snowed out (updated)

Snow day disrupts Regents exams; city in talks with state

A big question mark hanging over today’s snow closure is what will happen to the high school students who were supposed to take Regents exams this morning.

Students are required to take the exams to graduate, and today’s test date was particularly important for some students hoping to graduate this month. City officials said today that schools ordered nearly 100,000 exams in six subjects, though frequently the number of tests ordered is larger than the number of students who sit for them.

No one seems to know yet exactly when those students will get a chance to take their exams. A GothamSchools reader told us that she spent 45 minutes waiting on 311, the city’s information hotline, this morning, before being told only that today’s administration had been canceled.

“We are in discussion with state education officials about finding a solution for students who were unable to take the Regents exams scheduled for today,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference to discuss the surprise storm. “This is not a problem only for New York City. There are other cities in the southern part of the state that have exactly the same problem.”

A Department of Education spokesman said the city hoped to finalize arrangements with the state today. State policy is typically not to administer make-up Regents exams.

The last time Regents exams were canceled in New York due to snow was in 2009, and the state allowed students either to retake the entire exam or take only the missed second half of the exam in June. In 2004, city seniors who missed Regents exams because of a snow day were allowed to skip the exams altogether, provided that they were seeking only a local diploma and had passed classes in the subjects being tested.

UPDATE: A city spokesman just clarified that the 2009 Regents cancellation did not affect New York City students.

High school math teacher Akil Wilson watched Bloomberg’s press conference this morning and helpfully transcribed an exchange between reporters, the mayor and Chancellor Cathie Black about the exams:

1st Reporter: And so, all of these thousands of people will have to take the exams in June and will have to study for them again?

Black: That’s correct.

Bloomberg: Well, hopefully if you learned the material, you don’t have to study again? I mean, think about what you’re – they should be learning the material. That’s the whole idea of the test, to see whether you know the material, not whether you can pass the test.

2nd Reporter: The idea is that you can take it three times and pass it with at least a 65, so like, if you are not given that time in January to take it, you fail it in June…

Bloomberg: You know — unfortunately, we have a snow storm which we didn’t want, but God gave us. And the state will figure out ways to work it out, for the kids who need to take the test, but learning the material is not a bad idea. As a matter of fact, they’ve got the day free, they can go back to the books, and I’m sure most of them will want to spend this day doing that.

Here’s the list of Regents exam subject that were supposed to have been offered today, and the number of tests ordered in each:

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money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”