calling for backup

With survey, UFT aims to quantify its Common Core complaints

The sharp complaints that UFT President Michael Mulgrew leveled a week ago at the city and state’s Common Core rollout were based on anecdotal reports, according to union officials.

Now the union is hoping to back up Mulgrew’s harsh words with the voices of more than 100,000 educators. Today, every UFT member received a survey by email asking them whether they have received the curriculum materials, professional development, and technology they need to tie their instruction to the new standards.

A message from Mulgrew that accompanied the survey signaled that the union is looking for problems.

“With this online UFT survey, we are gathering vital evidence of the DOE’’s lack of instructional support as we demand that the DOE provide you with the tools that you need to teach to the new standards,” he wrote. “We will use this evidence to do our own evaluation of the DOE’’s support of our work.”

The state is in the process of developing curriculum materials aligned to the Common Core, a move that few, if any, of the other 45 states that have adopted the new standards are making. In the city, the Department of Education has built some curriculum materials and recruited hundreds of educators to build more in an effort to give teachers a helping hand during the transition.

According to the department, nearly 30,000 people logged on to the “Common Core Library” of instructional materials last month, and the materials for one unit were downloaded more than a thousand times. Plus, a survey of teachers that the department administered last spring found that 80 percent said they had gotten feedback about how to integrate the new standards into their classroom.

But schools and teachers have started the year, the first that will end in Common Core-aligned exams, without a full complement of curriculum materials to drawn on that are tied to the standards. “Millions of students will be tested on a curriculum that was never supplied to their teachers,” Mulgrew told Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission last week.

The city says it is doing all it can to help teachers. But moments after Mulgrew spoke to the reform commission, the city official in charge of the Common Core rollout suggested that the city might be exhausting its capacity to give teachers what they need to implement the new standards well.

“We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge,” Polakow-Suransky told the commission, according to his written statement.

In addition to asking about the Common Core, today’s survey also asked teachers about the city’s special education reforms, class size, and mentoring — all areas where the union has raised alarm before.

The UFT regularly surveys chapter leaders about policy issues, last year basing a report about the impact of budget cuts on their answers. But surveying all of its members is an unusual move, union officials said today.

The union’s message to members and survey is below:

It is no surprise that after years of incompetence, disrespect and denigrating attacks on our profession, the Department of Education has failed us yet again, this time by failing to provide the tools and instructional supports we need to teach to the new Common Core Learning Standards.

We entered into this profession to help children. The DOE is responsible for helping us help children, but failures such as this make it increasingly clear that the DOE instead stands in our way.

The Common Core Learning Standards are sets of concepts and skills that a child will need to master at each grade level. A curriculum aligned to these standards is what needs to be taught and it is the DOE’s responsibility to provide such curriculum. How we teach that curriculum — which is articulated in our lesson plans every day — is our responsibility.

With this online UFT survey, we are gathering vital evidence of the DOE’s lack of instructional support as we demand that the DOE provide you with the tools that you need to teach to the new standards. We will use this evidence to do our own evaluation of the DOE’s support of our work.

Begin the survey now »

This survey is strictly confidential. We will not identify you or your school without your express permission.

We will be sending a similar survey to members of our functional chapters by the end of this week. We will use the evidence we gather from these two surveys to do our own evaluation of the DOE’s support of our work in schools.

In solidarity,

Michael Mulgrew

School Name [optional]

School ID number (Ex: K123 or 123) [optional]
Uncertain of your school’s ID number? You can look it up on the DOE website by typing your school’s name in the “School Search” box. The code will appear in parentheses next to your school’s name.

School District *

Borough *

What grade level do you teach? *

Elementary school
Middle school
High school

What subject do you teach? *

Social Studies
All subjects

Are you licensed in special education? *


How many years of service do you have? *


Have you received any formal professional development in how to teach to the Common Core Learning Standards? *


Were you given curriculum aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards? *


Have you been asked by school administrators to write your own curriculum (e.g. units of study, curriculum bundles) aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards? *


In which areas do you NOT have adequate instructional supports to teach to the Common Core Learning Standards? [Check all that apply.] *

Reading materials
Subject-specific materials/equipment such as scientific calculators
Does not apply because my school provides adequate instructional supports

In which areas do you NOT have access to adequate instructional technology to teach to the Common Core Learning Standards? [Check all that apply.] *

Internet access
Does not apply because my school provides access to adequate instructional technology

How satisfied are you with the support you’ve received around teaching to the Common Core Learning Standards? *

Not satisfied
Somewhat satisfied
Very satisfied

Is your school able to provide the appropriate programs and mandated services to all English language learners in your class? *

Does not apply ― no ELLs in my school
Don’t know

In your opinion, are most of your students with disabilities receiving the supports and services to help them meet grade-level standards? *

Does not apply ― no students with IEPs in my school
Don’t know

Have you been pressured to change the IEP of one or more of your students for reasons unrelated to the individual student’s needs (e.g., budget, program availability, staff)? *

Does not apply

In which of the following areas does your school NOT have the adequate services to ensure that your students are ready to learn? [Check all that apply.] *

Health services
Social services
After-school programs
My school has adequate services in all these areas

In your opinion, are your class sizes so large that it interferes with your ability to reach all students?


Have you been assigned a formal mentor in your school?


This survey is strictly confidential, but we would like to identify a few respondents willing to do interviews with the New York Teacher or the media. Would you be willing to participate in an interview? *


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.