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Archive for December, 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.