accountability accountability

Chief DOE deputy to parents and teachers: Check our work

The city is putting in new measures to help the schools that it is closing, the Department of Education’s top deputy said yesterday.

Those measures, which include formalizing the city’s plans to support the schools and developing best practice guidelines for closing schools, come in response to criticism from the Panel For Educational Policy and others, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told GothamSchools.

But parents and teachers should still monitor the city’s progress and hold the department accountable, he told people attending a public meeting in Brooklyn last night organized by City Councilman Brad Lander.

The exchange took up just a few minutes of a two-hour meeting that focused on the effect of testing on city classrooms and on Polakow-Suransky’s hopes for new tests based on national standards.

At the meeting, Ann-Marie Henry-Stephens, an assistant principal and English teacher at Paul Robeson High School, one of the schools that the city plans to phase out, asked Polakow-Suransky how the city planned to better support teachers.

“The teachers who are at my school or at any school really don’t feel supported by the DOE — when is the DOE going to treat us as equals and treat us with some professional courtesy?” Stephens asked, prompting applause from the audience of teachers and parents. She continued:

Right now, we have a new evaluation system, we are hearing about layoffs, the Teacher Data Initiative. A lot of what you are doing and saying to teachers is punitive, and we want support because it’s really hard, there’s so much to learn, so much to do…. So really, when are we going to get the support especially in schools that are struggling?…Schools are struggling and they’re crying out for help, but we don’t get the help, we get evaluated.

Polakow-Suransky responded:

I think you’re right that there’s not been consistent set of supports for the schools that are phasing out as part of the process of creating new schools. There’s an obligation to the kids and to the adults in those schools to provide thoughtful consistent support and communications, so that people know what to expect and know what is going to happen from year to year as the school changes and gets smaller, and to actually create opportunities for those that want to stay and be part of moving the kids that remain to graduation — or to the end of that level of schooling if it’s not a high school — for them to actually have have really strong leadership and real resources to do that.

I think it’s happened in some places.  I know that in the building where I was a principal, there was a phase out school, which was Morris High School, and as that school got smaller it became much more successful and many more kids graduated from that old school that was being phased out than ever before. I mean, it was a school that used to take 700 kids into the ninth grade every year and graduate 70 four years later. And as it was phased out, in the second year of the phase out it graduated 120 kids – this is separate from the new schools, just the old school as it was getting smaller. In the third year it graduated over 200 and in its last year it graduated 300. And I remember standing next to one of the asst principals, who had been there since 1966 who had been fighting against the decision to close Morris and to phase out the school, and he had tears in his eyes. And I asked him what he was thinking and he said he’d never seen so many kids graduate from this school.

And so there is the possibility to do this well. And I think that’s our obligation and that’s something that you and others need to hold us accountable because we do know what it takes to do it well and we can.

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.”