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Archive for 2013

DOE insider explains where the Bloomberg administration went wrong on education

What went wrong in the Bloomberg administration’s approach to education? How could the de Blasio administration fix it? That’s the question posed today on Diane Ravitch’s blog by “an insider at the New York City Department of Education,” who examines lessons that could be learned from Bloomberg’s failed educational policies and suggests a course of action for the new administration. It’s a long but worthwhile read:

Tweed Insider: Where the Bloomberg Administration Went Wrong on Education

Nelson Mandela, the man and a movement

This editorial originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of the New York Teacher.

He was a great man who became an international symbol of the fight for peace, justice and freedom.

But Nelson Mandela, who died this month at age 95, was also a generous and humble person quick to acknowledge that the credit for South Africa’s transformation into a multiracial democracy could not go to him alone.

He knew that South Africa was freed from its racist apartheid system by a movement, not the actions of a single man.

Nelson Mandela showed an appreciation of the power of collective action throughout his life, as a resistance fighter, a leader of the African National Congress and an architect of the campaign for international sanctions against South Africa.

Unions, of course, are built on this principle that the power of many is greater than the power of one.

And our union played a part in the international divestment campaign championed by Nelson Mandela as a way to apply pressure on South Africa’s then-white government to end apartheid.

The UFT in the 1980s passed a resolution urging the Teachers’ Retirement System to divest its holdings in companies that did business in South Africa.

After conducting a study on how to divest in a way that would not harm TRS members, the retirement system in the late 1980s joined other institutions around the world in divesting.

Nelson Mandela knew that mass movements bring change. But he also showed the power of the individual.

As President Obama said in his Dec. 10 eulogy, “He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books but in our own lives as well.”

Nelson Mandela’s unique combination of qualities — he was shrewd and smart while also optimistic and forgiving — allowed him to lead South Africa through a peaceful transition to democracy and avoid a violent civil war.

He was a symbol, a leader of a movement and a man, known in his country as Madiba, who was loved around the world.

Trial Urban Districts Assessment: What the results could show

This backgrounder by the UFT Research Dept. was recently released to reporters. The Trial Urban Districts Assessment results for the big U.S. cities will be published on Wednesday, Dec. 18. They come out every two years and break out the performance of large U.S. cities on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. We review results from 2003 to 2011 and include statewide results for 2013, which came out in November. TUDA scores show New York City’s performance stagnating since 2009 while other cities showed growth. They suggest the limitations of a test-driven system pegged to mediocre assessments.

TUDA results for New York City will be exceptionally important this year.  While Mayor Bloomberg has highlighted selected indicators of improvement during his tenure, the Trial Urban District Assessment results will be a final, objective assessment of student progress during the Bloomberg years. They will also allow us to measure New York City against other major urban districts, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Houston, Atlanta, and a large-U.S. cities average.

What TUDA results have showed so far — and 2011 was the last time they were updated — is that New York City’s 4th- and 8th-graders have improved in 4th grade math and reading and 8th grade math, but not as much as their peers in other major cities. On 8th-grade reading between 2003 and 2011, the city showed an especially disturbing trend of no improvement. New York used to lead among urban districts. But city scores have moved towards the middle of the pack of major urban school systems over the past decade.

NAEP/TUDA — The “Gold Standard”

Our state tests underwent three major overhauls between 2003 and 2013, but the National Assessment of Education Progress from which the TUDA scores are drawn remained unchanged. This is why they are often referred to as a “gold standard,” by providing a reliable, clearly comparable look at student progress over time.

NAEP tests representative samples of 4th- and 8th-grade students in math and reading every two years. State by state results have been published by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics since 1992. In the last decade, results have been made available for individual urban districts as TUDA.

The TUDA cities include 21 major urban districts, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston. The report also includes a large-city average of all U.S. cities with a population of 250,000 or more. The average provides a quick, valuable way to compare NYC students to their big-city peers nationwide.

The 2013 state NAEP results came out on Nov. 6. New York State (which includes New York City) went up a small amount, two points on a 500-point scale, in 4th-grade math and reading and 8th-grade math; 8th-grade reading results were flat. Since New York City students make up one-third or more of the total state, the city’s TUDA results should more or less track the state results.

Math – Recovery Needed

Fourth Grade Math

Between 2003 and 2007, New York City’s 4th-graders gained 10 scale-score points, equivalent to about a year’s worth of learning, in math. But then progress stalled. Fourth graders actually lost three scale-score points between 2009 and 2011. Statewide over this same time period, 4th-graders lost a similar 3 points. Meanwhile, the overall national average continued to rise, as did the average for large-city districts.

New York State 4th-graders recovered some of their losses on the 2013 NAEP tests published in November, though they have still not returned to their 2007 high. All things being equal, we expect the city’s 4th-graders to recover a similar two points.

Compared with the large city average, NYC’s 4th-graders made less progress in math from 2003 to 2011. Gains were also greater in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC, Houston and San Diego.

Eighth Grade Math

In 2003, NYC 8th-graders outscored the large-city average by four points. But by 2011 the lines had crossed, with the city’s 8th-graders actually backsliding and performing slightly below the large-city average.

This year’s 2013 NAEP score for New York State showed a two-point recovery, and we hope for the same uptick for the city. However, other large cities did not slip in 2011 and have showed greater gains over the last eight years, so it could be that NYC’s former advantage over other urban districts has been erased.

Every large city but one has improved more in 8th-grade math than New York since 2003. New York’s six-point gain is thoroughly eclipsed by a large-city average gain of 12 points, while comparable cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have gained 16 points, Atlanta has gained 22, and Boston 20 points.

 Math Proficiency

NAEP scores are also reported by percentages of students at “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced.”

In math, 33 percent of New York City’s 4th-graders scored at proficient or advanced in 2011. Between 2003 and 2011, the share of proficient or advanced students rose by 11 percentage points, about the middle of the distribution, with Boston a clear leader (up 20 points to 43 percent proficient).

For 8th-grade math, 24 percent of New York City’s students scored proficient or advanced in 2011, below the large-city average of 26 percent. Since 2003, New York 8th-graders at proficient or above has increased by three points, well below the large-city gain of 10 proficiency points.

Comparing NAEP results to New York’s new state tests is more plausible since the state switched to the new Common Core assessments. They are closely pegged to NAEP achievement levels and designed to predict college readiness. On the 2013 state tests, 35 percent of 4th-graders and 26 percent of 8th-graders were at or above the proficient level, just a hair above the TUDA 2011 results (of 33 and 24 percent). This might suggest there will be small gains on TUDA. However, it also shows that fewer than one-third of students are on track for college-level work.

Reading – Trouble In Middle Schools

Fourth Grade Reading

Up through 2009, 4th grade reading scores rose in NYC. Along with their peers in many other urban districts, NYC 4th-graders made good progress. But the city’s scores took a dip in 2011, while large cities on average continued to make gains. The city as of 2011 still hovered five points above the large-city average and should be able to maintain that lead.

This year’s 2013 NAEP score for New York State increased two points, so the city will probably show an increase as well (remember, city students are about one-third of the state population).

New York City’s gains in 4th-grade reading are comparable to most other large cities.

Eighth Grade Reading

Eighth grade reading is another story. New York City scores have been virtually unchanged since 2003, finally inching up two points in 2011, while every other TUDA city but one has made more progress.  The city score dropped below the large-city average in 2011 for the first time.

New York State 8th-grade reading performance has also been flat since 1998. On the 2013 NAEP, 8th-graders again made no gains, which could suggest there will be little gain on the city’s TUDA either.

Other cities have had substantially more success on improving 8th-grade reading.

Reading Proficiency

On the New York State tests for 2013, 27 percent of 4th graders and 25 percent of 8th graders met or exceeded the proficiency cutoffs, compared with 36 percent of city 4th-graders and 26 percent of 8th-graders at or above proficiency on the 2011 TUDA.

 By 8th-grade, students should be proficient readers, well on their way to making inferences, analyzing text and making and supporting judgments. That just 26 percent of the city’s 8th-graders demonstrated such proficiency on TUDA in 2011 means that three-quarters of next year’s incoming freshmen will be no better prepared to succeed in high school than were incoming high school students 10 years ago.

The Great Divide, Part Three

From the UFT Research Department:

Just 60 of New York City’s 404 High Schools Produce More Than Two-Thirds of the Students Who ‘Pass’ the SAT College Entrance Exam

The city announced with great fanfare last week that the number of high school seniors taking the SAT college entrance exam increased by 53 percent since 2002 and that SAT scores for New York City students increased eight points in the past year.

What these numbers mask is that even after 12 years of so-called reform, college access is available only to students in a small pocket of city high schools.

Sixty city high schools produced 70 percent of the students who scored a 480 or better on the reading portion of the SAT college entrance exam.

Fifty-five high schools accounted for 64 percent of the city’s students who scored at least 480 on the math portions of the college entrance exam.

The city’s remaining 343 high schools* produced the rest of the city’s college-ready graduates.

* Covers only general education high schools. Omits one high school where the student roster showed only one senior.


Low ‘passing’ score

The New York City Department of Education uses SAT scores of 480 in reading and math as one measure to determine if high school students will be able to handle college-level work. [See page 13.]

Unfortunately for New York City high school seniors, the City University of New York relies on an SAT math score of 500 for admission to its senior colleges, a score above what the DOE considers college-ready.

To provide some context for these numbers, Cornell and New York University’s 2013 freshman class had SAT scores of over 620 in both the reading and math portions of the SAT, while Harvard University’s entering freshmen scored over 700 in both those sections of the SAT. Only nine city schools had an average score of 620 or better in both subjects.


Average SAT score at two groups of city schools demonstrates wide gap

The divide between the top 60 high schools and the rest of the city’s high schools becomes even more pronounced when comparing the average SAT scores of the two groups.

The average SAT reading score in the top 60 high schools was 523, compared with 394 in the remaining high schools. In math, the average SAT score in the top 55 schools was 550, compared with 403 in the rest of the high schools.

The 100-plus-point gap between average SAT scores in the top and bottom high schools dwarfs the eight-point increase the DOE boasts as a sign of progress.


Selective schools outperform all others

Even among the top 60 schools, huge variations remain.

The percentage of students ‘passing’ the reading SAT in the 60 top-performing school ranges from 98 percent in the elite testing schools such as Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, down to 33 percent at Brooklyn’s Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts and Manhattan’s Bedford Academy High School.

Only 16 of the city’s high schools had 80 percent or more of its students hitting or exceeding the DOE’s admittedly low target of 480 on the SAT reading exam. Even when the threshold is lowered to 50 percent or more of students hitting DOE’s target in both subjects, just 31 schools make the grade.

The majority of the truly high-performing high schools have dominated the top of the list for more than a decade.



This analysis was developed by using the DOE 2013 High School Progress Report Card data on SAT results. The UFT also used the DOE’s 2012 graduation data and school demographic data to estimate the size of each school’s June 2013 graduating cohort, because this information was not available on the DOE’s website.

The size of the 2013 graduating class was estimated using either the average size of a school’s 2012 graduating cohort or the 2013 demographic data for 12th grade enrollment, whichever was available.

The top 60 schools were derived by ranking the schools based on the percentage of students scoring a 480 on the SAT math and reading exams as shown on their 2013 Progress Report cards.

The SAT is voluntary and students who take it are self-selected and may not be indicative of the typical or average NYC student; therefore, there are no real comparisons between SAT performance and other tests, such as Regents exams.

The dip in the year

by J. Isabel, middle-school ESL teacher

The week after Thanksgiving is largely heralded as one of the most reviled times in the school calendar. After all the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pie, no one is in a position to come in and teach Common Core-aligned curriculum. No one wants to check for understanding, no one wants to use positive reinforcement to improve student behavior and no one wants to conference with students.

So let’s talk a little bit about a handy little chart that’s been floating around the Internet. It’s used frequently in first-year teacher seminars and professional development sessions.

Although this chart focuses on the feelings of first-year teachers, I really do think this is applicable to anyone who works in schools.

See where December is? Disillusionment. It’s the lowest point of the year — the time when teachers, administrators and school staff the whole world over wish to God they had chosen another career.

Well, let me tell you, I’m feeling it.

I teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to middle school students. On an intellectual level, I know why I’m here. I care about my students very much and I want them to be able to succeed despite a deck that’s stacked high against them. I know that ESL is not a field that many people take seriously or even consider to be a real subject (“Why can’t they just learn English?”). I know that my emergent bilinguals are some of the brightest and most compassionate students of all the kids I service.

Yet, if I were offered another job right now, I’d take it. Straight up. Quit in the middle of the year. Two weeks’ notice. To hell with all of it.

I know that’s some inner part of my id talking. That’s not rational, organized, hardworking J. Isabel talking.

My practicum advisor always says to get strength from your students. Let their energy infuse you, become part of you. I’ve been listening to some really upbeat salsa music, drinking too much coffee and trying to smile even if it’s fake. Because maybe eventually, that fake smile will turn into a real one.

J. Isabel is a second-year ESL teacher in the Bronx. This entry first appeared on her blog, Lessons in Teaching and Learning. If you’d like to write for the New Teacher Diaries, email edwize@uft.org.

The DOE’s networks face a new day

Here’s a good question for the dawn of a new city administration: Did the CSDs, the ROCs, the SSOs, the ISCs and CFNs — all these successive Bloomberg-era school management structures — actually improve school management?

If the acronyms are a puzzle, don’t worry. Most of them don’t exist anymore.

The Boston-based Parthenon Group, the management consultants that gave the DOE lots of high-priced advice on how to help struggling schools (which the DOE ignored), has gingerly taken up this question.

In “An Assessment of the New York City Department of Education School Support Structure” [PDF], conducted at the request of the DOE, the Parthenon Group reviews the many iterations of management science that eventually became the CFNs, the Children First Networks. These make up the uneven, rather slippery, mechanism through which the DOE now manages the schools. And in cautious, exquisitely balanced language, the Parthenon Group raises deep concerns about the shortcomings of these “reforms.”

The networks are groupings of about 30 schools each that sign on to get “support” from one of 57 nonprofits, universities or former DOE administrators. CFNs were construed as a way to deliver educational and administrative services to principals without actually supervising the schools. They were a tool of principal “empowerment” under Chancellor Joel Klein’s fractured management vision. Principals, whether they are neophytes or veterans, get to hire and fire their “supervisor,” the CFN network, though they have to choose one and pay for it.

So, what does Parthenon find?

First, it finds that while there are some strong and innovative networks, there are others “whose leaders and teams cannot effectively manage the complexity of the job.”

Talent across the 57 network teams is stretched fairly thin. “There are fewer people but the jobs have become more challenging,” in the words of the report, and it has been hard for many networks “to earn authority and trust based on merit.” Maybe some functions should be re-centralized, the report suggests. Maybe the DOE should offer higher pay to network team members to attract more talent. Or maybe networks should themselves get together and hire some outside expertise. In blunter language, many are floundering.

Second, the network structure doesn’t differentiate between schools that are struggling and those that are doing well.

There is limited oversight of struggling schools, the report finds, “offering too much latitude to principals who will not be able to figure out how to improve on their own” and too much interference in high-performing schools. “It is clear that the [network] strategy cannot represent the DOE’s only mechanism for school improvement,” Parthenon concludes.

It suggests putting the weakest 15 percent of schools under superintendents with renewed powers, who will direct curriculum and instruction. That old superintendent structure in the community school districts was famously ripe for abuse, but Parthenon finds the nebulous supervision-by-consent of the network structure unequal to the task, at least in some situations.

Third, the current CFNs isolate school support from the input of local communities, especially in the case of struggling schools.
“(P)arents in the current system sometimes feel that they are left without a clear channel to seek resolution of issues,” the report says. (Sometimes is putting it mildly.) Especially in struggling schools, the report finds, parents have tried repeatedly to warn administrators but have not gotten a hearing. Nor do networks readily tap into the knowledge that families and communities have. The Parthenon Group finds it “hard to assess how frequently this kind of breakdown actually occurs.” But parents would tell them: it happens a lot.

Fourth, the Parthenon Group finds that “perhaps the most powerful support the DOE could provide for schools would be to relieve the numerous demands on a principal’s time.”

Bureaucracy and “layers of federal and state regulations” eat up school time. The DOE should improve business processes, streamline regulations and change the culture, the report says, but leaders who can do this are hard to find. The ones who can are stretched too thin.

What are the implications of these findings?

The Parthenon Group finds that principals like their newfound autonomy in hiring, budgeting and curriculum. But we know many principals are drowning in paperwork imposed by the new accountability and cannot provide instructional leadership.

Management does not get better simply by withdrawing. The DOE cut its school support budget by 32 percent from 2005 to 2011. “If anything the emphasis on efficiency within school support went almost too far,” the report hedges.

There’s little question that it did. While expectations were piled on students and teachers, a lean, voluntary and too-often inept management was put in place — but not exactly in charge — of the schools. This allowed the DOE to say that it wasn’t responsible for class size reduction, for example, or for supporting struggling schools. Principals were. The networks were. The report finds many of these networks were not up to the task. What’s worse, the DOE abdicated responsibility.

What do we need from the next administration? We certainly need a new management system. More support for struggling schools is essential. More expert, seasoned leadership would be welcome. But what exactly should this look like? It must be one of the many things keeping Bill de Blasio up at night.

The price of testing

Miss Education is in her second year teaching 4th grade in the Bronx. This year, she’s found herself deeply affected by the challenge of seeing her students struggle with standardized tests.

In early October, I had to administer yet another pre-assessment to my students. I understood that my students were starting to feel frustrated and uncomfortable with all of this pre-testing going on, so I really tried to make it as painless as possible. I explained what had been explained to me. I said, “These tests will not affect your grade; the purpose is to help me, as your teacher, see how much information you know.” I explained that the results of these tests would help me be a better teacher because I’d know what I need to focus on with them.

The test was 90 minutes. It had five constructed response questions — all of which were worded in a way that was more complex than necessary, making the questions confusing and even awkward to read. Nonetheless, my students trusted me, so they accepted the pre-tests with an eager smile and a look of consent.

Ten minutes in, I started to see a lot of worried and insecure faces. After some more time, I heard paper rustling as if someone were madly flipping through the pages of a book. I scanned the classroom and noticed Adam. Adam was flipping through his test aggressively. His face was pale. Next thing I knew, Adam was waving the whole test packet in the air violently.  I nearly ran over to him to intervene.

As soon as I put my hands on his shoulder, Adam stopped waving the paper. “Hey, hey, hey! Relax, relax,” I said. I told him to stop and take a breather, to put his head down and take a break. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he put the paper aside.

Adam is 9 years old.  An unnecessarily stressed 9-year-old. I felt so angry with myself and with the whole system. What are people thinking? Why am I allowing myself to be used as a tool to impose these ridiculous and overwhelming tests on my students for the sake of statistics? I felt extremely guilty and sad about Adam. I wonder how many of those “intellectuals”  who created these tests and these methods have actually had experiences with 9-year-olds.

This whole situation made me question and reassess my role in the classroom.  These tests are not an accurate measure of student intelligence or learning. I know many people feel the same. I just don’t know why our public education officials don’t do anything about it.

Charter execs: Pay up!

[This editorial originally appeared in the November 14 issue of the New York Teacher.]

You would think that if Success Academy Charter Schools can pay Eva Moskowitz a salary of $475,244, they could also afford to pay rent for their space in public school buildings.

And, if Village Academies charter network can pay $499,146 to its CEO, Deborah Kenny, shouldn’t it also be able to afford rent for its use of public school space?

Moskowitz and Kenny are just two of the 16 charter school honchos in New York City whose pay exceeds that of Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the Daily News reported recently.

Kenny’s network has two schools. Walcott oversees 1,600. But Kenny earns more than twice the $212,614 paid to the chancellor.

Does that make sense?

It makes even less sense that Moskowitz is among the charter school operators leading a campaign to maintain their rent-free spaces in our public schools.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has rightly called for charging rent to those charter schools that can afford it.

That is only fair. Charter schools have been getting a free ride under Mayor Bloomberg’s reign. And public schools have suffered the consequences.

When charter schools co-locate in public school buildings, they are often able to afford spiffy new furniture, brand-new technology and a refurbishment of their classrooms. That can clash sharply with the unrenovated areas of the buildings used by traditional district schools.

Having charter schools pay rent would create a more level playing field. And it would increase the resources available for traditional public schools.

We have public schools operating classrooms out of trailers for years on end. Other schools are bursting at the seams from overcrowding. Many need repair and renovation.

So, to charter school operators who have been using public school space rent-free, we have two words: Pay up.

A new day

[This editorial originally appeared in the November 14 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Pat yourselves on the back, UFT members.

There is reason for pride and celebration. On Nov. 5, the people were heard. We have a new mayor, comptroller, public advocate and many new City Council members who support our schools and respect UFT members.

Their election came in large part from your work, your votes, your voice.

The UFT made the crucial difference in a number of key races, including Scott Stringer’s victory in the primary for comptroller.

That was a critical election for us because the comptroller serves as custodian and investment adviser to our pension funds. Your money is in those retirement funds. We need a comptroller whose judgment we trust.

In the City Council races, too, UFT members’ votes and work helped bring victory to a number of excellent candidates, including Mark Treyger, a civics teacher and UFT delegate from New Utrecht HS.

The most important election you helped win, of course, was for mayor.

When Bill de Blasio takes office on Jan. 1, our city will for the first time in its history have a sitting mayor with a child in the public schools.

As de Blasio said at Teacher Union Day, he respects educators. He wants to work on improving morale in the schools so that the teachers and staff who are there now stay.

The UFT will hold him to that.

We have much work ahead. After 12 years of Mayor Bloomberg’s destructive rule over our schools, we have to rebuild our school system.

But UFT members have always shown they are up to whatever challenge they face.

For now, we need to grit our teeth and get through the final two months of our lame-duck mayor.

Take a moment, though, to savor your victory.

Parents speak out against co-location

Co-locations have been a hot-button issue of the mayor’s race, and with the Bloomberg administration pushing through proposals for co-locations that will take effect after Bloomberg leaves office, the issue is sure to stay heated in the months ahead. In this entry, two parents share some thoughts on their fight to keep a charter school from co-locating in the building of their school, IS 281 in Brooklyn. Maria and John Talmadge, former PTA co-presidents at IS 281, wrote this open letter. An expanded version appears in the Brooklyn Spectator.

The co-location of Coney Island Prep with Joseph B. Cavallaro (IS 281) is a huge mistake.  My husband and I are former PTA co-presidents of Cavallaro. We attended the public hearing held at Cavallaro on Oct. 21 to show our continued support for the school. We listened to Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Bill Colton, Councilman Domenic Recchia, and Councilman Vincent Gentile, just to mention a few politicians present, all of whom oppose the co-location of Coney Island Prep, a charter school, with Cavallaro. Many of our students, both past and present, voiced their opinions and fears of overcrowding in the hallways; cramped classrooms; and music, dance, art classes and afterschool programs being taken away. Adding 300 children, ages 4-8, to a school that already houses 1,200 children ages 10-14 is also certainly a safety issue.

Doesn’t Coney Island Prep care about the safety of their children?  We most definitely do.

Parents of the children who attend Coney Island Prep spoke at the hearing. They wanted us to understand how their children were failing in public schools and that Coney Island Prep has raised their scores and how well they are doing now. They told us how wonderful they were and how we should welcome them because they want to be our neighbors and enjoy the building with us…that we would grow to love them.  Cavallaro parents, teachers and students listened to what they had to say. Imagine our surprise when, as supporters of Cavallaro began to speak, one by one, Coney Island Prep parents left. NOT ONE PARENT stayed to listen to what we had to say.  This was brought to the attention of Jacob Mnookin, the executive director of Coney Island Prep.  He just looked up and smirked. While my husband John was asking why Coney Island Prep teachers are non-union teachers and why they don’t follow the same rules that our teachers must follow, Mr. Mnookin was checking his phone and texting. He did this to just about everyone. How disrespectful of Mr. Mnookin and Coney Island Prep parents!  Does this not speak volumes of their character and how they negated their entire message?

Why does Coney Island Prep hire non-union teachers? Why don’t their teachers undergo background checks like our teachers? Why doesn’t Coney Island Prep rent a building and put ALL their students in ONE place? We had many questions but received very few answers.

Cavallaro staff and students have and continue to work hard to make our school the A-rated school it is. We are a family at Cavallaro and we truly care for one another. It is our home away from home, and Coney Island Prep invading our home is a crime. We need the space in our school for it to continue to flourish and meet all of our children’s needs. This certainly cannot be accomplished with Coney Island Prep moving in.

Why do teachers leave?

That’s the question asked in last week’s Atlantic, in a piece by Liz Riggs titled “Why Do Teachers Quit?”

But perhaps a more important question is: Why do teachers stay?

And how can we keep them?

The statistics are troubling but familiar: between 40 and 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

Most of us can hazard a guess at why teachers leave, and Riggs names them all: lack of support, lack of respect, low pay. But the crucial flipside of teacher turnover is teacher retention, and Riggs is fairly definitive about the latter:

 If the overall attractiveness of teaching as a profession gets better, the best teachers will enter the profession, stay, and help increase the effectiveness of schools.

She also quotes Richard Ingersoll, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has done extensive research on teacher turnover and retention: “To improve the quality of teaching,” Ingersoll says, you need to “improve the quality of the teaching job. If you really improve that job…you would attract good people and you would keep them.”

But how to improve the quality of a teaching job is the big question. Ingersoll found that higher pay isn’t necessarily the most significant factor in attracting and retaining teachers.

What does make teachers want to join and stay in the profession? A supportive school administration, for one: Ingersoll’s research shows that teachers who have access to mentors and administrators who encourage them are more likely to remain in the job. Interestingly, Ingersoll also cites parental involvement and student achievement as a factor.

In other words: It takes a village to keep a teacher.

What do you think would encourage more teachers to stick with the profession?

Read the article in its entirety »

Eva uses her students

This editorial originally appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of the New York Teacher.

They’ll say it was about “school choice” and “for the children,” but the morning rally on Oct. 8 by Harlem Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and other charter school honchos was little more than a thinly veiled campaign rally for Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.

That wouldn’t be a problem if Moskowitz hadn’t closed her schools and forced parents, students and staff to attend. Children, who should have been in class at that hour, were instead bused to the rally with their parents.

“Several emails from senior leadership make it clear that the event is not optional,” a “concerned charter teacher” wrote to Diane Ravitch on her blog. “It seems very unethical that adults and children are being forced into this political statement.”

The rally was billed as a protest against Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s charter school policy proposals, not a campaign rally. But if it wasn’t a de facto campaign rally for Lhota, then why was he there? Lhota’s wife and daughter were at the head of the march across the Brooklyn Bridge and the candidate himself posed for pictures with children who should have been in school in a small area cordoned off in front of City Hall Park.

Moskowitz, a former chair of the City Council Education Committee, and others in the charter movement have lined up with Lhota because de Blasio has called for a moratorium on new charter schools and has said that he will charge charter schools rent to use space in public school buildings.

But we’re public schools, too, the charter operators complain. They’re right, of course: Charter schools are public schools. But the for-profit operators of charter schools only own up to that fact when it suits them. When it comes to accepting students with special needs, for example, they’re private schools through and through.

Not all charter schools are fans of Moskowitz’s tactics. Leaders of some independent charter schools said in an open letter that the rally “sends entirely the wrong message” and is “at best premature.” They wrote that they would rather have dialogue with de Blasio than protest against him.

A Proposal: Assign OTC and high-needs students more fairly across high schools

In this post, guest blogger Norm Fruchter, co-author of the new Annenberg Institute for School Reform report, “Over the Counter, Under the Radar,” argues that the Department of Education should change its current method for assigning students to high schools. A “controlled choice” model would be more equitable and help all schools succeed, he says.

Some 36,000 late-enrolling, high-need students, traditionally labeled as “over-the-counter” or OTC students, are annually assigned to NYC Department of Education high schools. Most of those over-the-counter students are disproportionally placed in struggling schools, essentially setting up the students and schools for failure, according to a new study [PDF] from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

To improve the placement process for over-the-counter students, the Annenberg Institute study made the following recommendations:

  • The DOE should identify high schools in which over-the-counter students achieve significantly higher academic performance than systemwide averages, and then identify the exemplary practices of these “beat-the-odds” schools.
  • Schools targeted for closure or already undergoing the closure process, as well as persistently low-achieving high schools, should not be assigned any over-the-counter students.
  • The DOE should assign over-the-counter students to all other high schools at an annual rate of between 12 and 20 percent of their respective student populations. (These recommendations appear in the report’s Executive Summary.)

Implementing these recommendations, particularly by reserving an annual percentage of high school seats for over-the-counter students, would adapt the current merit-based high school choice and selection process by introducing an element of controlled choice. If all high schools were assigned a guaranteed percentage (and specific number) of over-the-counter students every year, both the students and their assigned schools would benefit significantly. Schools could develop a variety of methods to assess their over-the-counter students’ academic capacity, and then reconfigure class assignments, scheduling, and instruction to best meet those students’ needs.

Such a controlled choice model could be extended. Students with disabilities and English Language Learners are too often disproportionately assigned to struggling high schools, a policy that fails to benefit both those students and their assigned schools. Because there is considerable overlap across the categories of over-the-counter students, students with disabilities and English Language Learners, their total may well exceed 30 percent of the system’s high school population. A controlled choice process could reserve 30 percent of the seats in all high schools for these students, who would be assigned outside the school choice process. This policy would allow each high school to re-configure its curriculum, programing and instruction to more effectively meet the needs of a predictable annual percentage of challenged, and challenging, students, and would undoubtedly achieve dramatic gains in equitable treatment for almost a third of the system’s high school students.

Is “Dream School” a reality-TV nightmare?

With shows like American Idol and The Voice suggesting that anyone can become a pop star, it was only a matter of time before we had a reality show suggesting that anyone can be a teacher.

In 2010, A&E brought us Teach, which featured actor Tony Danza teaching English at a Philadelphia high school. Danza went on to write a book, aptly titled I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.

Now we have Dream School, which premiered last week on cable TV. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and rapper 50 Cent produce this show that follows celebrity attempts to teach 15 teenagers who have either dropped out or been expelled from school.

The celebrity teachers’ mission is “to excite these young minds, reignite their passions, and get them to graduate from a real, accredited high school,” according to the show’s publicists.

The show’s real-life dropouts have all faced challenges familiar to anyone in urban education: teen pregnancy, bullying, drug addiction, a dying family member. They have come to Dream School for what the show’s publicists call a “last chance” to graduate high school.

What groundbreaking tactics do the intrepid celebrity teachers bring to the classroom? Well, for starters, 50 Cent kicks off the first day of homeroom by, brace yourselves, asking the students to suggest classroom rules.

“In a traditional school, these students would just be expected to follow the rules,” says Dream School’s principal (who off-screen is the superintendent of a suburban school system in California). “But here, we want to empower and motivate each and every kid to be part of the process.”

Did you hear that, you teachers in “traditional” schools? Is it possible that you somehow missed that you’re supposed to empower and motivate your students?

Oliver Stone is the history teacher, and if you think of every approach you would not use for reaching your most disengaged students, you’ll get a sense of Stone’s instructional strategies. He drones on while the camera zooms in on the clock ticking and students falling asleep at their desks. “This is a great example for folks coming in: Teaching is hard,” observes the principal.

Teaching is hard – but this show seems to us at Edwize like a shameful gimmick that’s disrespectful to both teachers and high-risk students. Can you imagine the outcry if we had a show, Dream Courtroom, where non-credentialed celebrities represented defendants in their “last chance” to avoid prison? Or Dream Hospital, where celebrities acting as doctors became their patients’ “last chance”…literally?

What do you think? Does Dream School reinforce the public’s misunderstanding of what makes a good teacher? Or, could the show have a positive impact by showing that teaching is not as easy as some may think?

Annenberg Institute study: Struggling schools are set up to fail

Are high-needs students disproportionately assigned to struggling schools? A study released Thursday by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform reveals that low-performing high schools are unfairly overburdened by late-enrolling students (also known as “over the counter” students), who tend to be new immigrants, special-needs students, previously incarcerated teens, transient or homeless youth, over-age students and those with histories of behavioral incidents in previous high schools.

The study also reports that late-enrolling students are disproportionately assigned to schools that have already been targeted for closure. At Christopher Columbus High School, for instance, which the DOE began phasing out in 2011, late-enrolling students accounted for 37 percent of the population; the city average was 14 percent.

Annenberg Institute Principal Associate Norm Fruchter, one of the study’s authors, concludes that “compelling evidence suggests that the DOE’s inequitable assignment of late-enrolling students to struggling high schools reduces the opportunities for success for both the students and their schools.”

The report doesn’t come as a surprise to teachers in schools with large percentages of late-enrolling students. Christine Rowland, who taught at Columbus, recalls that the stream of late-enrolling students “put incredible pressure on the school.”

 Late entry students provide incredible challenges for programming. Classes fill up, leading to challenges in giving students the courses and programs they need to succeed. Then courses fill up, leading to a need to open up additional sections of a course. This may mean someone needing to take on a sixth class, someone teaching out of license, or even hiring an additional teacher. [But] schools are only budgeted based on estimated register (not including over-the-counter students), and funding for the additional students [does] not arrive until November. This meant that additional teachers could not be taken on, since there was no budget to support their hire. Sometimes it means changing a huge percentage of teacher and student programs in order to cope with the fluxing student body.

Columbus “bravely attempted to address our high needs students by establishing a number of specially designed support programs to meet the needs of these students,” says Rowland. Unfortunately, “the over-the-counter numbers played a very significant role in our report card grade, which played a major role in our being targeted” for closure.

“This new research confirms what we have known all along: that the Department of Education set these schools up to fail,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “It is failure by design.”

Read the Annenberg Institute’s press release, or check out the full report.