The New York City Council is calling on state officials to do away “immediately” with standalone field tests, just weeks before thousands of city students are scheduled to take the tests.
Speaker Christine Quinn and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson made the demand in a letter today to State Education Commissioner John King, and the full council is expected to pass a resolution Wednesday calling for the same change.
Test-makers use field testing to try out questions before they count, to see whether they are likely to provide useful results about student achievement in the future. Last month’s state reading and math tests, which were aligned to new standards known as the Common Core for the first time, included some field questions that did not factor into students’ scores. Now, 3,300 schools across the state are being told to administer hourlong, standalone field tests to some students next month.
That requirement has elicited consternation from families and educators who believe that students have already spent enough time taking tests for the year. Some of them plan to boycott the field tests, as a number did last year when field tests were given for the first time.
Quinn, who is vying for mayor, made ending field testing a commitment when she unveiled a comprehensive education plan earlier this year. Most other candidates have also decried what they say has been excessive attention to standardized testing.
The resolution suggests that if field testing must be done, the tests should be administered outside of school hours and students should be compensated for taking them.
State education officials declined to comment on the letter or resolution. But they have said repeatedly in the past that field testing is essential to producing high-quality tests for New York State. And while they told the New York Times this week that they would prefer to eliminate standalone field tests like those being administered next month, doing so would require expensive changes to the way the regular state tests are produced.
If the state does begin using online exams that are being produced for a coalition of states that include New York, as officials have said they intend, the change could obviate concerns about field testing. The PARCC assessments are scheduled to be available to states in 2015, the penultimate year of the state’s $32 million contract with Pearson to run New York’s testing program.
Pearson, which is requiring the field tests, recently made a series of embarrassing errors in grading a New York City test that has jeopardized one of its city contracts.
The company is also offering graduating high school seniors the chance to be paid to field test an exam, according to the weekly email message that the city Department of Education sends to principals. That message told principals that because the exam was not being produced for use in New York City, “you and your staff should not recruit or encourage students to participate in this activity.”
The letter and resolution are below:
Dr. John B. King, Jr.
NYS Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Hon. Merryl H. Tisch
NYS Board of Regents
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Dear Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch:
As Speaker of the New York City Council and Chair of the Council’s Education Committee, respectively, we are committed to ensuring that all children in New York City have the opportunity to maximize the time they spend learning. It is for that reason that we are asking you to immediately stop the administration of stand-alone field tests.
We have heard from parents and teachers across the city who are concerned about stand-alone field tests. To begin with, many families and educators are increasingly frustrated with the national emphasis on standardized testing. They believe that it puts unnecessary pressure on their children and prevents schools from adopting rich, whole child curricula that include social studies, science, physical education, and the arts. Field tests add to this frustration.
It is imperative that we have a strong, reliable system in place to measure student progress and assess learning. We also understand that the state ELA and math exams are federally mandated. Stand-alone field tests, however, are not. Field tests disrupt instruction and cause students to lose valuable class time. And while they create another source of anxiety for some students, many students know that these tests “don’t count” and therefore do not give the exams their full focus. As a result, stand-alone field tests do not provide a reliable source of data, as the New York State Education Department noted when they needed to recalibrate the 2009 state exam scores and confirmed in yesterday’s New York Times.
As you most likely know, Pearson recently made two different scoring errors on New York City’s gifted and talented admission test. Those errors were only the most recent incident to cause New York City’s families to lose trust in Pearson. Stand-alone field tests compound that lack of trust, as parents are frustrated that their children lose out on learning time while serving as guinea pigs for a for-profit company.
For all of the above reasons, we ask you to cease the administration of stand-alone field testing, effective immediately. If there is sound pedagogical reason to test additional questions, Pearson should pay to create multiple versions of the April state exams, as the NYS Education Department suggested in theTimes yesterday, or should compensate students to take field tests outside of school hours.
Stand-alone field testing is bad for the students of New York, and we hope you will immediately end their administration.
Christine C. Quinn, Speaker
Chair, Education Committee
And the resolution:
Preconsidered Res. No.
Resolution calling on the New York State Department of Education to immediately stop all stand-alone field testing for students.
By the Speaker (Council Member Quinn) and Council Member Jackson
Whereas, New York State’s school children just completed mandatory standardized testing at the end of April; and
Whereas, These standardized tests are used to measure students in a variety of ways and are sometimes referred to as “high stakes” tests because, for example, they determine whether a student passes to the next grade and are used to determine admission to a particular school; and
Whereas, New York State recently adopted the federal government’s more rigorous “Common Core” standards, which will be fully implemented in 2015; and
Whereas, To prepare for the implementation, this year’s tests were tougher than any in the recent past and State education officials expect scores to drop as a result; and
Whereas, Many parents, educators and students have expressed heightened anxiety due to the use of more stringent standards and increased reliance on test scores to measure academic performance, including of students, schools and teachers; and
Whereas, As the State and its school districts work on how to administer these standards, it is proposing to administer “field tests”, which help check the methodology, design and legitimacy of future tests; and
Whereas, Field testing can be implemented by embedding questions into regular exams or by staging “stand-alone” tests that are used exclusively to help formulate future tests; and
Whereas, The results of field test questions or stand-alone tests are not used to measure students or teachers in any manner; and
Whereas, The tests that were administered in April included field test questions that were embedded in the exam; and
Whereas, However, in New York State many districts, including New York City, are planning to administer stand-alone field tests for English and math in June, near the last days of the school year; and
Whereas, Many parents and advocates believe these tests would add further stress to students who just finished such demanding exams while taking away from in-class instruction time; and
Whereas, Furthermore, numerous parents, advocates and educators believe that test preparation already narrows the curriculum by forcing teachers to prepare students for the test and that in addition, these field tests would detract from responsibilities and opportunities for teachers to engage with their students and families in a meaningful way as they prepare to end the school year; and
Whereas, Stand-alone tests are neither mandated nor necessary and their validity is questionable because if students know the tests do not carry any consequences they may not be motivated to perform well; and
Whereas, If using the field questions that were embedded in the April exams is insufficient, the State should explore alternatives such as conducting field tests outside of school time while compensating the test takers, as is done for adults; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York calls on the New York State Department of Education to immediately stop all stand-alone field testing for students.
The city will clear school buildings of light fixtures containing PCBs, a carcinogen, by the end of 2016, five years ahead of schedule, under an agreement announced today.
The agreement was struck between the city and New York Communities for Change and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which filed suit over the city’s timeline for replacing the toxin-containing light fixtures in July 2011. A mediator stepped in to try to broker a compromise last month.
A year and a half ago, the city said 754 school buildings had the problematic light fixtures, and until recently, officials had said they would clear them all by 2021.
But two weeks ago, after 11 students and a teacher were taken to the hospital after a light fixture containing the chemicals began emitting smoke at a Harlem school, the city announced that it would accelerate the timeline. The announcement also followed a dispute over the light fixtures in a Brooklyn building where a charter school replaced its lights without city permission while schools the district operates continued to have the old fixtures.
“The city’s new timeline for PCB light removal is considerably more reasonable than the previous plan of 10 years,” NYCC member and parent Celia Green said in a statement. “Parents like me will rest easier with the knowledge that at long last the city has made the removal of PCB lights from our kids’ schools a priority.”
City officials had said their capacity to clear schools of PCB lights has been constrained both by money and by the fact that PCB abatement can happen only when schools are not occupied by students. This summer, under the agreement, 200 buildings will be cleared of PCB-containing light fixtures.
“Though this issue has evoked strong sentiments from all involved and was the subject of a major litigation, attorneys from both sides sat down together and, with the assistance of the magistrate judge, engaged in very detailed, productive discussions to find the right solution,” said Michael Cardozo, the city’s top lawyer, in a statement. “This outcome demonstrates the city’s commitment to a smart and beneficial outcome.”
The city had pegged the cost of the 10-year schedule at $1 billion. When the city’s budget is adopted in June, it is likely to reflect the costs of the new timeline, officials said.
Banks, a former principal who is now the president and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, is not running for mayor. But he hopes to influence the candidates who are.
Banks was one of four people to appear on a panel this morning to discuss ways to bring schools and the business community together to improve student achievement and the city. The panel was moderated by NY1′s Errol Louis and convened by Morty Ballen, the CEO of Explore Schools, a network of four charter schools in Central Brooklyn.
Ballen said he organized the panel, titled “Achieving the Brooklyn Dream,” because he wanted to spur a public conversation about educational inequities in the borough. The borough was recently named “the coolest place on the planet” by GQ Magazine, he said, ”yet at the same time our borough’s students aren’t all getting what they need to be part of the American dream that’s taking place right here.”
The borough has higher-than-average unemployment and child poverty rates, and fewer students than average meet the state’s math and literacy proficiency standards. ”Poverty does present some real barriers to learning,” Ballen said, contradicting an idea that was once dogma in the charter school world. “It’s not an excuse but it’s something that needs to be acknowledged.”
But he said the K-12 education sector, higher education, and the business community could do far more to support high-need students.
“One of the things we’re doing terribly in the business world is we’re not going into communities where we know there is a great talent,” said Carlo Scissura, a panelist who was on District 20′s Board of Education before Mayor Bloomberg took control of the city’s schools. “Unless you’re in one of these great schools the talent is not coming out.”
As the head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Scissura advocates for local businesses. He also pressures them to take on interns to expose students to the challenges and culture of the workplace.
He said he tells business leaders who are worried about the burden of managing interns, “Give the kid work to do, and you will be surprised by the amount of great talent that is sitting across Brooklyn in housing projects.”
An added benefit of working with students, Scissura said, is that then business leaders can say with authority what schools are teaching well and what skills they are not developing in students, instead of simply complaining that schools are not producing graduates who are ready for the workforce.
Banks, too, said stronger ties should be built between schools and business. He proposed helping teachers spend time during the summer at technology companies and other cutting-edge businesses so they could “get a deeper sense of what are the skills that are needed” in the contemporary workplace.
“Very few [teachers] have spent time in tech companies,” he said. “That’s just the reality.”
The proposal raised some eyebrows. ”I don’t think we need to be asking our teachers to know what the latest trend is,” said Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, who also sat on the panel. She argued that exposure to other workplaces would be useful for teachers only insofar as it helps them develop students who have the intellectual agility to learn new skills as their field evolves.
Still, when Banks said he would put together a white paper to advise mayoral candidates about issues in education he considers critical, including the relationship between schools and business,Gould quickly volunteered to help him.
So did Ballen. After the panel, he said the white paper would likely be the next step in a discussion that he said he was “baffled” had taken a backseat to other issues, such as controversial space-sharing arrangements, for mayoral candidates.
“Why isn’t this being talked about?” Ballen said. “There’s an absence of leadership right now to point to what our students really need. The fact that that’s not happening we should be more alarmed about.”
Hundreds of top-rated upstate science and math teachers will be eligible for $15,000 in annual stipends under a new mentorship program announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon.
New York City teachers aren’t eligible for the stipends, in part because they still lack an evaluation system to identify them according to a four-tiered ratings scale. But the state is relying heavily on a highly-regarded city-based mentoring organization to implement the program in selected higher education institutions.
Under Cuomo’s “Master Teacher Program,” 250 teachers from schools located in four upstate regions — North Country, Mid-Hudson, Central New York and Western New York — will be selected to receive a total of $60,000 in extra pay over four years. In exchange, the teachers will be trained at State University of New York education colleges and tasked with mentoring new teachers in the science and math subjects.
Recruiting and rewarding top teachers to work in high-demand subject areas was one of the recommendations put forth by Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission last year. Cuomo also secured $11 million in the 2013-2014 state budget to develop the program, which is scheduled to expand to more districts.
“As part of the state’s work to transform our education system and put students first, we are committed to investing in great teachers to educate our students and create a highly-trained workforce to drive our future economy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This program will reward those teachers who work harder to make the difference and whose students perform better as a result.”
Only middle and high school math and science teachers can submit applications, which will be available starting on July 1. They also must have at least four years of experience and receive “highly effective” ratings on their 2012-2103 evaluations in order to qualify for the stipend.
Teachers in New York City, the only district in the state without a teacher evaluation system in place this year, aren’t eligible to apply for the stipends.
The program is getting a big boost from a New York City-based mentorship program, Math for America, whose model is being adopted at four upstate SUNY schools — Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, New Paltz and Cortland.
The SUNY schools will also rely on Math for America’s staff to help train the initial cohort of master teachers, and develop the curriculum that will be used for future cohorts. Eventually — and if the program receives funding in future state budgets — training will be entirely turned over to the higher education institutions.
The stipend program is different from a “merit pay” system, which are controversial with teachers unions because of concerns that it breeds unhealthy competition by pitting one teacher against another. Research has also shown that students do not learn more when given teachers who are paid for performance.
Instead, the stipends are meant to recognize top teachers and compensate them for work beyond their normal schoolday responsibilities.
City principals who heard Chancellor Dennis Walcott deliver a stemwinding political speech on Saturday will get an extra day of summer vacation to make up for it.
This year, for the first time, the Department of Education told principals that they could take a day off during the summer to compensate for attending the citywide principals conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School.
“To encourage attendance, any principal who attends the conference will receive one compensation day that can be used between June 27 and August 30,” the department’s weekly bulletin to principals said for at least the last two weeks.
The tradeoff isn’t sitting right with some, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew, whose union frequently battles the department to ensure that teachers are paid for time they spend working outside of the regular school day. Mulgrew cited the prohibition on city workers participating in political activity on the job.
“You’re using taxpayer dollars to pay New York City workers to come in and listen to you do a political rant,” Mulgrew said. ”It’s at least inappropriate, but it really borders on questionable ethics.”
The Department of Education’s top spokesman, Andrew Kirtzman, rejected Mulgrew’s criticism.
“Mr. Mulgrew needs a truth commission of his own,” Kirtzman said, referring to Mulgrew’s call last week for a commission to investigate the Bloomberg administration’s education achievement claims. “Contrary to his assertion, the purpose of the speech was to urge that politics — and specifically the competition for his endorsement — not interfere with the progress of the city’s schools.”
The principals conference, which 1,200 principals and department officials attended, was the third that the city has held. Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman, said attendance was about the same as last year, when principals were not compensated for attending and officials’ message focused on the nitty-gritty details of implementing new standards and teacher evaluations. The year before that, department officials brought in David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, to pump principals up about the new standards.
This year, department officials took a turn toward the political. Walcott’s speech took direct aim at mayoral candidates who have been calling for changes to the Bloomberg administration’s school policies — a call that the New York Times supported in an editorial today.
“To dismantle the reforms of the last decade would be a disaster for our children and this city,” Walcott said, before citing what he said had been improvements in the school system and student achievement. “We cannot turn back the clock on our students.”
The chancellor received only a tepid response from the audience, which spilled into the balcony of Brooklyn Tech’s cavernous auditorium. He drew a smattering of applause when pointing to powers that principals have now that they did not have before Bloomberg took office, such as the right to select teachers who want to work in their schools. But the audience sat quietly through much of the speech, and some members even laughed when he proclaimed that he proclaimed that he doesn’t “involve myself in politics.”
The largest applause of the morning came when Walcott promised to deliver school budgets on Friday, which he said would be the earliest time in recent memory that principals would know how much they can spend next year.
Walcott’s speech made up only a small portion of the day. Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky immediately followed the chancellor to remind principals that even as the city becomes wrapped up in politics, hard work remains to be done in schools every day. Students spoke about overcoming setbacks; Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston described his path from high school principal to politician influencing teacher evaluation, tenure, and training across his state; and every attendee took home a copy of Paul Tough’s 2012 book “How Children Succeed,” which looks at the “soft skills” that students must develop if they are to thrive in college and careers.
After the speeches, principals scattered among dozens of workshops that they had signed up in advance to attend. Workshops focused on teacher effectiveness, strategies for working with English language learners, and curriculum, among other topics.
The workshops were appropriate to compensate principals for participating in over the weekend, Mulgrew said. But he said the principals conference had fallen short of its purported goal.
“The chancellor is supposed to be discussing the educational strategies for next year,” Mulgrew said. “I guess he doesn’t have one.”
“Every time it rains, like last week, the first words my son asks me” is if the house will flood, said Maryrose Spiteri. “He panics.”
Spiteri was part of a small group of parents and teachers from P.S. 38 on Staten Island who met in the school’s library this morning with three Regents: Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Buffalo’s Robert Bennett, and Staten Island’s Christine Cea. Principal Everlidys Robles estimated that 85 percent of her families “were devastated” by the storm and that 40 students — about 12 percent — had not returned.
The parents sat in chairs in a compact circle, where behind them a slideshow of events during the school’s recovery, which included visits from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Mets shortstop David Wright, was projected onto a wall. On a table nearby was newspaper clippings about the damage to Staten Island and binders of assignments from students who wrote about the experiences.
One kindergartner, in a persuasive writing assignment, called on Mayor Bloomberg to build more houses for people who lost their homes. Another student wrote about getting rescued from his home. “In the morning a boat came and took us to the shelter,” he wrote.
Tisch asked the parents to share their personal experiences as well and, in a series of emotional testimonies, they did so. One parent, Kim Fish, said her family was split up for 10 hours during and after the storm.
Another mother, Diane Cruz, said she left her children, including a son who has autism, at home with a relative while running an errand for supplies at a Duane Reade as the storm got underway. She wouldn’t see them again until the next day.
“For 13 hours, I didn’t know if my kids made it out alive,” Cruz said. In a moment of levity, she recalled how they were reunited. “All of a sudden, I see my kids go by in a boat,” she said.
Many of the parents said that where other first responders had failed to help them, P.S. 38 and its staff provided assistance. The school was operating again on Nov. 2, and teachers had organized food pantries and toy drives to support the families who had lost everything. Cruz, who was displaced and lived in New Jersey after the storm, said that she heard from neighbors that teachers knocked on her front door to check on the family.
“We didn’t get help from anyone else,” Cruz said.
Along with other state education officials, Tisch initially visited schools shortly after the storm struck. She said today that she saw impressive improvement but added that the parents’ emotional recollections highlighted the daily challenges that still exist.
“For the people living in it day-to-day, I think at some point you get very frustrated with the pace of the progress,” Tisch said. “I think the emotion is just that it was a real lifetime event for real families in real time and they’re still living in it.”
Tisch also put teachers — and students — on the spot to describe their experiences with last month’s state tests. The Regents have drawn criticism for allowing state tests to be tied to new standards known as the Common Core soon after the state adopted the standards. But Tisch said she had also heard encouraging responses to her own questions about the year’s tests.
“I think it is extraordinary when you talk to the teachers and the children to see that they felt prepared and ready for the task, which is not to say that they will have the highest scores,” Tisch said. “But it is to say that they implementation of Common Core — no matter the circumstance, and this was a very complicated circumstance — is something that is on the mind of educators and school systems throughout the state.”
While Tisch was on Staten Island, State Education Commissioner John King toured two Sandy-affected school buildings in Queens, including the Channel View campus. The group reconvened this afternoon for an abbreviated policy meeting and a forum on immigration and education, as part of a push this week for legislative relief for students who were brought to the country illegally as children.
New York City schools are being asked to add one more lesson to the packed weeks before the end of the school year: about bullying.
In light of recent bias-motivated violence, including the murder of a 32-year-old gay man in the West Village this weekend, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said all schools would be asked to hold at least one event before the end of the school year to educate students about hate crimes and bullying.
“I don’t know why it feels like we’ve taken a step backwards but that is the case,” Quinn said. “What we’re going to do is push forward and make sure we do the organizing, education, and public safety work we need to do to make sure we don’t go backwards.”
Quinn, who is vying to be the city’s first openly gay mayor and used to be the director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, reached out to Walcott to help implement the “emergency additions” to the city’s expectations for schools.
The Department of Education currently has a Respect for All week — the fourth annual event was in February — where schools are asked to use programs and curriculum to teach students to respect diversity and prevent bullying and harassment.
Between now and the end of the school year, Quinn said, schools will be asked to do at least one thing “to focus the student body against bullying.” Some examples of things schools could do include holding assemblies, spending class time talking about the issue or a school library highlighting certain books and holding reading circles, Quinn said. Each school can decide what type of action to take since they know their community better than the council and DOE, she added.
Walcott, who has spent recent days criticizing mayoral candidates for challenging the Bloomberg administration’s school policies, briefly attended Quinn’s press conference at City Hall before heading to Staten Island for another event. He said he met with the school staff and family of D’aja Robinson, the 14-year-old from Queens who was shot and killed by a stray bullet on a bus Saturday night. Police do not consider that killing to have been a hate crime.
Quinn said she’s focusing on schools to educate children about discrimination before they become adults and so that they can educate their parents.
Other organizations supporting the announcement include the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.
In the self portrait, her wild, curly blonde hair is tousled to one side of her face, the two sharp arrows from her lip ring poke out the left corner of her mouth and her eyebrows arch upward in a look of skepticism.
Samantha Morales said drawing this picture was the hardest thing she’s ever done.
“I was backing out of it so many times because in the picture I had curly hair, and it was really hard to draw,” she said. “But it made me learn not to give up on anything.”
Morales is a student at ROADS Charter School 2 in the Bronx, a charter transfer school that enrolls 15- to 17-year-olds who are overage and under-credited and have either been homeless, in jail, in foster care or child protective services, or who have dropped out of high school.
ROADS, which stands for Reinventing Options for Adolescents who Deserve Success, opened last fall in the South Bronx and in East New York at a time when many charter schools face criticism for not serving the high-need students that ROADS accepts. The New York City Charter School Center, which is in the midst of a campaign to improve public perception of charter schools, will show off the students’ artwork at its headquarters today at 6 p.m.
The art project — which also asked students to complete the statements ”I was … I am … I will be …” in writing — is just one of the many strategies that ROADS is using to help its students overcome past struggles to aspire toward goals such as graduating, going to college, and building a career.
“We’re trying to do something other schools can’t do with these kids,” said ROADS algebra teacher Abbas Manjee, who used to teach at a district transfer school on the Upper West Side.
The school has adopted instructional approaches that accommodate students’ persistent attendance issues; built a robust staff of non-teachers whose job is to support students; and rethought the traditional school schedule to maximize the social and emotional support that students receive.
Principal Seth Litt, who was born and raised in the Bronx and used to be the principal of a nearby middle school, said striking the balance between support and high expectations is sometimes challenging. Unusual among transfer schools, ROADS accepts students who have zero high school credits, and the average student comes in reading at a fifth-grade level and doing math at a fourth-grade level.
“Our students for the most part are struggling learners, and they’re overage,” he said. “The clock is ticking really loudly for them.”
The wide range of students’ skills is one reason ROADS uses outcomes-based grading. Instead of considering students successful if they have simply proceeded through a textbook from beginning to end, each class has 10 outcomes, a stepladder of learning objectives that students must master to pass the class. Litt said the arrangement allows for more individualized learning and for teachers to intervene early on when they see students aren’t understanding a certain concept. It also helps with students who miss class a lot.
“Just because they’re at ROADS doesn’t mean that, especially in their first year, that all the things in their lives have changed,” Litt said.
Examples of that sensitivity were apparent in Manjee’s algebra class one recent day. He had two different assignments for students on his SMART Board, labeled “If you were present Friday” and “If you were absent Friday.”
“We have to adapt to their lives if we expect them to adapt to the system that we’ve created for them,” Manjee said. “And right now the system we’ve created for them doesn’t work for them. If they want to agree with these things that we set up as a society, we need to meet them halfway.”
In another algebra class, students wearing headphones sat at computers watching a 28-minute video of a math lesson recorded by their teacher Emily Buxbaum. She said she originally created the videos so that students who were absent could catch up on lessons they missed, but it turned out it was helpful for all students to learn at their own pace and pause and replay something when they didn’t understand it.
In an English class a couple doors down on the one-hallway school, which shares space with two other transfer schools, teacher Melissa Giroux showed students a video clip of CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosting a debate about whether women should fight in combat. Posing questions such as “What makes an argument successful?” Giroux asked students to identify each debater’s claim, evidence, and reasoning.
The lesson echoes one of the real-life lessons that Manjee said the school tries to teach students.
“Instead of getting louder than your opponent … you want to beat your opponent with knowledge and not a Jerry Springer-style battle where the loudest person wins,” he said.
There are 13 teachers at ROADS and seven additional people called “team advisors” who act as case workers and help students communicate with child welfare services and their probation officers.
“They’re like our second parents. They really motivate us,” said Elisha Owens, 16, said about the advisors.
“They’re like older brothers and sisters,” said Anthony Reddick, 17. Morales piped in, “Like therapists!”
“They always find a way to give you the time of day,” Owens said.
“Teachers shouldn’t even be stressing about that stuff anyway,” Morales said. “They should just be…”
“Teachers,” Reddick said, finishing Morales’ sentence.
“Yeah, exactly,” Morales said.
But the extra staff doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t involved in their students’ lives. Manjee is helping to pilot a new program where each teacher will be assigned to four sets of students and get a whole day every two weeks to take them out of school on field trips. The trips are about establishing a personal connection with students outside the classroom and so that the roles of teachers and counselors don’t become too separated, Manjee said.
“The kids figured out that if we split up so many of these roles, people aren’t doing a good job of communicating and no one can hold me accountable for anything,” he said.
For many students, school staff said, their school is holding them accountable for their grades and behavior for the first time. Lakota Leijon, the director of students services who has worked as a social worker, recounted one of the first times that her students saw her angry. A group of them had misbehaved and Litt wanted to send them home as punishment, but Leijon said no.
“Send them home to what? To play video games? They’ll probably hang out on the corner. I said, ‘No, they need to stay,’” she said. “I need them to start learning what it feels like when someone who’s been believing in you, who’s been your number one advocate, when you’ve let them down.”
Leijon’s faith in her students makes her give them, what she calls, “real talk.”
“A lot of students thought if they don’t pass [ROADS] that’s ok, I’ll just get my GED,” she said, referring to the exam that can be taken to demonstrate high school equivalency. “I said guys, a GED is four years of high school crammed into a two-day test. If you’re at a fourth-grade reading level, you’re not going to pass.”
It’s this kind of honesty that students at ROADS appreciate after being passed at each grade level, but knowing they weren’t really learning anything, Litt said.
“They’re not going to get angry if someone says you need support that isn’t high school work,” the principal said. “They’re tired of people lying to them and giving them work that just keeps them busy in class.”
Getting through to students can require some reframing for teachers. Lisa Barnshaw, the art teacher who assigned the self-portrait art project, said Morales had gotten so frustrated with her drawing, which was divided into a grid, that she was talking the whole time in class and not working on it. Then one day, Barnshaw sat down with Morales and offered to do one square of the drawing.
“I extended the edge of each line into the next box. And she looked at me and was like, okay, thanks, I think I got it and then took off,” Barnshaw said. “I always had that mentality I’m not going to put my hands on a student’s artwork, but if what they need is just a little bit of a boost, I’m willing to make compromises if it’s going to help make that kid be successful.”
Morales spent nine hours over two days to finish her project.
“They thought they couldn’t do something. They worked hard at it, and they got it done. It’s such a huge microcosm for their lives,” Barnshaw said.
While the students have made a lot of progress this year, Litt said he recognizes that they and the school have major challenges ahead.
“It’s a transition from community and culture to making sure our students compete with students anywhere. I’m very proud of where we are right now. It took a lot of work from a lot of adults and a lot of trust from students,” he said. “We have to maintain what we’ve done this year and just make sure we’re adding on to it … We have to demand and support students to be academically excellent.”
This evening, Morales and a few other ROADS students will be speaking at the art show. She’ll be delivering a spoken word poem that recounts her path to ROADS after being suspended for fighting at her previous school.
“The things you’ll hear from us, you’d never hear from a teenager,” said Morales, who transferred from a performing arts high school in Harlem. “But I just want people to see that we are kids willing to make a change, we are kids that want to be the future for our country. … We don’t want to be the same statistic of a high school dropout.”Samantha Morales’s poem
Things i seened at my age are unimaginable
the memories that flash back in my head are unforgetable.
Boogie down bronx, 17 years young,
alcoholic parents, getting bullied wasnt fun.
High school days was the highlight of my life.
Did wrong things ended up in fights.
Suspension was crazy, they said i needed a new start,
things will get better if i believed in my art.
Wasn’t feeling the vibe at first ,
first day of school of course thinking the worst.
Thinking – kids like me , No way im out
One more slip up , im a drop out without a doubt.
But I knew I couldnt label myself as that, thats not me.
I needed to be able to successed.
Im a dancer , Im a leader
So yes , definately Roads was the answer.
I came across on not judging so fast, got to focus on the future
not on the past.
And at last , people that believed in me ; teachers i can talk to and tell me i can achieve -
Cuz its a hard knocks life and life will get rough -
I just hope you see what ROADS done for us.
The Board of Regents and the Assembly are teaming up next week to push for legislation that would give New York’s roughly 150,000 undocumented students access to financial aid for college.
On Monday, the board will convene a forum in Queens on immigration and education to wrap up their monthly meeting. The forum will discuss ways to increase opportunities for English language learners and undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children.
That has been part of the board’s legislative agenda for the past two years. The bill, the New York Dream Act, would give undocumented students access to state financial aid through the $1 billion-funded Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP. It would also allow them to open tax-advantaged savings accounts with private banks.
The TAP funding in this year’s budget is up from $885 million in 2010-2011. The Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent research organization, has estimated that the state would need to spend an additional $17 million annually to afford tuition assistance for the roughly 4,500 undocumented seniors who graduate from New York high schools every year.
“There are hundreds of thousands of students in New York who have been condemned to a life of poverty simply because they were brought to the United States as children,” Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. ”Their immigration status is determined solely by the status of their parents, and they’re being denied opportunities that the rest of America takes for granted.”
The legislation, sponsored by Francisco Moya, is also a top priority for the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver said this week. The Assembly intends to pass the bill on Tuesday, but not before it votes on a resolution to investigate sexual harassment and misconduct allegations by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a process that could eventually lead to his expulsion.
Whatever its fortunes in the Assembly are, the bill has little chance of moving in the Senate. Leaders Jeff Klein, a Democrat, and Dean Skelos, a Republican, have said they would only support a version of the legislation that didn’t require more funding for TAP. Skelos has said he’d prefer to offer financial assistance through a private fund.
While state education officials are in New York City, they’ll also be touring schools that were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy more than six months ago. On their public schedule for Monday are visits to P.S. 38 in Staten Island, Scholars’ Academy and Beach Channel Educational Campus, which houses five schools. GothamSchools wrote about the recovery efforts by one of those schools, Channel View School for Research, and its struggles to recoup what it lost in the storm’s aftermath:
In the storm’s aftermath, Channel View was displaced from its building for two months and has struggled to recover. Teachers’ and students’ homes were destroyed, parents lost their jobs, and ongoing work to rebuild the Rockaway Peninsula has made for a bleak backdrop in which to go to school.
Even four months after the school returned to its building, students and staff say that something is missing. In interviews, they struggled to identify what they had lost.
“It’s something that we can’t grasp, what the issue is,” said Jennifer Walter, the school’s guidance counselor. “But you can feel it.”
Distressed by state tests that they say did not reflect the way they want students to learn, several city principals are pledging not to use the scores to help them pick their students.
Selective middle schools consider students’ fourth-grade reading and math scores, and selective high schools look at students’ seventh-grade scores.
But after the first round of state tests tied to new standards known as the Common Core, about a dozen principals have announced — in an open letter to parents, students, educators, and others with an interest in education — that they are abandoning the use of test scores in admission, at least for now.
“We welcome rigor, high standards and accountability, but demand that these three crucial words and concepts not be thrown around loosely; and, even more importantly, we demand that they be implemented in a proper, respectful and effective way,” write the principals, who come from a range of selective schools in three boroughs. ”Therefore, we cannot grant these recent tests the value others claim they have until [our] concerns are addressed.”
The principals say they want the state’s tests to be shorter, open to public scrutiny, and more aligned to the Common Core, which emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving over recall and the completion of rote processes.
Mark Federman, principal of East Side Community School, said he helped draft the letter after being “shocked and appalled and just really saddened” that this year’s state tests did not match up to what he expected of the Common Core.
“The power that we have as principals and as schools is we decide how important [test scores] are,” he said. “It would be hypocritical for us to use them in admissions.”
The principals are also registering their criticism in a letter that Federman said would be sent soon to State Education Commissioner John King. Journalist Andrea Gabor first reported about both letters on her blog.
Like most of the principals who signed the letters, Rex Bobbish, principal of the Cinema School, a selective Bronx high school, has never made test scores the exclusive or even prime factor when selecting applicants. But he told GothamSchools that he always considers them, and in the past, he has assumed that very low scores meant that students would not be prepared for high school. Now, he said, he won’t make the same assumption.
“I will weigh students’ grades in core courses much more heavily than the state exams going forward,” he said. “That’s the pledge I made when I signed that letter.”
At schools where test scores have factored more heavily into admissions decisions, making the same pledge is less straightforward, Federman said. Still, he said, principals there could facilitate an important discussion about the role of test scores.
“If there’s a school and parents that are boycotting the test, and yet the school is using tests to let kids in, I think that’s a good conversation for that community to have,” he said.
Among the principals who have signed on to the pledge is Ramon Gonzalez of M.S. 223 in the South Bronx. Days after the state tests finished last month, Gonzalez told a crowd of policy makers — including AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has called for a one-year moratorium on stakes for Common Core exams — that the tests had distressed his teachers and students.
“They didn’t know it would be a test of endurance,” Gonzalez said about his students. “They thought it would be a test about what they knew.”
Bobbish said changing their schools’ admissions criteria represents a small step that principals can take against state tests’ increasing stakes, an issue that several mayoral candidates have pledged to address.
“There’s not really much we can do about it,” said Bobbish, who said he supports the Common Core standards but grew concerned after colleagues told him that the tests did not appear to be fully aligned to the standards. “We can’t control the whole world, but we can send a message by saying we really value a student’s long-term effort and what they do in teachers’ classrooms more than what their tests show.”
This story has been updated with comments from Mark Federman and to reflect the fact that the letter to John King has not yet been sent.
For the second time in six months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tiny team of education aides is undergoing transition.
The departure of Katie Campos, Cuomo’s P-12 assistant education secretary since 2011, comes as one of the governor’s major initiatives, his education reform commission, prepares to renew its operations.
Campos’s last day is technically today as she prepares to enter law school this fall. But a spokesman for Cuomo said she’s sticking around parttime — and unpaid — through the summer to oversee the commission, which convenes next week for a second and potentially more controversial phase of meetings.
Cuomo and a small circle of policy advisors, including Jim Malatras, set the governor’s education agenda. But the execution of that agenda is largely left to a deputy secretary and two assistants. Campos’s is the second departure in a year for the triumvirate, of which Campos, at 27, was the most experienced member.
David Wakelyn, Cuomo’s first deputy for education, left last April after eight months on the job. His post that was not filled for six months, until De’Shawn Wright took over. (Lonnie Threatte is assistant secretary on higher education.)
Wakelyn, who said he left because of the strain it placed on his family, said Campos earned a reputation as a workhorse who “worked on pretty much anything and everything.”
“Katie just has remarkable energy and brings fierce intelligence and passion to the work,” Wakelyn said.
Campos’s hire in June 2011 was viewed skeptically by many seasoned education officials and advocates, based on her age and background. After graduating from college three years earlier, Campos had worked for Democrats for Education Reform and the New York State Charter Schools Association. Campos also formed a parent-organizing group, Buffalo ReformEd, that pushed for a parent trigger law in her home city.
“She was a person who I had never met before in my life. She was very young and she came from a background that would suggest very education reform, very pro-charter,” said Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. “But once I got to know her, I was very impressed. She’s smart and very dedicated and accessible and she kept an open mind.”
Campos, who declined to comment about her departure, was seen as a key advisor on Cuomo’s ambitious education agenda. She was a point person to the commission’s members and the groups that were invited to testify at their meetings. She also helped develop the early learning, community schools, and extended learning grant programs that the commission recommended and the state is in the early stages of executing.
Campos also helped draft legislation designed to force local districts to negotiate, submit, and implement their teacher evaluation plans.
Cuomo has not yet selected a replacement for Campos. She’ll begin her volunteer stint next week when the Education Reform Commission meets in Albany to discuss the issue of merging and restructuring small school districts, a controversial policy that often means jobs loss.
When Lynn Sanchez, a Bronx parent activist, challenged police and education officials to address persistent school climate problems during a public forum on school safety last year, she did not think they would say yes.
And yet just months later, Sanchez was sitting with safety agents during one of their training sessions — which, for the first time, community members and advocates were helping to lead.
She saw a long-standing vision of collaboration coming together in that room. “We have to make sure everyone is on same page — we have to include school safety officers, teachers, principals, paras, students, and parents — in order for a school climate to change,” Sanchez said.
The community-run training sessions represent a striking shift in the city’s strategy for preparing safety agents to work in schools, where their role has historically been fraught. While the Bloomberg administration has famously considered principals to be the CEOs of their schools, principals’ authority does not extend to safety agents, who since 1998 have been under the authority of the New York Police Department in an arrangement that advocates say breeds tension.
The quiet shakeup so far has taken place only in a corner of the Bronx, where community groups were able to persuade the police department to let them play a role in the training of 450 agents, and its future is far from certain. But students, educators, and advocates say they are confident that the approach could go a long way toward easing some of the tensions that have plagued city schools, and a small-scale expansion of the first round of trainings appears to be in the works.
A guidance counselor or handcuffs
The city’s 5,000 safety agents together make up one of the largest police forces in the country. They man metal detectors, patrol the halls, and provide security at school events. City officials say their presence has helped reduce crime in city schools.
Bronx Defenders Attorney Cara Suvall, who represents students in court, said safety agents are many students first contact with the criminal justice system, so there’s a lot at stake in the way agents respond to student behavior.
“The trainings they receive on how to de-escalate situations and change situations can very easily guide the situation one way or another,” she said. “It’s their reactions that can steer the misbehavior towards a guidance counselor or towards handcuffs.”
Advocates say safety agents too often reach for handcuffs even when school officials would rather handle discipline issues without getting the police involved.
And even as the number of arrests and summons issued in schools has fallen in the last year, students of color and students in the Bronx continue to make up a disproportionate number of those arrested or cited. While the Bronx enrolls only 21 percent of city students, 28 percent of arrests and 45 percent of summons took place in its schools.
It was against this backdrop that Sanchez challenged top NYPD and Department of Education officials at a local hearing on school safety to work with community members to put into action solutions that local parents, students, organizers, and lawyers had proposed.
“One by one the people on the panel said yes,” said Dinu Ahmed of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, who helped community members organize the hearing.
The challenge gave rise to the Bronx School Justice Working Group, which includes several community groups, the NYPD, and the Department of Education. The working group has met regularly to discuss school climate issues, and the Department of Education invited members of the group to meet with several school principals in January. But the centerpiece of its work so far has been the school safety trainings.
Designed by New Settlement, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Bronx Defenders, all nonprofits that work on school safety, the trainings have so far reached more than 10 percent of safety agents city-wide. Agents at the September and February trainings came fresh out of the NYPD’s 15-week introductory course and were then dispatched to schools around the city. Three other sessions held over spring break in March brought together new and veteran agents — including one longtime agent who had worked at a new agent’s high school when the new agent was a student.
Breaking down stereotypes
One of the trainings’ main activities asks both safety agents and students to brainstorm conclusions to the sentence-starters “we are …” and “we are not …” in an effort to shatter stereotypes about the role school safety agents are supposed to play.
“Ideally we have the school safety agents speak about what they think the students see them as and what we shouldn’t see them as,” said Christopher Pagan, a sophomore at Mott Hall Bronx High School who has participated in the trainings. “They might say, we are safety, we are parents, we are caring. Some might say they’re not babysitters, they’re not social workers.”
Pagan, who so far has been the only student to participate in the trainings, said the value of the trainings is evident in his own changing perspective.
“I see past the badge, because I’ve met with the safety agents,” he said. “These people are not bad people.”
The activity underscored the fact that, at least in the eyes of the agents, most students don’t share Pagan’s perspective (Pagan said the same thing).
“[Agents] came up with all these things that they’re not,” said Ahmed, who remembered hearing “jerks” as one of the words to end the “we are not” prompt. “That comes from a place of, ‘We know how people see us sometimes.’ And then we asked, ‘Where do you think these ideas come from?’”
When the “Who I am” activity flipped and the focus turned to students, agents saw a list of responses compiled by teenagers in advance.
“Some of [the students] might say, ‘Smart, dedicated, not troubled, respectful,’” said Pagan, who led the student section at the trainings he attended. “We’re not gangsters, we’re not criminals. We’re not lawbreakers. We get characterized for a lot. So the point of this workshop is for the agent to get a sense of what we feel as students and what’s the tension we have on our backs.”
Breaking down stereotypes was just one part of the training. Facilitators also discussed the ways that a wide range of approaches to discipline, from suspensions to peer mediation, affect the school environment. And attorneys from the Bronx Defenders spoke with agents about the consequences faced by students who enter the criminal justice students at an early age, as well as the positive effect a skilled agent can have in a school.
“When [agents] are making a positive difference it’s because they get to know the students, know the problems before they happen, and are in a position to make referrals in the school,” Suvall said.
A productive conversation
Pagan said the trainings with agents felt like a conversation. “It’s a good opportunity because you sit there literally and you listen, and they listen — that’s what I love about this,” he said. “In these meetings, they listen. They want to hear your opinion.”
As for the agents, Ahmed said, “It felt like they were having a conversation about the work in a way they don’t always get to have.”
Agents said in surveys after the trainings that the experience was valuable. Many wrote that they were surprised to learn about the city’s school arrest and suspension rates and the relative costs to the city of paying for a year of prison versus a year of school. They also said they appreciated hearing from community members.
“It was good to hear from a non-school and police view,” one agent wrote.
Agents had criticism, too. Certain parts of the training, one agent wrote, needed to take into account “student retaliation towards school safety officers who are law enforcement and sometimes our hands are tied.”
But overall, the trainings were well received, according to Sanchez, who helped facilitate the trainings after getting the ball rolling back at the hearing in June. Sanchez is now running for city council in District 14.
“At the end of the day, we asked them, ‘Now, knowing everything that you know, what will you do differently?’” she said. “That was really powerful because a lot of them said, ‘We’ll talk to them differently. We’ll try to build a relationship with them.’”
In their written feedback, many agents asked for more community-run trainings. One wrote,“I think there should be some sort of workshop for SSAs and school administrators to work more with each other.”
Institutionalizing the experiment
For most of the year, it was unclear the trainings represented the beginning of a sea change in the relationship between police and schools or merely a blip in an otherwise tense climate. Now, mounting evidence suggests that the NYPD plans to continue including community members in safety agents’ training.
According to minutes from the most recent meeting of the Bronx School Justice Working Group, the NYPD plans to continue allowing community members to run trainings for new and veteran agents.
At the same meeting, the Department of Education expressed interest in having community members run part of a new Bronx-based summer training on restorative justice for principals and other administrators.
“This idea of having a training for principals and staff is carrying off the success of the School Safety Agents,” Ahmed said. “We’re thinking, how do we take this model and bring it to other people in the school community that can benefit from it?”
The department’s openness to expanding the model marks a shift in the department’s approach to the working group. Since organizing the principal roundtable early this year, the department had not joined in the school safety trainings, and while a department spokeswoman confirmed the department’s participation in the group, she referred all questions about it and the safety agent trainings to the NYPD.
Whether the city supports community involvement in school safety issues in the future is likely to depend on the next mayor and his or her picks for chancellor and police chief.
Most mayoral candidates have been silent on school discipline issues so far. Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who has indicated that he could enter the mayoral race as soon as next week, has said “the process to remove troublesome students” is a top priority, drawing criticism that discipline policies that he favors might be even more punitive than the Bloomberg administration’s.
But several Democratic candidates have signaled their support for changing the way that schools handle discipline given that black and Latino students are arrested in disproportionate numbers. Their statements have bolstered advocates’ optimism that the community-led trainings will continue.
“I want to make sure the [the trainings] are institutionalized,” said Jaime Koppel of the Children’s Defense Fund, who helped design and run the trainings. “Who knows what’s coming down the pike with a new mayor?”
Alexis Karteron, an attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, cautioned that elected officials shouldn’t see community involvement as a substitute for broader changes that the NYPD and Department of Education should make to the way safety agents are trained.
“It’s important for [agents] to hear from parents and community members, but ultimately it’s the responsibility of the city to make sure they’re trained well and able to be a positive force in schools,” Karteron said.