In residence

With federal funds lost, city sending trainees to stronger schools

Chancellor Dennis Walcott talks to teachers at M.S. 223 while principal Ramon Gonzalez looks on during a visit last week. M.S. 223 is working with nine teaching residents this year.

A program to train and keep new teachers inside some of the city’s most struggling schools is expanding to include better-performing schools as well.

The New York City Teacher Residency launched last summer at two schools that were receiving federal funds earmarked for overhauling struggling schools. The point of the program, city officials said at the time, was to create a talent pipeline for schools that have trouble attracting teachers.

But because the city and its teachers union did not agree on a new teacher evaluation system by a state deadline, the funds were cut off in January. The city is going forward with plans to double the size of the residency program anyway, but instead of sending new residents only to struggling schools, it is also directing them to schools that the city has touted as success stories. And it is picking up the bill out of the Department of Education’s regular budget.

The department opened the program to stronger schools in order to expose the teachers-in-training to a wider range of “best practices” and mentorship from experienced teachers, officials said.

“Think, what would it actually be like if these teachers were trained at a successful school instead of at a failing school?” said Ashley Downs, the special education director at M.S. 223 in the Bronx who is helping to mentor that school’s nine residents.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited M.S. 223 on the day before school started last week, telling teachers, “I think this is a tremendous school. You’ve had major accomplishments.” Two other schools newly receiving residents, Frederick Douglass Academy VII and Bushwick School for Social Justice, have also won accolades: FDA VII was honored for its success in helping to close the racial achievement gap for boys, and BSSJ is one of three schools on the campus Mayor Bloomberg visited last year to tout an increase in the city’s graduation rate.

The city did not abandon struggling schools. One school that now has teaching residents, J.H.S. 22 in the Bronx, also participated in the program last year. And some of this year’s crop of 56 new residents are assigned to two other schools that also received the federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants. They are Angelo Patri Middle School and Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School.

Residency programs have been on the rise in New York City and across the country, as education officials increasingly view them as an expensive but effective way to prepare new teachers for challenging classrooms. They are seen as a more rigorous approach than that offered by alternative certification programs such as Teach for America and the city’s Teaching Fellows, which put new teachers in charge of classrooms after just a few weeks of training.

The residents work as teaching assistants for one year while pursuing masters degrees in education at St. John’s University, earning a salary of $22,500 and health benefits. They must commit to working in city schools for four years after completing the program.

Last year, the department used SIG funds to help foot the residency program’s steep bill: $1.3 million, or $50,000 for each of the 22 residents. In addition to paying residents’ salaries, the department pays mentor teachers $3,000 for each resident she supports, employs a program director, and subsidizes participants’ graduate school tuition.

This year, the Department of Education is shouldering the program’s increased cost centrally, according to Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman.

Downs said both the residents and the South Bronx middle school stand to benefit from the partnership. That’s because the residents will be learning from teachers with a track record of success, and M.S. 223 will have extra hands on deck, she said. Plus, she said, when the school looks to fill positions next year, some possible candidates will already be versed in M.S. 223’s culture.

M.S. 223 is expanding to include high school grades and agreed to take on residents under the condition that they could apply for jobs when the school adds a ninth grade in 2013.

Downs said she is already seeing differences between the residency program and other teacher training programs. For one, she said, the residents arrived before the start of the school year, so they got to watch experienced teachers set up their classrooms and take part in curriculum planning.

“If you walk in for the first time in October and the class is already running smoothly and the teacher’s just teaching the material, it seems like magic,” Downs said. “You don’t realize all the things that the teacher had to do to get the classroom to that point.”

contract sport

UFT files labor complaint against KIPP charter school

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew

An unusual dispute between the United Federation of Teachers and the elite KIPP charter chain spilled into public view Thursday after the union issued a press release accusing KIPP Academy Charter School in the Bronx of threatening to fire teachers if they did not vote to decertify the union.

The union’s claims, which were filed with the National Labor Relations Board this week and are disputed by KIPP, assert that school administrators encouraged staff members to sign a petition that would bar the UFT from representing its teachers.

The situation is uncommon because most charter schools in New York City aren’t unionized and are built partly on the premise that union rules are impediments to a sound education. But KIPP Academy is a “conversion” school, one of few district schools that morphed into charter schools.

The school’s 16-year-old status as a district-cum-charter school is likely at the heart of the dispute over whether its staff members are contractually tied to the UFT. Union officials say roughly 80 of its teachers and other staff members are covered by the city’s contract with the UFT — an idea that KIPP disputes.

“Except for collecting your dues from every paycheck, the union has not ever actively represented you,” Jim Manly, the superintendent of KIPP schools in New York City, wrote in a letter Thursday to staff across the city. The union’s NLRB complaint “and the aggressiveness of their press release is a preemptive effort by the UFT to block your individual ability to decide whether or not you want to be represented by the UFT.”

The latest disagreement over whether the UFT can enforce the city’s contract at KIPP Academy seems to have started boiling over this summer, when the union filed a grievance that alleges a laundry list of contractual violations.

KIPP’s Manly characterized the union’s grievance as a way of making “fundamental changes in the way we educate our students.” He added that staff members had previously tried to get the union decertified in 2010, but were blocked by the UFT.

KIPP co-founder David Levin emphasized the unusual nature of the UFT’s complaint. “For the past 22 years, KIPP Academy’s success has been the collaboration and effort among our educators, students, and parents,” he wrote in a statement. “In all that time, the UFT has never been involved in our school or raised any issues or concerns before now.”

In an interview, union officials said the grievance was filed over the summer for clear contract violations, and that KIPP’s attempt to coerce teachers into rejecting the union was directed in retaliation.

“Charter school employees, like other workers, have a right under federal law to organize and bargain collectively, rights that charter schools must respect,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

The NLRB will investigate the UFT’s complaint, but in the meantime, you can read their allegations, and KIPP’s full response to its staff members.

deconstructing devos

Will Betsy DeVos change education as you know it? Probably not — but your state lawmakers could

The confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the federal education department made Betsy DeVos the new face of American education policy.

But the most important upcoming decisions about schools won’t come from the Trump administration, and they won’t be made by DeVos, who faces a confirmation vote Jan. 24. They’ll happen a lot closer to home, in the state legislatures that have long been the main drivers of education policy.

U.S. lawmakers already empowered states to control more of their school policies through the federal education law passed last year. And DeVos said she would stay the course, emphasizing that states should decide whether to take up even her favorite education policy, school vouchers.

Here’s where states still have the most influence, even if DeVos might have some sway.

School vouchers

DeVos has made a career out of pushing school choice legislation, especially laws that allow public money be used toward tuition at private or religious schools. But DeVos’s appointment doesn’t mean vouchers would sweep the nation — instead, state legislatures would have to create voucher programs.

That’s within the realm of possibility in some states, such as Tennessee, where voucher legislation has come close to passing in recent years. After spending the better part of a decade wrestling over the issue, Tennessee lawmakers who support vouchers are optimistic that they might finally push through a program for poor students this year. (DeVos has played a role in currying support through her foundation and advocacy group, American Federation for Children.)

But some states, like New York, would need more than money to adopt vouchers. They’d need a total change in political winds, and possibly even a change in the state constitution, to allow public money to be spent on religiously affiliated schools. Similarly, state supreme court decisions in Colorado make vouchers only a distant possibility.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students eat lunch at the Oaks Academy Middle School, a private Christian school in Indiana that is integrated by design and accepts taxpayer funded vouchers.

How schools are judged

No Child Left Behind, passed in 2002 under President George W. Bush, created uniformity in the way states evaluated whether schools and school districts were doing their jobs. Under President Obama, states were allowed waivers that freed them up, although some requirements — like requiring test data to be used in teacher evaluations — remained in place.

The new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, is supposed to go even farther. That means the country will have a quilt of different systems, as states arrive at different answers for what school quality means and how it should be measured.

So, for example, while ESSA requires states to report English language learners’ test scores, some states will wait to count their scores until they’ve been in the country for a few years, and others will start right away.

DeVos’ office would have the final say on these plans, but she’s not expected to be heavy-handed. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee and co-sponsored ESSA, said he is optimistic that she won’t interfere with states’ visions.

“As secretary, she will be able to implement the new law fixing No Child Left Behind just as Congress wrote it … restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers, and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities,” Alexander said in November.

Charter schools

DeVos has also been a proponent of charter schools. But the gatekeepers for charter schools operate at the state, or even local, level.

Massachusetts voters declined to lift a cap on charter schools when they voted down a ballot initiative in November. And state lawmakers in Colorado and New York are gearing up for perennial battles over state charter school funding, over which they — not the U.S. Department of Education — have the final say. Seven states still don’t allow charter schools at all.

States also take different approaches to how their charter sectors are regulated.

In DeVos’s home state of Michigan, about 80 percent of charter schools are run by for-profit companies. But for-profit charters only represent 13 percent of charter schools nationwide, in part because many other states, including Tennessee, New York, and Colorado, prohibit them.

And while DeVos aggressively opposed measures to increase oversight of Detroit’s charter schools, even ones with abysmal test scores, other states have tighter regulations on when charter schools must close.

ESSA does include grants for “high quality charter schools,” and stipulates that the Secretary of Education must prioritize giving them to states that do things like craft an ambitious plan for their charter sector and provide equitable funding for those schools. Some states might be tempted to pass laws to conform to DeVos’s ideas about what ambitious plans and equitable funding looks like. But final decisions about charter schools will still be made at a more local level.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Students line up at Michigan Technical Academy, a charter school in Michigan, DeVos’s home state.

Funding

States all face one common challenge: how to allocate scarce resources for public education.

Here, the next U.S. Secretary of Education might play a bigger role for some states than others. While federal funds only account for about 9 percent of the country’s total education spending, some states rely on it much more than others. Title I spending alone accounted for 4.6 percent of total education spending in North Carolina last year, and 4.3 percent in Mississippi, meaning that any cuts or changes to the federal pool of money devoted to poor students could have big ripple effects in those states.

Competitive grant programs, like the Obama administration’s Race to the Top or the charter school grants, can influence state policy, too. That’s what happened in Tennessee, which rushed to revamp its teacher evaluation system and implement a state-run school turnaround district in 2010 in order to win the money.

But federal grants come with end dates, and budgets remain the purview of states and local governments. Courts have consistently decided that it’s up to states to decide what constitutes adequate and equitable funding — and that means school resources will continue to vary widely across the country.