learning curve

Black on city history, teacher turnover, and school closures

Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't on NY1 last night.
Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't in her first month on the job on NY1 last night.

Chancellor Cathie Black’s interview on Inside City Hall last night is worth watching in full. The interview exposes just how much Black has been able to absorb in her first month on the job — and how much she hasn’t.

In a moment first highlighted by NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ on Twitter, Black declared, “The public school system in New York City has been unbelievably successful since the birth of our nation.” She was responding to a question from host Errol Louis about why she chose to send her children to private rather than public city schools.

Black did not elaborate, but the statement is confusing given that public schools in New York City did not emerge until the early 1800s.

Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the “last in, first out” policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom (PDF link).

Here’s how Black responded:

Well you have to know, like, what’s really at the heart of the issue. I don’t know that we know what’s really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They’re there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave.

She then returned to the “last in, first out” question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren’t concerned about being laid off. “Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t have a job next year.’ Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, ‘I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?’ That’s going to be a catastrophe,” she said.

For years, researchers have asked why teachers leave schools — particularly struggling schools. A 2007 paper by a group studying New York City teachers, the Teacher Pathways Project, summarized the major findings this way:

  • “Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which student achievement is higher and teachers — especially white teachers — are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students.”
  • “Teachers who score higher on tests of academic achievement are more likely to leave,” as are teachers from out of town.
  • Less-qualified teachers are more likely to stay at a school than teachers with higher qualifications, “especially if they teach in low-achieving schools.”

The researchers themselves — a team from Stanford and the University of Albany — wondered how attrition related to teachers’ effectiveness at improving student achievement. Maybe the turnover wouldn’t be so upsetting if the teachers leaving were also the teachers who were least effective.

Studying New York City schools between 2000 and 2006, the group found that less-upsetting possibility was indeed true, but only in part. After a year of teaching, the most effective teachers were more likely to stay put than the least effective teachers, as judged by value-added measures. But after another year or two, more effective teachers’ next moves depended on the quality of their schools. If they taught at low-performing schools, they tended to leave them, on average, for higher-performing schools.

Here’s a link to the paper I’m drawing from (note it’s a PDF).

A final noteworthy moment came when Louis asked Black about the report out this week from the Independent Budget Office, which found that schools slated for closure served a more troubled student population. Were those school being treated unfairly?

Black’s response:

I would differ with the statement DOE sent you a problem. We have seen in several situations same neighborhood, same children, same problems same situations. When we re-do the whole structure — the physical outside stays the same, new schools go inside — this group of kids and this group of kids are performing better — 20 and 30 percentage points better. Nothing has been changed on the outside except for the level of commitemnt and teachng and effectiveness that’s going to hopefully impact that child in a positive way.

Watch the full interview online here.

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.”