Vox populi

Comments of the Week: Cutting past rhetoric to the classroom

One hundred percent of the city’s yellow school buses hit the roads Wednesday for the first time since the bus strike began. Parents, advocates, DOE officials, and our readers turned to the challenges ahead.

Paul Rubin wrote:

Don’t forget the lost week from the hurricane and the 2 or in some cases many more weeks of lost “real instruction” for the few dozen damaged buildings. This year’s test results figure will be absolutely abysmal…

Noryeln argued that the strike’s educational costs to students will soon turn into costs for the DOE:

Once children get back to schools parents will be requesting make up sessions with therapists and tutors. What the children missed in a month of a strike will be painfully evident and require action on the part of the DOE. Expenses will rise as parents insist on make-up sessions. This strike has been a debacle for everyone.

Our post about a television ad pushing Cuomo to impose an evaluation system well before September sparked comments about whether a plan is necessary, and if so, what it should include.

Former turnaround teacher questioned whether an evaluation deal is necessary:

I still do not understand why any teacher believes that a new evaluation system is needed to help teachers improve and grow. I have worked in two different schools and been observed by 5 different administrators under the current S/U system. 3 out of the 5 gave very useful and helpful feedback to me based on those observations, particularly in my first 3 years as a teacher. If an administrator is experienced and knows content and pedagogy they will give you good feedback.

Sarah Espanol, a teacher, called for a shift in the focus of the debate:

…I would like to have an evaluation system that helps teachers grow- as long as administrators are properly trained how to use it. Can we have a discussion about the proposed evaluation system and what it might look like in practice rather than picking at fellow teachers?

Linda Johnson argued that if teachers are evaluated based on student test scores, students’ improvement over the course of the year should be taken into account.

Before I retired in 2007 I spent many years as a reading specialist. One of my duties was assessing students in the fall, throughout the year and then again in the spring. By doing these individual assessments, I found that most children made adequate progress during an academic year. The problem of course, was that so many started the school year significantly below grade level. Many started kindergarten much behind and never caught up to more privileged peers…If the state wants to evaluate teachers on the basis of student test scores, then teachers should insist on individualized tests that are professionally administered in the fall, several times throughout the year, and at the end of the year…If tests are to be used for “high stakes” teachers need to insist on their accuracy.

When we reported Cuomo’s announcement that his plans to impose an evaluation system in New York City would begin in May, Guest wrote:

Not best to rule by decree, but better than the binary rating system we have now.

Assuming it is a reasonable evaluation system, this is a victory for teachers who want to improve their practice, families, and most importantly, kids who will hopefully have better teachers.

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.