long-term planning

To transform failing schools, new teachers take up residence

A Bank of America employee, a fashion industry veteran, and a 311 operator are among the newest additions to the city’s teaching corps.

They are among 26 people being eased into the classroom through a new city program designed to train – and retain – high-quality teachers specifically for the city’s worst-performing schools.

Launched with little fanfare this summer, the NYC Teaching Residency for School Turnaround is the city’s latest effort to attract talent using an alternative certification program. But unlike the city’s NYC Teaching Fellows program, the residency isn’t throwing its trainees straight into the classroom. Nor is it quickly relieving them from their obligation to the city.

Instead, the program requires them to make a lengthier commitment, but only after they’ve spent a year working as assistants to in the classroom.

The teachers-in-training have been dispersed into two schools undergoing federally-funded “transformation” — Queens Vocational and Technical High School and J.H.S. 22 Jordan L. Mott — and are part of an experimental effort to overhaul schools deemed “persistently low-achieving” by the state.

Borrowing heavily from models that preceeded it in recent years, the program comes amid a growing nationwide focus on improving both the teacher quality and retention rates in high-needs urban schools.

The programs are expensive to create and operate, but supporters say the cost is worth it because it cuts down on pricey turnover expenses. Half of all teachers in urban districts will leave the profession within five years, statistics show. But 85 percent of teachers who were trained as residents will stay, according to early data collected by Urban Teacher Residency United, a network that has more than a dozen programs in 10 cities.

This summer, NYC Teaching residents spent a month preparing for the school year in classes of their own. They spent mornings in lectures at St. John’s University and afternoons in seminars and workshops taught by a DOE instructor.

During the first few months of school, trainees will have limited responsibilities, but by the end of the year they’ll be expected to devise and teach their own lesson plans for weeks at a time without guidance.

The city is spending $1.3 million — or $50,000 per resident —  in federal School Improvement Grant money for the 10-month program, which includes a $22,500 stipend, benefits, and tuition subsidies for certification classes at St. John’s. After the residency, participants commit to four years of teaching in schools that the city wants to overhaul.

“It is part of a broader school improvement initiative to create a pipeline of people who are going to come in and stay in these schools,” said DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan. The city plans to double the program’s size next year.

Dozens of new residencies have popped up around the country in just the last few years, fueled by federal grants and philanthropic organizations that seek to not only find committed new teachers, but identify and prepare the ones who are most likely to succeed. Last year, 19 new residency programs were funded with a $43 million federal grant to “improve teaching in high-needs schools.”

And more are on the way, via Race To The Top. This summer, the state awarded grant money to six city training institutions to “address the teacher shortage issue” through two teacher preparation programs, one of which includes a residency.

“We’re looking at teacher preparation pretty hard,” said Julie Mikuta, of New Schools Venture Fund, a philanthropic firm that was an early investor of UTRU and supports education initiatives for low income students. Mikuta, who focuses on human capital investments at the firm, said preparation was “a major spoke in the wheel” toward closing the school achievement gap.

In New York City, four residencies have been created in the last three years, with the NYC Teaching Residency being the latest. Vicky Bernstein, the DOE’s executive director of teacher recruitment and quality, has supervised each of the new programs and, before being promoted to chief academic officer last year, Shael Polakow-Suransky worked closely on developing some of the programs.

The four programs follow a basic model, but teachers aren’t necessarily trained in the same way.

At New Visions for Public Schools, teachers are trained to teach in high-needs schools, but they are initially placed in “stronger schools where they can learn effective practices,” said program director Marisa Harford.

“We feel that for the residency school, it’s important to be in an effective school first,” Harford said.

At I-START, the city’s first residency program, which trains teachers for schools for new immigrants, residents are trained on strategies that get English language learners speaking English in their classes.

“We really take seriously developing human capital and this was one way to create a continuous pipeline of teachers who fit our educational approach,” said Claire Sylvan, founder of Internationals Network for Public Schools, which launched I-START in 2008 in partnership with Long Island University.

The costs associated with teacher residencies are high, ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 per teacher per year. As school districts’ budgets contract, some question whether it can be a sustainable model for preparing teachers nationwide.

“I always caution against measuring these things in the abstract,” said Rick Hess, an education policy analyst.

Hess warned that just because teachers trained in a residency did not mean they’d be successful. He said the positive generalizations given to residencies as they’ve grown in numbers remind him of the reputation that charter schools obtained, even though they vary widely in type and quality.

“Certainly a well-run residency program that’s being highly-selective about talent would give me confidence that it’s a reasonable strategy, but the  notion that a residency is any kind of a solution is naive.”

The I-START program is still young, but Sylvan said that many former residents have stayed in her network of schools and their presence is beginning to pay off.

“The vast majority went into our schools are are beginning to play significant roles,” she said. “I expect to have some school leaders come out of this in the next five to 10 years.”

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.

summer mix tape

Ten stories you might have missed over the summer (and should read now as a new school year begins)

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Stand for Children received funding to support parent education.

There is no such thing as time off from covering education. While school doors were shuttered, plenty happened this summer on the Colorado education beat. Here, we’ve compiled stories that we hope prove useful as you ease back into your fall routines.

We’ve got your immunization data right here … 

For the second year, Chalkbeat tracked down immunization data for more than 1,200 schools in Colorado’s largest school districts. Our database revealed that Boulder remains a hotspot for the anti-vaccination movement, students in districts with racial and income diversity are more likely to get their shots and nearly half of schools in the database did a better job this year tracking students’ immunization records. Read our news story about the findings, check out these six charts that dig into the numbers and search for school-level data here.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg reflects on his sabbatical (a break not everyone appreciated)

In June, Denver Public Schools’ longtime schools chief returned from a six-month unpaid sabbatical in South America with his family. “It made us appreciate the extraordinary resources we have here,” he said in an interview about his experience.

A milestone for Colorado charter schools on diversity, but not so much on integration

For the first time, Colorado’s charter schools educated a larger proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than district-run schools, a state report showed. We took a closer look and found that does not mean charter schools are more integrated.

Race, policing and education during a summer on edge

This summer sadly provided no shortage of violence and heartache over issues that sometimes feel like they’re tearing America apart at the seams. We sought to bring some local perspective (and wisdom) to the debate by talking to an ambitious Manual High School student who took up a bullhorn at Denver street protests and to Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn.

A middle school’s last-ditch effort to save itself 

An Adams County middle school running out of time to improve has placed its bet on more challenging, more personal teaching — and zero test preparation. Watch Chalkbeat later this week for a report on whether these efforts paid off in the form of improved state test scores. (Hopefully … the data are set to be made public Thursday).

Guess which Colorado school district had a high proportion of teachers designated to lose tenure …

Compared with other large Colorado school districts, Denver Public Schools had a higher proportion of teachers set to lose tenure under a sweeping educator effectiveness law passed six years ago. We surveyed big districts about one of the consequences of Senate Bill 191.

Too darn hot to teach and learn 

As part of its big bond request of voters this fall, Denver Public Schools wants to try to cool off some of its hottest schools. We took a look at where the mercury soars the highest and found that in 12 of the 18 hottest buildings — some of which house more than one school — the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch exceeds the district average.

But the University Club has a lovely lunch menu (and squash courts, too)…  

What if the State Board of Education held a not-so-public meeting with the education commissioner at a private club downtown to prioritize goals, but didn’t get much of anything accomplished? That happened.

What we know — and don’t know — about Colorado remediation rates

Colorado’s college remediation rates inched upward after years of steady decline, a disheartening development. On top of that, we’re not getting the full picture, either, because of incomplete school-level numbers and non-existent district-level data.

Diet Coke: Coming soon to a high school vending machine near you? 

Despite opposition from advocacy groups, Colorado appears headed toward lifting a seven-year ban on diet soda in high schools. The rule change would clear the way for diet soda to be sold in high school vending machines and school stores, though districts could decide not to stock the drinks. We covered the issue before and after the State Board of Education’s initial vote.