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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.

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.

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.

What drives the success in Success Academy?

When scores for the first round of Common Core-aligned state tests were released this summer, it wasn’t surprising that the results were lower than in years past. What did come as a surprise, however, was how well students at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools had fared: At one SA charter in the Bronx, 97 percent of students scored proficient in English and 77 percent were proficient in math.

What’s their secret? (If there can be a “secret” to high scores on standardized tests, that is.) A new blog post by education writer Diane Ravitch, in which she quotes an anonymous Success Academy teacher, suggests that the disappointing truth may be old-fashioned test prep, and lots of it, otherwise known as “drill and kill.”

ELA test prep starts in November for two periods a week, the teacher wrote to Ravitch. After winter break, we have daily hourlong ELA test prep. Then we add math. By late February, we spend several hours a day on it. The last few weeks are almost all-day test prep.

So much for the Success Academy mission statement that proclaims, “Our schools are fueled by wonder.”

The same teacher notes that “we have people whose job it is to put together custom test prep packets based on state guidance. Much more aligned to Common Core and closer to the test than the published books I’ve seen. The teacher adds, “Thousands of dollars [is] spent on prizes to incentivize the kids to work hard.”

Custom test prep packets and bribery — is this the way to close the achievement gap?

The anonymous teacher, who says a typical Success Academy work day lasts 11 hours, describes “literally pour[ing] 100 percent of yourself into [test prep] day in and day out.” And just in case teachers are not feeling enough pressure, they receive “daily inspirational emails from principals with a countdown, anecdotes about the importance of state tests, and ever-multiplying plans for ‘getting kids over the finish line’.

And while Success Academy’s test scores were high, so was another statistic: its teacher turnover rate, which at one point approached 40 percent. Could experiences like the one above be the cause?

Read Ravitch’s entire entry here.

In Education

“The new [teacher evaluation] systems will succeed or fail depending on how well they accommodate basic feelings like anxiety and whether they inspire confidence in the teachers they are meant to help,” writes the New York Times editorial board in a piece about how principals and teachers in Chicago are handling their new teacher evaluation program.

The study also suggests that principals desperately need better training in how to help teachers improve. One administrator said of struggling teachers: “There’s 15 things they need to get better at, and so all 15 of them are important, where do I begin?” Another spoke of struggling to find the right ways to reach teachers with markedly different sensibilities. Some do well with the direct approach, he said, but the phrase “this is what you should do” turns others right off.

“The study includes important lessons for the 40 states that are constructing new evaluation systems and especially for large cities that plan to introduce systems similar to Chicago’s” — like New York City.

Read the entire article here.

In Education

Shaun Harper, director of the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, released research findings about about the black and Latino male students who succeed in New York City high schools.

Generally, the descriptions of the high school students left cause for optimism. A combination of the right encouragement from parents and teachers makes a difference, the interviews suggest.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed.

Many steps to go for college-ready

For every 100 high school freshmen who enrolled in New York City high school in 2007, 66 graduated on time and only 21 graduated ready to do college-level work. For those unprepared grads who then enrolled in CUNY community colleges, where most non-college-ready students go, just 16 percent got an associate’s degree within three years.

This is the bitter context in which Common Core Learning Standards were launched.

These are also the opening stats in the Center for New York City Affairs’ insightful new report, “Creating College Ready Communities,” which lays out the obstacles high school students must overcome on their way to a life after graduation.

Center researchers spent four years in 14 city schools, and came out with a detailed picture of why college-readiness is such an elusive goal.

Among its findings:

  • Most students enter 9th grade reading below standards. In the schools the researchers studied in depth, “struggling readers were the norm.”
  • Students appreciated how supportive their teachers were, but a curriculum focused on Regents prep was “boring” for students and teachers. One teacher wrote, “Too much energy is spent on short-term passing — and not enough energy on long-term college planning.”
  • Many students don’t focus on college until 11th grade — far too late. There are not enough guidance counselors and college planning programs in the middle schools and early years of high school.
  • Courses that lead to college-level work were lacking. Only 28 of the 342 schools reviewed offered Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physics. In 46 schools none of these subjects were offered.

“The next mayor will have to do more. He or she will bear responsibility for a deeper transformation of the system, one that succeeds at providing students at an earlier age with much stronger reading, writing and analytic skills,” the report concludes. “Just as important schools will need to become much more effective at college guidance and life skills training.”

The report offers several recommendations, among them a portfolio assessment process that will reward students beyond a Regents-passing level; a systemwide post-secondary counseling curriculum; and more comprehensive involvement by CUNY.