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Striking deal with Touro, Success jumps into teacher preparation

The Success Academy Charter Schools network is jumping into a new market — higher education. Thanks to a new agreement with Touro College, this year Success Academies officials are teaching courses that will help the network’s newest teachers earn master’s degrees.

For the last four months, 42 teachers from the network’s 14 schools have been taking classes at Touro College’s Graduate School of Education, including some taught by members of the Success staff who have joined the Touro faculty as adjunct professors. The program is fully funded by Success Academies and will culminate in a master’s degree and teacher certification.

Full-time Touro professors will teach about half of the academic courses in the program, and Success-affiliated adjuncts will teach the other half, according to Alan Kadish, Touro’s president. He said the full-time and adjunct professors would also jointly supervise the practical training required for graduation.

The agreement positions Success one small step closer to a possibility founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz laid out in her recent book, “Mission Possible.”

“Our intensive, immersive, school-based teacher training program could eventually become a formal graduate school program,” she wrote. The book also lambasted traditional teacher preparation programs as “completely inadequate.”

In an interview, Moskowitz said the partnership with Touro is a response to the network’s rising demand for teachers that meet its standards. Success opened four new schools this year and is set to launch another six in 2013.

“While we certainly hire teachers from a lot of the big education schools, given our rate of growth frankly there isn’t the pipeline that we need of potential teachers,” she said. “We’ve got to think a little outside of the box.”

Success’s internal training regime, which Moskowitz and co-author Arin Lavinia outlined in “Mission Possible,” includes an apprenticeship program where new teachers spend a year working with a more experienced teacher as well as real-time coaching that gives teachers rapid feedback, sometimes through an earpiece while they are still in front of students.

The agreement with Touro makes Success the latest entrant in a growing national effort to tighten the connection between teacher preparation and classroom results. The movement draws fuel from studies confirming what school leaders have long complained: university credentials do not predict whether a teacher can help students learn.

New graduate programs are sprouting up across the country to try to solve this problem. In New York, three charter school networks — Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First — teamed up to open the Relay Graduate School of Education in 2011 with the goal of uniting preparation and practice. And just this week, the city Department of Education announced that it would petition the state for the right to certify teachers itself in some subjects, a move that would circumvent higher education completely.

The U.S. Department of Education joined the push with its 2010 Race to the Top competition, which required states to commit to defining teacher quality not by the degrees teachers hold but by how well their students perform on measures of academic achievement. The competition also called on states to start assessing education schools according to the performance of students their graduates teach.

New York State took home $700 million in the contest and is now in the process of adopting new certification standards that focus more on practice and less on coursework. Teachers will have to submit videos showing themselves in action to get the state’s seal of approval.

Relay, like a small group of education schools around the country, takes the challenge one step farther, requiring future teachers to show that their own students are making academic progress before they can graduate. (The University of Michigan’s school of education and the new Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education, opened by the MATCH Charter School in Boston, are rolling out similar graduation standards.)

Just as Success is now sending its students to a Success-infused program at Touro, Relay grew out of a partnership with CUNY’s Hunter College. The program at Relay reflects its founding networks’ focus on high-poverty student populations, academic performance, and on offering concrete techniques for instruction and classroom management. About 40 percent of the program takes place online.

About 70 percent of Relay’s 550 current students teach in charter schools, including 55 who work at Success schools. Moskowitz said Relay was “much more alternative” than the program she is developing at Touro, but that Success teachers would continue to attend multiple training programs even as the network formally associates with one.

“We’re going to have to let a thousand flowers bloom and develop that pipeline in a variety of ways,” Moskowitz said.

Relay co-founder and president Norman Atkins said he welcomed new innovations in teacher preparation. “We need more public education leaders like Eva to bring their effective professional development models into the field of teacher preparation,” he said in a statement.

State Education Commissioner John King said the Success-Touro partnership represents only one of many promising efforts to reshape teacher training.

“I think what you see is a trend nationally of folks trying to figure out how to better connect teacher preparation with what’s happening in schools,” King said. “That’s reflected in the state’s move to the new performance-based certification assessment for teacher candidates, and it’s reflected in initiatives like what Eva is doing [and] what Relay has done.”

Touro could seem an unlikely choice of partner. In 2007, an investigation found that several administrators at its education school had been awarding grades and even diplomas in exchange for payment.

Moskowitz said she chose the partnership because Touro is geared toward serving students who are working full-time. It offers weekend and evening classes and sends instructors to students where they are, so Success teachers’ training will happen mostly at the network’s schools.

Currently, Success teachers are not taking any classes with other Touro students because of the charter network’s unorthodox school day, which runs until 5 p.m. four days a week and ends at noon on Wednesdays, according to a spokeswoman for Success. But they might well take classes alongside other Touro students in the future, especially if they choose to specialize in narrower license areas, Kadish said.

For Touro, the arrangement provides an influx of students who have been screened according to the network’s selection criteria at a time when the school, like all teacher preparation programs, faces new scrutiny about its graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Kadish said in an interview that working with Success presented an opportunity that was hard to turn down.

“Their network was expanding, and we thought, why not?” he said.

But he said the agreement that Touro reached with the network was not the only arrangement that officials from the two schools talked about.

“There were discussions about doing some kind of experimental program,” he said. “We decided not to do that. … We talk about all kinds of ideas that we don’t implement.”

Some Success Academies staff members with advanced degrees are already working as adjunct professors at Touro, including the network’s executive director of pedagogy, Paul Fucaloro. Kadish said Moskowitz, who has a Ph.D. in American history, could one day join the faculty as well.

A source who is an experienced teacher-educator laid out one downside of the new approach: Smaller and more specialized programs run the risk of failing to prepare graduates for careers that could eventually span multiple schools.

“It’s like having a master’s degree in computer science versus being trained as a Windows technician,” said the source, who declined to speak on the record because he was not authorized to speak about his knowledge of the Success-Touro agreement.

He added, “There’s a fair question [that] people who are certified out of Relay or Success/Touro … will have general teaching licenses and could eventually go elsewhere in their careers. But will they be technically trapped by a methodology that may not apply to another environment?”

Kadish, Touro’s president, said the answer is no, at least for Success Academies’ teachers who come to his school. They will be getting a Touro education with a Success spin, he said.

“We certainly take advantage of the practical experience teachers have as part of their curricula everywhere. To the extent that Success already offers that, it’s advantageous,” he said. “But it doesn’t substitute for the core coursework we require of our students.”

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

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.