement it fully in the fourth year. It includes not just a commitment, but concrete steps to develop curricula and carve out time for school-based professional development and peer support. Even in their tough economic climate, they found funds to make it happen.
The Common Core standards have the potential to be a once-in-a-generation revolution in education, and Cleveland’s implementation plan reflects that. I’m not saying its approach is perfect for every state or district, but an approach that has time and resources and commitment behind it—a plan in which everyone knows his or her part—should be the standard, not the exception.
When students complete only a small fraction of the tasks required of them, they get a failing grade. Yet when officials responsible for implementing the CCSS fail to do what’s required of them, it’s students, schools and teachers who pay the price. That’s wrong.
Everyone who has a responsibility for our children’s education has to take responsibility for making sure the Common Core is supported, implemented and then evaluated correctly. That’s what making accountability real means.
So I come back to these standards. Revolution? Or dustbin?
This is our chance to realize the purpose of public education—to instill skills and knowledge, a love of learning; to foster an informed and engaged citizenry; to build a stronger nation. This is our chance to ensure that every child can not just read, write and compute—but think, problem-solve, work in teams and be confident about their place in the world. This is our chance to reverse growing achievement gaps by attending to the huge opportunity gaps and giving all kids the supports they need to achieve these goals.
This is our chance—and it must be our choice—to get this right. Rhetoric about urgency can’t trump quality, equity and sustainability.
Part of why I’ve come home to New York to make this argument is because I believe they simply don’t get it in Washington. They don’t understand—as I believe you do—that if we fail to get this right, your mission of a better New York and our shared mission of a better America will be that much harder to achieve.
If we’re able to step on the accelerator of high-quality implementation and put the brakes on the stakes, we can take advantage of this opportunity and guarantee that deeper and more rigorous standards will help lead to higher achievement for all our children.