As chess champion Garry Kasparov finished up his visit to the chess club at Harlem Success Academy I this morning, he posed a question for the three dozen students taking a break from their matches: How does chess help you in school?
At first, the students struggled to answer Kasparov’s question with the kind of specifics he wanted. One boy said it helped, but couldn’t explain how exactly. Another said it helped him strategize, but came up short when pressed for more. Two girls said that chess helped them with complicated math problems and one boy said it helped him concentrate.
Finally, a young girl’s answer seemed to satisfy the grandmaster.
“Chess helps me with writing because when you’re writing an essay you have to reread your work just like you have to reread your notations,” said Hawa Diallo, a fourth grader at the school, referring to the scoresheets kept during games.
“Brilliant,” Kasparov said.
It’s a question that Kasparov said is at the core of one of his life’s goals since he retired in 2005 after spending nearly 19 years as the game’s top-ranked player. Through his foundation, Kasparov has set out to grow chess by exposing it to younger generations and he said that one way to do that is to prove that developing chess curriculum in schools has long-term educational impacts for children.
“It boosts their confidence and this is very important, especially in the deprived neighborhoods,” Kasparov said. “They have to realize that they can succeed in the field of intellect, they can beat other kids from private schools by doing intellectual things.”
Kasparov said the game is growing, but ”what is important is that you have more centralized efforts to make sure that these benefits will be maximized.”
In New York City, high-performing schools such as Bronx Science, Edward R. Murrow, Stuyvesant and Hunter regularly are known for their strong chess programs. But many chess clubs and classes are offered in lower-performing schools through support from outside community partners. The largest of these is the nonprofit Chess-In-The-Schools, which teaches chess to 13,000 students in 51 Title I schools as part of their academic school day.
Perhaps the city’s most famous underdog chess team is I.S. 318, a low-income school that Paul Tough wrote about in his best-selling book about character education and was the subject of an award-winning documentary.
At the Success Academy schools, the city’s largest charter school network, chess is not an everyday class but it is central part of its programming. Students are required to learn chess from one of the network’s 10 chess teachers who are nationally ranked by the U.S. Chess Federation. Fritz Gaspard, the staff’s top-ranked player, is considered an expert with a rating over 2100.
Several of the schools also have chess teams that compete in national tournament and against one another in “cross school tournaments.”
But Sean O’Hanlon, the chess program’s director, said he tried not to put too much emphasis on the competitive aspect.
“What you really try to do, even more than win, is get them thinking,” he said.
The Senate on Wednesday evening accepted House amendments and re-passed two major school finance bills, one to fund K-12 education in 2013-14 and another that proposes to modernize the entire system of paying for education.
The next and perhaps the crucial test for Senate Bill 13-213 could come in November, when voters may have the chance to decide whether to raise income taxes by about $1 billion to pay for the new system. The bill won’t go into effect if voters don’t approve higher taxes.
There was no discussion on either bill, not even final pitches for SB 13-213 by Democratic sponsors Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver and Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder.
In contrast to the budget cuts of the last four years, SB 13-260 provides an increase of 2.7 percent in average per-pupil funding. Total program funding, the combination of state and local revenue that pays for basic school operations, would rise to $5.5 billion, an increase of about $210 million. Average per pupil funding would move up from the current $6,479 to $6,652. The bill also provides additional funding for the Colorado Preschool Program and for special education. (Get more details on the bill in this EdNews summary and in this legislative staff note.)Capitol roundup
Next year’s school funding is 15.49 percent lower than it would have been without use of what’s called the negative factor, a mechanism that allows lawmakers to set school funding at an amount necessary to balance the overall state budget.
Give the recent healthy increases in state revenues, some education interest groups lobbied for even higher 2013-14 funding in an effort to further reduce the estimated $1 billion shortfall created by use of the negative factor in recent years. There also was some argument about whether the negative factor was being calculated properly. Legislative leaders were resistant to those pleas, arguing that recent revenue increases were largely one-time.
SB 13-213 would increase funding for kindergarten and preschool, provide significantly more money for districts with the highest concentrations of at-risk students and English language learners, devote more money to special education and make extra payments to districts for the cost of implementing reform mandates. (Get details in this EdNews summary and in this legislative staff analysis.)
The details of the ballot measure needed to trigger SB 13-213 remain unclear. A total of 20 different measures have been proposed by two advocacy groups, one from the business community and one that’s education related. Tax-increase advocates are expected to decide later this month on a single proposal to take to the signature-gathering process, although there remains some disagreement about whether to go to the ballot this year.Little love for energy-efficient schools bill
Sen. Andy Kerr’s energy-efficient schools bill stayed alive Wednesday, but only after a crucial section of Senate Bill 13-279 was amputated by the House Education Committee.
The bill is the latest version of an idea the Lakewood Democrat has been pushing unsuccessfully for years – requiring new school buildings to meet energy efficiency standards.
As it currently stands, the bill would require new schools built after next Jan. 1 and renovations involving more than 50 percent of an existing building meet “the highest energy efficiency standards practicable.”
The bill has been opposed by school district lobbyists because of the potential extra costs and what district’s see as the bill’s infringement on local control. One particularly disliked provision of the original bill required districts to pay outside experts to verify the energy efficiency of new buildings.
The committee Wednesday unanimously adopted an amendment to remove outside verification from the bill. Amendments to exempt charter schools from the requirements and to make the whole measure voluntary were defeated by the committee’s Democratic majority. The measure then passed on a 7-6 party-line vote.
The committee’s action didn’t silence the critics, and there are likely to be House floor fights over amendments on charter schools, making the program voluntary and over the definition of “practicable.” It’s also possible the issue of outside verification will come up again.
With the 2013 session required to adjourn next Wednesday, SB 13-279 also faces the possibility of “dying on the calendar,” meaning the bill dies if the House and Senate don’t agree on amendments before the final gavel falls.
The hearing, probably the committee’s last meeting of the 2013 session, provided a rare example of the “reluctant sponsor.” Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, is carrying the bill in the House and made it pretty clear that she’s doing so out of respect for Kerr rather than because she’s enthusiastic about the idea.
“I believe Sen. Kerr has very good intentions in this,” she said at one point. “I’m conflicted about all his … no bill is perfect. This one has particular challenges, and I’m glad I don’t have to vote on it.” Gerou is an architect and knows a thing or two about building standards.Incentives for AP tests trimmed
At the same time Wednesday morning the Senate Education Committee had its own go-round with a bill that raised lots of questions but passed anyway.
House Bill 13-1056 is a bipartisan measure that proposes to expand availability of Advanced Placement classes and tests in small rural school districts by offering per-student bonuses to districts that expand AP offerings and to students who take the tests.
The bill has raised questions about its cost and about the fairness of providing bonuses to only some districts.
The committee approved an amendment reducing the bonus amounts but rejected a change that would have paid students for passing the AP tests, not just for taking them. The measure next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its cost (now somewhere below $500,000) could make it vulnerable.Also crossing the finish line
The House Wednesday accepted Senate amendments and re-passed three education bills, including:
House Bill 13-1117 – This bill is a Hickenlooper administration priority and would consolidate various early childhood agencies in the Department of Human Services. Passed 39-25.
House Bill 13-1194 – The measure expands eligibility for resident tuition rates to certain military dependents. Passed 64-0.
House Bill 13-1005 – This proposal allows the community college system to create pilot, relatively short programs that combine adult basic education and vocational training programs. Passed 45-19.
Pearson’s errors when grading city students’ screening tests for gifted programs did not affect all test-takers equally.
Children in districts with many white and Asian families — who make up more than 70 percent of students in gifted programs, despite being just a third of the city’s student population — were most likely to have learned that their score was higher than they had been told, according to data the Department of Education released today. The good news came much more infrequently in districts that are heavily black and Hispanic.
The department announced nearly two weeks ago that Pearson, the testing company, had botched the scores of nearly 5,000 children who were screened for gifted programs. Instead of slightly fewer children qualifying than last year, as the department initially said had happened, children had met the eligible requirements at a record rate.
Today, the department released an updated breakdown of where children qualifying for gifted programs live. The data reinforce the fact that the department’s overhaul of the screening process — which included a test that was billed as harder to game — seems to have done little to chip away at longstanding inequities in the racial makeup of students in gifted programs.
Nearly 52 percent of children screened in Manhattan’s District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, posted scores high enough to make them eligible for gifted programs. In District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and most of Manhattan below 59th Street, that proportion was 50 percent. The department had originally said 44 and 41 percent of test-takers in those districts had qualified.
In District 7 in the South Bronx, just 13 percent of test-takers qualified after the regrading. Of 189 test-takers in the district, only six more children passed the screening test than Pearson originally said.
Two districts had students deemed eligible after regrading even less often. District 16, which includes the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and District 12 in the Bronx — long two of the city’s lowest-performing districts — had students move over the eligibility bar at the lowest rate, 2.14 percent. Heavily black and Hispanic districts generally saw their proportion of passing students increase by less than 5 percent.
Across the city, the scoring errors affected 7.5 percent of test-takers’ eligibility for gifted programs, and in districts with many middle-class families and Asian immigrants, more than 8 percent of students screened were deemed eligible after the error was fixed. In District 26 in Queens, which is packed with both populations, more than 10 percent of test-takers had been wrongly told they were not eligible.
The city standardized the admissions process for gifted programs in 2006 in an effort to increase equity in who attends them. But the city’s poorest districts have continually had the fewest students qualify under the standardized process, and several districts have routinely had too few students pass the screening test to warrant opening gifted programs.
Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the department would use $420,000 docked from Pearson because of the scoring errors to “support our schools, especially in areas where we have not been satisfied with the participation level of students of color in taking G&T [tests].”
While about the same number of Manhattan students took the gifted screening exam this year, the number of students screened in the other boroughs fell by about 10 percent, according to the department. A spokeswoman said the department would spend more in the future on recruitment and outreach with the help of community groups.
Another $80,000 docked from Pearson’s $5.5 million contract is being used to inform families about the errors and operate a hotline to answer their questions. The department released $55,000 to schools to run additional open houses for families that were newly notified that their children are eligible for gifted programs, according to a memo distributed today to principals by the department’s budget office.
Families have until May 10 to apply for gifted programs, a deadline that the department extended from April 19 after revealing Pearson’s errors late that day.
Donnell-Kay Foundation fellow Yilan Shen says that arguments about whether charter schools are simply good or bad are outdated.
I was recently asked if the Donnell-Kay Foundation was pro-charter schools. I am surprised at how often this question is still asked of me, the foundation, and other organizations in the 20th year that charter schools have been educating Colorado students. As the Future School Finance Act moves through the legislature containing the highly contentious amendment to increase funding for charter schools and other components that affect charters, it is clear that the charter school issue is still a dividing line in the political sand around public education. To raise the level of student achievement in Colorado, it is time to elevate the level of dialogue about schools and to move beyond the outdated politicized categorizations of pro- or anti-charter schools.
Equity and adequacy are two of the main goals in reforming the state’s school funding system. As SB 213 and the pending ballot initiative are debated in the state, it is important to keep these goals in mind. The amount of public money that is spent on a student should not be dependent on the school he or she attends. There is a stark funding disparity between charter schools and traditional district schools, with the average charter school in Denver receiving $2,700 or one third less in per-pupil funding than the average district school.
Skepticism and dogmatism about a particular school governance structure are no longer productive in the discussion of how to fund student achievement. There are about 89,000 students in 187 charter school campuses around the state, a number that is expected to grow in the coming years and decades. There are schools that are carrying out the promise of educating our future workforce adequately in both charter and more traditional public schools. This diversity of solutions will help to drive an increase in quality outcomes, but those solutions are not currently funded equitably.
As SB 213 jumps the last hurdles in the legislature, education stakeholders and the voting public will have to start thinking about the ballot initiative in the November election. Debates about funding equity, educational equity, and quality school options in Colorado must move beyond the obsolete face-off between charter supporters or charter opponents. The last time I was asked about Donnell-Kay Foundation’s stance on charter schools, my answer was merely an echo of the belief held by those of us who believe there are other more constructive battles to be fought, “It is not about charter schools or traditional schools, it is about excellent schools or failing schools.” As you consider your position for this fall’s ballot initiative, I hope you will support equitably giving all of our students the opportunities to succeed.
This piece was cross-posted from the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s blog.
About the author
Yilan Shen is a fellow with the Donnell-Kay Foundation. She has worked with Colorado counties and state legislatures across the country. Her professional interests and volunteer efforts have focused on increasing educational opportunities. Shen’s previous work has been on charter schools, standards, bullying and other educational issues.
Boulder psychologist Jan Hittelman offers some suggestions to help make these last few weeks of the school year the best they can be for you and your family.
A. For many families, the final stretch of the academic year can be the most challenging. For students, there’s the challenge of preparing for finals, finishing-up projects, while longing for the summer break.
In addition to supporting their children’s academic efforts, parents are juggling schedules around end-of-year school events, making preparations for the summer, while still dealing with all of their usual responsibilities. Tensions can easily rise and often result in increased stress and family discord.
So, let’s take a deep breath, breathe out slowly, and consider strategies to help guide us through these challenging times.
Here are some tips:
Keep things in perspective
Avoid putting too much importance on things that don’t warrant that level of stress. A good way to keep us in check is to first rate our emotional reaction and then rate the stressor itself, using a simple scale from 1 (minor) to 10 (extreme) scale. Too often we will discover that our emotional reaction is a 7 or 8 to a situation that is a 2 or 3.
Be aware of your thinking
We tend to place a lot of stress on ourselves based on our perfectionist, pessimistic, and generally negative thinking. By trying to be more aware of our thinking and shifting to more rational, logical, positive thoughts, we can significantly reduce our subjective experience of stress.
Use your imagination
The mind is very powerful and if we focus on a very relaxing image, the body eventually experiences it as though we’re really there. To see for yourself, try this simple exercise.
Make time for FUN
Even if it’s just for 30 minutes, find time to take a break as a family and do something fun together. We tend to undervalue simply having fun and enjoying time with friends and family. Imagine if we placed as much importance on recreation as we do on achievement. Not only would we be healthier, we would also achieve more!
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.