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Archive for March, 2014

New York’s badly segregated schools

A new Civil Rights Project report on segregation in New York schools, by UCLA researchers John Kucsera and Gary Orfield, demonstrates that New York State has the most racially segregated schools in the country. New York’s schools are more segregated than schools in the Deep South, even after the civil rights movement and desegregation efforts made around the state since the 1970s.

New York City contributes mightily to the state’s overall lack of diversity in schools, Orfield writes in the report’s preface, with the city’s recent school-choice policies tending to perpetuate segregation. The authors flag city charter schools as exceptionally segregated. Almost three-quarters are termed “apartheid schools” with less than 1 percent white enrollment.

By contrast, the city’s magnet schools had the highest proportion of multiracial learning environments and the lowest proportion of segregation, the authors find.

Orfield, in a preface to the report, makes the case that integrated schools offer an advantage to all students across the board by preparing them for an increasingly diverse college and job market. Integration benefits academic achievement and health outcomes for minority students and social skills for whites and all other students.

School-choice plans without “civil rights standards,” he writes, increase the stratification of schools and leave children of color attending segregated and poorer schools. “Such ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘open enrollment’ plans were tried in many hundreds of districts,” he says. “The record, as the Supreme Court recognized in l968, was a failure.”

When districts implement choice, whether through magnets, charters or other types of assignments, the planning must be linked to measures that will uphold civil rights standards, such as extensive outreach, free transportation, “authentic educational options worth choosing,” and no admissions screening.

For students who speak languages other than English, the authors urge expansion of dual language immersion programs.

New York City’s notoriously segregated housing markets are a factor in school segregation, but not an excuse to do nothing, Orfield says.

Hurt schools, help rich people

[This editorial originally appeared in the March 27 issue of the New York Teacher.]

A new proposal making its way through the state Legislature is a thinly veiled voucher program that would use taxpayer money to fund religious and other private schools in New York City and across the state.

The proposal, already approved by the state Senate and included in its budget bill, threatens the future funding of public education and must be kept out of the final state budget.

It is misleadingly called the education investment tax credit. It would be more accurate to call it the plan to divest public education and further enrich wealthy donors to private schools.

The program would grant individuals tax credits of up to $1 million for donations to scholarship funds for religious or other private schools.

In other words, money that would go into state coffers to fund public education, affordable housing or infrastructure improvements would instead go into the bank accounts of wealthy people who donate to private scholarship funds.

And the scholarships themselves would benefit children of well-off families, with a generous household income limit of $550,000.

The tax credits would also be available for donors to public schools. But don’t let that fool you. Public schools were added to make the tax credit more widely palatable. This bill would allow wealthy donors to pick which public schools they want to support and which not.

In a cynical attempt by the bill’s writers to win over public school educators and their supporters, teachers would also get a tax credit of at least $100 for buying supplies.

Although the state Senate has passed the bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Marty Golden, the Assembly leadership, to its credit, is showing less enthusiasm.

But the tax credit proposal has momentum. It is particularly alarming that 17 labor unions, most of them representing uniformed public employees, back the bill on the grounds that it would benefit their members, presumably because many of them send their children to parochial schools.

Have middle-class and working New Yorkers who choose to send their children to private school forgotten the importance of a well-funded public education system?

This proposed massive tax giveaway would hurt working people by increasing the already staggering wealth inequality in New York. By draining money that we need for our public schools, state universities, highways and other vital services, it would threaten the economic future of our state.

Committees upon committees upon…

“Kelly” is the pseudonym of a 3rd-year high school social studies teacher in Queens. If you’d like to write for the New Teacher Diaries, email edwize@uft.org!

High school teachers spend the entire year focusing on Regents preparation — especially this year, when Regents scores hold so much weight in our teacher evaluations. This year, like every other year, we are committed to improving student test scores. As part of our commitment, we’ve formed two committees focusing on how we can get our students to pass the Regents. So in effect, these two different committees are doing the same thing.

It sounds great in theory to have a literacy team and an instructional team, in addition to the school’s inquiry team. All of our teams are making progress: We’ve identified that low reading levels account for difficulty in test-taking for special education and ELL students.

But at a recent faculty meeting, the inquiry team presented essentially the same data that had been discussed at the literacy team meeting. Neither team has collaborated to discuss its findings or how its data can help us meet our students’ needs. Instead, each team has come up with its own approach on how to tackle the issue, with the result that not as much is getting done.

We struggle in education about how to make progress, but our multiple committees seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re so caught up in data and the other pressures of being a teacher that we think we exist in a vacuum, as if no one else in the entire school could possibly share the same concerns or have solutions.

Being on a committee is an honor, to be recognized for my skills and what I do. And it’s great to work with colleagues toward solving a problem.

But why is it that the same few teachers get picked for committees over and over again? Shouldn’t we all work together on everything, instead of relying on a few people? After all, we’re all accountable for results. Not to mention that committees create extra work for teachers who are already overextended: If I’m expected to prepare dynamite lesson plans that are Common Core- and Danielson-aligned, how can I do that in addition to serving on a committee?

Committees should be cohesive in terms of membership and focused on a specific issue, rather than overlapping with the same broad intentions. We should be encouraged to collaborate as a whole rather than attempt to tackle the same issue in small units without communicating. After all, the school’s mission applies to all of us, not just those on a committee.

Steve Jobs got it right; he ran a company that had only a few products, but they were high-quality. We as teachers should go for a similar approach; each committee should have a single, focused mission. As each committee begins to intensively address its assigned topic, other problems at the school might start to disappear.

Unprepared and knowing it

[This editorial was originally published in the March 6 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Would you want a doctor who had completed one year of medical school instead of four? A lawyer who had finished only one semester of law school?

In other professions, we assume that practitioners will have proper training.

But for teachers, a dangerous sort of denial has taken hold about the preparation needed to be effective in a classroom.

It is as if our society had tacked up a sign: Teachers wanted. Little training required. The less experience, the better.

Two programs that may promote the belief that teachers require minimal preparation are Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows.

The UFT counts among its ranks thousands of Teaching Fellows and a handful of Teach for America teachers. The union proudly represents them and honors their good work. But many of them have a hard time in their first few years given the gaps in their training.

The Teaching Fellows program was founded in 2000 when the city faced a shortage of certified teachers. Its participants receive a crash course of six weeks of training before they are placed in high-need schools while continuing their graduate work after school and on weekends.

Reports over the years have documented that a significant number felt unprepared for the classroom. This concern has surfaced again in a new UFT survey of teachers. Among respondents, Teaching Fellows were more than twice as likely to rank their training as poor or fair as teachers certified through traditional college programs.

Since 2005, the city has had contracts totaling nearly $50 million with The New Teacher Project, which runs the Teaching Fellows program. We urge Chancellor Fariña to evaluate that contract closely to determine if it serves the city’s needs.

Also under the spotlight recently is Teach for America, which requires only a two-year teaching commitment from its participants and gives them just five weeks’ training before placing them in high-need schools. The organization Students United for Public Education has a new Twitter campaign, #ResistTFA, that has generated a hugely popular twitter chat about the controversial program.

The chat may be the start of an important debate.

Teaching is both one of the most rewarding and the most challenging jobs. To do it well, teachers need and deserve excellent preparation. And children need and deserve well-trained teachers.