where credit is due

Muted response to Regents' call for credit recovery comments

New York State education officials kicked off a statewide information-gathering tour in Brooklyn on Wednesday about a controversial practice: credit recovery.

Credit recovery involves a variety of alternative academic programs used in schools to offer students a way to make up credits for incomplete or failed courses. It has been lauded by city officials and principals, who have used it as a way to help both failing students and advanced students earn credits that were otherwise unavailable at schools to them.

But critics in New York City have accused Mayor Bloomberg and Department of Education principals of abusing the policy to juke citywide graduation rates, a hallmark accomplishment of his administration. Last year, the city audited about 60 city high schools’ data, including how many credits they issued through credit recovery practices, but has not yet released the results.

The State Education Department formalized the policy in 2010 with a regulation that allows students to gain credits without meeting “seat time” or attendance requirements in limited circumstances. But Associate Commissioner Ken Slentz said on Wednesday that state officials had grown “concerned” that the policy was “not meeting its original intent.”

Testimony from two former teachers, and education expert, and anonymous letters from educators read by parent activist Leonie Haimson appeared to confirm Slentz’s concerns.

They described how principals used credit recovery to boost their schools’ statistics and how students opted for it as an easier way to collect credits.

“Unfettered discretion for principals, who are themselves graded based on the number of credits students earn each year, does not work,” said Marc Korashan, a retired teacher who was active in the UFT’s leadership.

Some credit recovery programs lack rigor, the testimonies said, and others were offered inappropriately. Students at some schools earn credits for completing online gym classes, one educator said. Speaking after testifying, another even described encountering a student whose transcript from a previous school showed seven credits for physical education classes in a single year.

“Allowing credit recovery to address deficiencies piecemeal is an adult-created shortcut which is a disservice to struggling students,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Bloomfield called for abolishing credit recovery entirely, but others said they thought it could be a useful practice if it underwent major reforms. In fact, the purpose of the town hall meeting, which Regent Kathy Cashin hosted and Chancellor Merryl Tisch attended, was to solicit suggestions for how to overhaul the state’s credit recovery regulations.

Only about two dozen people attended the event at St. Francis College. Slentz said the Brooklyn town hall was the first of several he planned to make on a tour of New York State to solicit advice and insight from educators on how the regulation could be adjusted. He said he expected an updated regulation would be presented to the Board of Regents this spring and in place by September.

Department of Education officials contend that the use of credit recovery happens far less than critics allege. At a City Council hearing on college- and career-readiness last month, Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said just percent of credits earned last year were through credit recovery.

Grace Zwillenberg, principal of John Adams High School, testified in support of her schools’ credit recovery programs. She said her school offered a variety of programs — over the weekends, on vacations, before and after school, as well as online — and said they were necessary for students who had fallen behind because education was not a priority earlier on in their lives.

“I think the kids sometimes wake up late and really need the opportunity to make up for the lost time,” Zwillenberg said. “Those kids have the right to make up full credits.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.