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Inequality and you

[This editorial originally appeared in the Feb. 6 edition of the New York Teacher.]

You know how college costs today seem nearly out of reach for all but the most affluent families?

How so many families now are under financial stress and struggling to pay their bills, despite holding down jobs and working hard?

How housing prices in New York City keep climbing faster than wages, forcing more families to move farther out or to the suburbs?

That is income inequality at work.

Bill de Blasio made it the touchstone issue of his mayoral campaign. President Obama focused on it in his State of the Union address. Occupy Wall Street helped us all start talking about it.

The statistics are alarming. Since 1979, the share of total income going to the top-earning U.S. households nearly doubled. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income. An international study in 2013 found that the widest gaps between rich and poor are found in four countries: Chile, Mexico, Turkey and the United States.

The issue really hits home, though, when we consider how growing inequality hurts ordinary people and narrows the future possibilities for our children.

There are ways to close the income gap, and the president is right that government has a big role to play. Solutions include increasing the minimum wage, closing corporate tax loopholes and strengthening labor laws so that workers who want to unionize can do so.

As a union, our fight for fair contracts acts as a counterweight to the rising tide of inequality. So does our support for other labor campaigns, such as the fight by fast-food workers for decent wages.

Inequality affects us all every day. It is, as President Obama said, the defining issue of our time.

Charter Schools: A UFT Research Report

As charter school proponents go to Albany this week to plead their case, let’s examine the realities behind their claims of stretched resources, unique student demand and stellar academic results.

How poor are charter schools?

While charters maintain they have very thin budgets, and some smaller charters in fact operate close to the margin, others are extremely well-funded.

A review of the most recently available public documents showed that as of 2011-12, the schools in six of the city’s most prominent charter chains had a total of more than $65 million in net assets, including nearly $16 million for the charters which are part of the Uncommon Schools Network and more than $13 million for the Success Academy Network.

What’s more, this supposed poverty doesn’t prevent some charters from paying very large salaries to their executives, as the Daily News recently reported.  The two Harlem Village Academies run by Deborah Kenny pay her a total of half a million dollars a year;  Eva Moskowitz of Success Academies reported a salary only a few thousand less, while David Levin of KIPP got just under $400,000.  All these salaries are dramatically more than those of the city’s mayor and chancellor, who supervise roughly 1,700 schools.

Charters’ opaque bookkeeping methods make it difficult to figure out how much many schools spend on their vendors, but tax filings by the Success Academy schools suggest that management fees charged by that network totaled $3.5 million of their schools’ per-pupil funds in 2011-12. In 2013, the Success Network requested and received a raise in management fees to 15 percent of the per-pupil funding it receives from the state and city.

The total amount of management fees charged by just four of the city’s charter chains in 2011-12 — Success, Uncommon, Achievement First, and KIPP — was over $12 million.  (see table below)

Charter Chain Financial Data, 2011-12

 

Network Name Number of NYC Schools with Audits Total Net Assets of Schools Total Management Fees Top Executive Compensation 2010-11
Achievement First

2

$3,585,931

$2,363,205

$224,200

Success Charter Network

4

$13,563,661

$3,516,362

$475,244

Uncommon Schools

7

$16,820,767

$5,054,626

$252,941

KIPP

1

$1,911,010

$1,089,475

$395,350

Village Academies Network

2

$3,236,767

Not Listed on Audit

$499,146

Icahn Charters

4

$26,110,338

$2,236

$280,323

Total

20

$65,228,474

$12,023,668

$2,127,204

All of these figures are based on the schools’ own filings; the lack of publicly available audits for many other chains limits information about what other networks are charging.  Meanwhile, charter proponents led by Success Academy have launched a court fight to prevent an independent expert — the State Comptroller — from auditing charters’ and charter management companies’ books.

A study based on 2010-11 by the city’s Independent Budget Office calculated that as of 2009-10, co-locating a charter school in a public school building in effect gave the charter about $650 per student more in public funding than district schools spend. Their calculations were based on earlier, lower levels of charter per-pupil funding, however; at current rates, that disparity may now be over $2,000 per student.

Charters also get foundation grants — including from right-wing organizations like the Walton Family Foundation, which has given more than $1 million to Achievement First in recent years. In addition, a look at official filings by many charters — in particular the Success Academy network — show that the schools or chains have boards dominated by hedge funders and other financial interests whose contributions could theoretically absorb any reasonable rent charged for public school space; at a gala in 2013, for example, the Success Network raised more than $7 million in one evening.

How unique are charter waiting lists?

Charters make much of the length of their student waiting lists.  But the reality of New York City schools is that tens of thousands of students at all levels end up on waiting lists or completely frozen out of the schools they would like to attend.

More than half of the city’s nearly 64,000 eighth graders did not get into their first choice for high school last year and 7,200 — more than 10 percent of the total — did not get into a single school they applied to.  Approximately 20,000 students who take the test each year for the specialized high schools do not get into one of these schools.

The same is true for thousands of elementary school students who apply for slots in competitive middle schools, and for thousands more families who cannot find space in gifted programs or whose kids end up waitlisted for kindergarten in their neighborhood schools.

Students can and do get off waiting lists in district schools, which generally backfill empty spaces in higher grades if and when students transfer out; most charters, in contrast, almost never accept transfer students off their “waitlists” beyond their early grades.

Does admission to a charter guarantee academic success?

Student scores plummeted across the city last year when the state introduced new tests based on the Common Core standards. But in reading, charters schools as a whole scored under the citywide average (26.4 citywide average, charters 25.1).

Even highly touted charters had classes with significant problems.  Democracy Prep’s Harlem charter had fewer than 4 percent of 6th-graders proficient in reading and fewer than 12 percent passing math.  Fewer than 12 percent of 5th-graders at KIPP Star College Prep were proficient in math and just 16 percent passed the reading test, while 11 percent of their 7th-graders scored proficient in language arts and 14 percent in math.

These results come despite the fact that, as a group, charter schools serve a smaller proportion of the city’s neediest students, including special ed and English language learners.  A 2012 report by the charters’ own association —  the New York City Charter School Center — showed that on average, charter schools had only 6 percent English language learners, compared with 15 percent in district schools.

A recent IBO study showed that an astonishing 80 percent of special education students who start in charter schools in kindergarten are gone by the third grade.

Student attrition is a particular issue for the Success network, whose schools tend to have far higher student suspension rates than their neighborhood schools; they also see their class cohorts shrink as many poor-performing students leave or are counseled out and not replaced.

How can we level the playing field?

If charter schools are serious about playing an important role in New York City education, they should take four immediate steps to level the playing field between them and district schools, as outlined by UFT President Michael Mulgrew below in an article reprinted from the New York Daily News:

For the past 12 years, the Bloomberg administration has singled out charter schools for special treatment, a strategy that embittered many ordinary New York City public school parents and children. Here are four steps charter schools should take now to end that divisive relationship:

Serve the neediest kids

State law requires that charters serve the same percentage of poor and special-needs children, along with English-language learners, as their local district schools do. Unfortunately, many charter schools ignore this requirement. Meanwhile, parents complain that special-needs children and students who struggle academically have been “counseled out” of charters, most of them ending up in local district schools while the charters hold onto students with better scores. A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that a shocking 80% of special-needs kids who enroll in city charter schools as kindergartners leave their schools by the third grade.

Be good neighbors

The Bloomberg administration often shoehorned charters into public schools. Because some charters didn’t want their children interacting with public school kids, gymnasiums and cafeterias would be limited to charter students at certain hours. Worst of all, students in dilapidated classrooms with outmoded equipment and few supplies watched with envy as the incoming charters spent small fortunes on renovations, paint jobs, new desks and equipment, books and supplies. If they want to be good neighbors, charters should share the wealth — and make sure all students sharing one school building have the same opportunities and environment.

Open their books

If charter operators truly want a new start, they need to abandon the lawsuit they have filed against the state controller seeking to block his ability to audit their books. Parents and taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.

Stop treating children as profit centers

Charters receive taxpayer dollars. In addition, many get donations from major hedge funders, have millions of dollars in bank accounts and pay their chief executives — who typically oversee a small group of schools — as much as half a million dollars a year, along with lavish benefits. Charters with such resources need to pay rent, as Mayor de Blasio has suggested. And charters should set realistic salary caps for their executives and appropriate limits on payments to consultants.

Data Sources

Other sources:

 How poor are charter schools?

 How unique are charter waiting lists?

Does admission to a charter guarantee academic success?

Learning how to support children in crisis: A collective awareness of classroom stressors

nau_edwizePatrick Nau, a teacher at PS 369 in the Bronx, has completed his training with the Institute for Understanding Behavior, a consortium of the New York City Department of Education and the UFT. The institute trains entire school staffs in using strategies that help foster social, emotional and academic growth in students. Eight schools have signed up for the training. Patrick is writing a series of blog posts about his experience and the lessons he hopes to bring into the classroom. Read Patrick’s first post »

The four-day training of the Institute for Understanding Behavior asks you to take stock of yourself and your school community. Each day, for six hours, we were asked to think with sincerity about our school’s successes and where our school needs to make changes. We rehearsed how we would deal with stressful situations. And we shared with the other participants what behaviors really irk us and what we do to help ourselves remain calm.

My co-workers and I realized a few things: mainly that our staff — as do most educators — knows what we are supposed to do. We know that in stressful situations we need to support student needs and understand the correlation between their needs and behaviors, use positive language, avoid power struggles. We know what environmental conditions cause children to struggle with behavior.

The trainers suggested that teachers ask themselves four key questions before responding to a child’s behavior: What am I feeling? What does the student feel, need or want? How can I change the environment? What is the best response?

In the heat of the moment, I sometimes struggle to pause before reacting. I need to not panic during a stressful situation — even if there is fighting — take a deep breath and quickly assess the situation before trying to address it.

My colleagues and I also found the Life Space Interview to be a helpful tool. In a nutshell, the Life Space Interview is a way to engage a struggling student, one-on-one, to understand what is frustrating him or her, to understand the behavior correlated to how the child feels, discuss and practice alternatives, and ultimately reintroduce the child into the class.

But ultimately all of this led to more questions. How do we find time to use these strategies when you have a full class of other students? What do you do when multiple students are having difficulty at the same time?

During the training, my colleagues and I found ourselves frequently in discussions about applying what we were learning to our particular school and staff. We kept returning to one key question: Will everyone buy into the program and implement it in earnest? How do we implement the components and strategies of the IUB training with consistency across the entire school community?

For the IUB strategies to be implemented effectively, all staff needs to develop a collective awareness of how to handle stressful situations.

A memorable MLK Day for 3 UFT chapter leaders

When I received an email from the UFT about the Martin Luther King, Jr. ceremony at Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, I decided that I would like to go. Michael Mulgrew would be there, and I know the union is only as strong as the dedication of its leaders and members. Erin Oates, Joseph Usatch and I became friends when we recently trained together as pension consultants. The three of us are also chapter leaders. We touched base with each other and decided to go to the celebration together.

We made our way from Queens to the church that Monday morning. I didn’t think twice about it, even though I could have stayed in bed late on a day off from school. I posted a quote earlier that day on Facebook that Dr. King said: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” I relate this to our union and how we are fighting the good fight day after day, and that we aren’t afraid to do what’s right. Not just for our members, but for the children in our schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who spoke at the ceremony, explained that our union and Martin Luther King Jr. “go way back.” He explained how a group of teachers “passed around a hat” so they could get station wagons to go down south and meet with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Mulgrew also drove home the point that just like King fought for what he believed, we have to do the same, and we have to make sure our students are at the center of our efforts. “It’s about the kids,” he said. The congregation clapped as Michael Mulgrew gave credit to teachers for their hard work.

To say the least, the ceremony was very moving. We sang and swayed to songs like “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

When we left the church, we decided to go to the iconic Sylvia’s restaurant. We enjoyed delicious soul food as we reflected on the day’s events. I looked up and recognized Chirlane McCray walking in, and a second later Bill de Blasio! The mayor shook people’s hands. As he passed our table, I said “Hi Bill, can you take a picture with us?” Joe told him that we were UFT members, and Erin mentioned we had just come from the MLK ceremony where Mulgrew spoke. He smiled and said, “That’s great.”

We immediately took to our phones to tell all our friends that we had met the mayor, and that night our picture was posted on the UFT Facebook page. It was definitely a memorable MLK Day for Erin, Joe and me, and, boy, am I glad that I didn’t stay in bed!

Denise Verde is the UFT chapter leader at PS 186 in Queens.

Stigma from obesity affects achievement

[This article originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Research showing that obese children perform below normal-weight peers on math and reading assessments has attributed the cause to health issues linked to obesity. But a new study finds that the social stigma suffered by obese children may affect their academic performance. The research published in Child Development found that math achievement among obese children in elementary school varies depending on when the child became obese and whether it has affected the child’s social and emotional functioning.

Researchers Sara Gable of the University of Missouri, Jennifer L. Krull of the University of California and Yiting Chang of the University of Vermont tracked more than 6,000 elementary school students from kindergarten through 5th grade. Each child was assigned to one of three weight-status categories: persistently obese — those who were obese from kindergarten or 1st grade through 5th grade; later-onset obesity — those who became obese in 3rd grade or later with the condition persisting through 5th grade; and those who were never obese. The children were also rated on their social skills with peers and their emotional behaviors, such as whether they exhibited anxiety, sadness, loneliness or low self-esteem.

Math achievement among the persistently obese children in 1st through 5th grade was significantly below that of children who had never been obese. Among later-onset obese children, math performance varied by gender, with only the girls exhibiting lower results compared to children who had never been obese.

The researchers found that emotional behaviors explained part of the link between obesity and lower math performance. Among the persistently obese children, boys in 3rd and 5th grades showed negative emotional behaviors that could affect academic achievement, and girls showed such behaviors as early as 1st grade. Girls in both the persistently obese and later-onset groups also showed weaker social skills, although this was not true for boys in these groups

The researchers suggest that the cumulative stress of being a member of a stigmatized group can interfere with academic performance, student engagement and cooperative classroom behavior. They recommend that school staffs and health professionals who work with obese children consider the social and emotional strain the children may be under.

Ode to Joy

[This op-ed originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Newly appointed Chancellor Carmen Fariña told Department of Education staff during her first day on the job that we need to put joy back in the school system.

Now that is a word we haven’t heard from a schools chancellor in a long time. The Bloomberg administration seemed intent on the opposite goal — sucking the joy out of education.

Fariña also recognizes that at the center of everything that schools do is teaching and learning. “All change happens in the classroom,” she said.

It always has.

Even through 12 years of disruption and damage to schools caused by the Bloomberg administration, UFT members have never stopped bringing a sense of excitement to their work and instilling the joy of learning in their students.

Brooklyn teacher Eleanor Terry, profiled in this issue of the New York Teacher, stuck to the textbook during her first year teaching Advanced Placement statistics at the HS for Telecommunication Arts and Technology, She soon realized that coming up with her own assignments would make statistics more exciting for her and her students. Now Terry’s classes conduct exit polls of voters, analyze baseball salaries and calculate the future impact of college loans.

Her students have become so comfortable with statistics that some use it in pursuing personal interests, such as analyzing their own performance records in sports.

Another math teacher, Elisabeth Jaffe, who wrote the Teacher to Teacher column below, gives class projects in which each student has some choice in the assignment.

Jaffe wants her students at Baruch College Campus HS in Manhattan to develop the same tenacity in academic work as they show in facing personal challenges.

“With a certain amount of freedom, they become more willing to work hard,” Jaffe writes. “They also discover the value of what they learn and a desire to learn more.”

Jaffe and Terry are just two among the tens of thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, therapists and other school staff who do amazing work every day in our schools.

They know what Fariña reminded us — that joy is at the heart of all teaching and learning.

Charter schools: Time for change

In this op-ed piece, which originally appeared in the Daily News, UFT President Michael Mulgrew describes the steps that charter schools should take to repair their relationship with New York City students and parents.

For the past 12 years, the Bloomberg administration has singled out charter schools for special treatment, a strategy that embittered many ordinary New York City public school parents and children. Here are four steps charter schools should take now to end that divisive relationship:

Serve the neediest kids
State law requires that charters serve the same percentage of poor and special-needs children, along with English-language learners, as their local district schools do. Unfortunately, many charter schools ignore this requirement. Meanwhile, parents complain that special-needs children and students who struggle academically have been “counseled out” of charters, most of them ending up in local district schools while the charters hold onto students with better scores. A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that a shocking 80 percent of special-needs kids who enroll in city charter schools as kindergartners leave their schools by the third grade.

Be good neighbors
The Bloomberg administration often shoehorned charters into public schools. Because some charters didn’t want their children interacting with public school kids, gymnasiums and cafeterias would be limited to charter students at certain hours. Worst of all, students in dilapidated classrooms with outmoded equipment and few supplies watched with envy as the incoming charters spent small fortunes on renovations, paint jobs, new desks and equipment, books and supplies. If they want to be good neighbors, charters should share the wealth — and make sure all students sharing one school building have the same opportunities and environment.

Open their books
If charter operators truly want a new start, they need to abandon the lawsuit they have filed against the New York State Comptroller seeking to block his ability to audit their books. Parents and taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.

Stop treating children as profit centers
Charters receive taxpayer dollars. In addition, many get donations from major hedge funders, have millions of dollars in bank accounts and pay their chief executives — who typically oversee a small group of schools — as much as half a million dollars a year, along with lavish benefits. Charters with such resources need to pay rent, as Mayor de Blasio has suggested. And charters should set realistic salary caps for their executives and appropriate limits on payments to consultants.

Learning how to support children in crisis: Beginning my journey with the Institute for Understanding Behavior

nau_edwizePatrick Nau, a teacher at PS 369 in the South Bronx, is participating in training by the Institute for Understanding Behavior, a consortium of the New York City Department of Education and the UFT. The institute trains entire school staffs to respond to challenging behavior more effectively by using strategies that help foster social, emotional and academic growth. Eight schools have signed up for the training. Patrick will be blogging about his experience and the lessons he hopes to bring into the classroom.

I teach technology and social studies to students in pre-K through 5th grade at PS 369 in the Bronx. It’s a high-needs neighborhood – there are homeless shelters nearby and there’s a large immigrant population. I have bilingual students and special education students in my classes.

I’m not a homeroom teacher so I see different groups of students all day. Some students I only see once a week. If a child comes into my class angry, it’s difficult to figure out the context. Something could have happened in another class or outside the school, and I have to navigate that.

There’s a lot of extra baggage brought in by the kids, such as aggressive behavior or defiance. The idea of finding an alternative way to engage students and draw them into instruction – especially students who have a hard time staying on task – is very appealing.

My principal told me about the Institute for Understanding Behavior. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I’ve heard other teachers discussing it. It’s about how to avoid exploiting a situation that sets a kid off into a power struggle. The whole school is taking the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools course with the institute – we’re going in groups of four. I start this week. 

I’m hoping to learn to better manage the classroom. In the past when I had certain students who were a handful, I tried to protect the rest of the class. At certain times I’d have to ignore them, so as not to escalate a situation. There were plenty of times when I didn’t know what to do. I’m hoping to engage those students in learning, and avoid making it a big problem – and if it does escalate, how do I get that kid back?  I’m trying to raise expectations, carry out curriculum and develop a supportive environment based on preventive measures. I don’t want to waste a minute.

How I came out to my students

hudsynyc is the pseudonym of a second-year high school ELA teacher in Brooklyn. If you’d like to submit an entry for the New Teacher Diaries, please email edwize@uft.org.

Sixteen 14-year-old girls taught by one 28-year-old woman. It is my second year having an all-girls 9th-grade advisory class at my high school in Brooklyn. Advisory is a more informal class where students have the opportunity to build real relationships with each other and with their advisory teacher.

By the end of September, my group of girls knew many things about me: I am originally from the New Jersey suburbs. I have a cat and a dog. I play soccer every week. I am relaxed but like to get things moving and accomplished in the classroom. They knew I buy my jeans at American Eagle and that I am never without an iced coffee in the morning. What they didn’t know was that I am married to a woman.

Although our school does not yet have a gay-straight alliance or any LGBT staff members who are out to the students, gay or bisexual teenagers seem ordinary to many of our students, who speak freely about their own sexuality and that of their peers. We even have a transgender student who changed his name and now uses the boys’ bathroom and locker room (as per the DOE’s nondiscrimination policy and our principal’s unyielding support).

At the start of this year, I was out to only that group of 10th-grade girls who had been in my advisory class last year. Now I had a new group of 14-year-old girls who didn’t know. What would they think? How would they look at me? Would they feel awkward sitting near me? I remember how I was at their age. And their parents? Their grandparents? Parent-teacher conferences were only a couple weeks away. Many of their families were religious or from cultures less tolerant of homosexuality. Some of the students must be homophobic, I assumed.

But one Friday, a student from last year’s advisory dropped in to say hello to me. As we were chatting, she asked how my wife was doing.

After she left, one of my most bubbly and outspoken girls asked without hesitation, “Are you bi or gay?”

I tried to keep it cool. “Oh, yes. I forgot. I haven’t told you guys yet, have I? Now when I tell you this, I want us to remember our advisory family rules No. 1 and No. 2. Listen without judgment. And respect.”

Long pause.

“I’m married to a woman. I’m gay.”

Cheers and claps. “You’re married to a woman?” More cheers and claps.

Hands shot up into the air. “I just want to say that I hate when people bully gay people or have something not nice to say. Just let people live.”

“For me, being gay is just as normal as being straight,” another student said. “Every woman in my family is gay besides me and my mother. My aunt’s gay. Her girlfriend’s always over at our house. That’s just how it is. We all sit around together.”

“I’m fine with everyone,” a third student responded. “Love who you love. But my grandfather, he’s not. I can’t stand the things he has to say when someone gay comes on the TV. I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but there’s no point. He just doesn’t listen.”

“My mom used to be the same way,” a different student said. “I just kept talking to her when she made those comments. She’s still, you know, whatever. But she’s getting better. It takes time.”

“What’s your wife’s name again? Where is she from? Is her mother OK with everything? How did you meet?”

Looks like my assumptions were wrong.

DOE’s performance assessments fall short

Teachers in the English department at Brooklyn Technical High School say that the DOE’s implementation of a new English Language Arts test — part of a series of performance assessments in the new teacher evaluation system — is robbing them of valuable instructional time. Calling the exam “poorly written and grossly mismanaged,” they urge the DOE to consider alternate assessments that would be more authentic measures of student learning.

Recently, the New York City Department of Education rolled out a secondary English Language Arts test called the “Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Performance Assessment.” The stated purpose of the test is to measure improvement in student writing in order to evaluate how well we as teachers do our jobs.

Under the new teacher evaluation system, this and other assessments, such as the state Regents exam, are among multiple measures that make up a teacher’s overall rating. The exam asks high school students to write an “argument essay.” The prompt for the essays poses a simplistic question that can be easily answered, but the guidelines tell students to use evidence from two short texts found on the following pages. The test — developed by Stanford University, Teachers College, and the DOE — loosely aligns with the Common Core Learning Standards.

However, in our opinion, in addition to impeding real learning from taking place in the classroom, the test falls short in measuring students and teachers for several reasons.

To begin, we lost two days of instructional time giving this pretest to our students. We continue to lose tutoring and professional development time to grade the test on seven often-overlapping components. We will lose two more days to give the post-test on an unknown date in the spring. Four lost instructional days rob the students of valuable learning opportunities, and seems to use them as guinea pigs.

Not only is this test a waste of students’ time and taxpayers’ money, it is also an invalid way to evaluate teachers. It was given to schools across the city at different times. Each school received only one of each grade-level exam and had to make photocopies for its students. The security of the exam was virtually nonexistent, thereby implying that it was unimportant. Furthermore, while most high school class periods are between 45 and 60 minutes, the testing period was 90 minutes. So, in many schools, students read the material on the tests on the first day and did their writing on the second day, making it possible for them to discuss the exam among themselves and plan out responses before writing.

The DOE did not indicate how much the pretest should count towards students’ grades, if at all; those decisions were left to the discretion of the schools and, in most cases, individual teachers. The lack of systemwide uniformity in how the test is perceived by students should invalidate how the results are used to reflect upon teachers.

Our grievance is not with our assistant principal of English or our principal, both of whom we respect. It is with the DOE, which has taken a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Our training as teachers taught us to differentiate our instruction in response to our students’ various needs and abilities. If we were to take the DOE’s one-size-fits-all approach to the 170 students each of us teaches in a day, we would be rated “unsatisfactory,” or in today’s parlance, “ineffective.”

Schools, like students, come in different shapes and sizes and with different needs. In specialized schools like Brooklyn Technical High School, students arrive with high test scores. While growth models under the new evaluation system are supposed to compare students’ test results to those of similarly high-achieving students, we wonder how growth among our students will be determined for purposes of teacher evaluation. Many teachers of students with challenges share the same concerns.

We understand that we will be held accountable for what our students learn, but a poorly written and grossly mismanaged test is unfair.

While there are problems in using any standardized tests for high-stakes decision-making, the DOE should consider different tests. And it could explore using authentic assessments, such as portfolios, that provide multiple examples of student development over time. Post-graduation interviews or surveys that capture what skills students found most valuable in their college and career experiences may improve our teaching as well. These methods require time and patience, qualities for which there is no room in the current data-driven, instant-results business model of education.

From the below signed members of the English Department at Brooklyn Technical High School:
1. Laura DeWitt
2. Danny Schott
3. Justyna Kret
4. Anastasia Visbal
5. Giancarlo Malchiodi
6. Shelley Zipper
7. Dan Baldwin
8. Patricia Quilliam
9. David Lo
10. Phyllis Witte
11. Marie Manuto-Brown
12. Rebecca Rendsburg
13. Jonathan Scolnick
14. Emily Tuckman
15. Tanya Green
16. Robert Grandt
17. Chris Rabot
18. Sonia Laudi
19. Monica Rowley
20. Christina Massie
21. Meredith Dobbs
22. Stephen Harris
23. Debra Rothman
24. Melissa Goodrum
25. Timothy Ree
26. Emilie Baser

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.

 

Methodology

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.