training wheels

City crunches teacher prep data in early bid to assess programs

A slide in the city's presentation about new Teacher Preparation Program Reports shows what proportion of training programs' graduates went to work in high-need schools.
The city’s presentation about new Teacher Preparation Program Reports shows what proportion of training programs’ graduates went to work in high-need schools.

City officials said they were “pleasantly surprised” by what they learned from their inaugural effort to analyze data about teachers by the programs that trained them.

Just one in five of the 10,135 recent graduates of teacher preparation programs hired by the city between 2008 and 2012 left the school system within three years. In contrast, about one in three teachers left their jobs nationally during the same period, according to city Department of Education officials.

“New York City is really bucking the trend,” Deputy Chancellor David Weiner said today during a press conference to unveil “Teacher Preparation Program Reports” for 12 colleges and universities that together supplied about half of the city’s new teachers who came through traditional training pathways.

The reports represent a new frontier in the department’s accountability efforts. They analyze the teacher preparation programs’ graduates by six characteristics, including how long they stay in the classroom, how often they receive poor evaluations, where they work, and how they have fared on measures of their students’ growth.

City officials warned against making strong conclusions about the preparation programs’ quality. Next year, after the city implements a new evaluation system, the training programs will be rated by their graduates’ scores, they said, but for now, the reports are meant to spur collaboration with local colleges and universities.

The analysis is a first for a district to have completed. But states have increasingly turned their scrutiny to teacher preparation programs, with the goal of exposing programs that produce teachers who do not perform well in the classroom and pushing programs to align what they teach with what new teachers need to know.

Much of the criticism that traditional teacher training programs have received is warranted, said Mary Brabeck, dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, one of the programs that the city examined.

“We need to look at what helps us produce the most effective teachers and the data can help us do it,” Brabeck said. “Teacher education programs haven’t been as informed by data as they need to be.”

But she said the city’s data are not all that NYU needs. “We collect a lot more data than those six charts,” said Brabeck, who said some of the city’s data didn’t fairly reflect the number of students who come to Steinhardt from out of town and move away when they graduate.

Other deans whose schools were listed in the reports generally praised the city’s efforts but stopped short of endorsing the data as meaningful.

“Warning flags about using this data should be up all over the place,” said David Steiner, the dean of Hunter College’s School of Education who kicked off efforts to overhaul teacher preparation programs when he was state education commissioner several years ago.

For instance, Hunter graduates were rated ineffective 2 percent of the time on 2011-2012 growth scores compiled from that year’s state tests, among the lowest of any program. But the data were based on just 28 teachers who graduated from Hunter.

Some data points were based on larger sample sizes. The city’s reports show that programs did not send graduates to high-need schools at equal rates. Mercy College and Lehman College both sent nearly half of their new teachers to high-need schools, but that figure less than 25 percent for six universities, including just 16 percent for Queens College and 22 percent for NYU and Teachers College graduates.

The higher-than-average retention rate is also meaningful, officials said. Teachers do not reach their peak performance until they have been in the classroom for five years, research suggests, but half of all teachers leave before then.

The data did not show whether the teachers who stayed in the system were effective, which department officials cited as a major limitation. In the future, they said, the reports will be used to show whether preparation programs produce high-quality teachers who stick around.

For now, officials said they hoped the report cards would pressure the education colleges to change their approaches so that their graduates better serve the city’s public schools.

“We do think there are other ways that we can kind of work with the universities to incentivize them to implement new programs to better meet our needs,” Weiner said.

Brabeck said her school recently launched a dual-certification program for teachers to receive special education certification in order to meet a higher demand to serve students with disabilities.

Jane Ashdown, dean of the education school at Adelphi University on Long Island, said geography explains why just one out of four Adelphi graduates hired by the city worked in high-need schools.

“Teachers historically teach close to home,” said Ashdown. “We’re a regional school and we pull many of our candidates from very close by, in Nassau County and Queens and Brooklyn. So our school sites also tend to be in those areas.”

But, she added, “I think we could be improving in seeing more of our candidates prepared for and staying in high-need schools. So I think that’s something we can dig into and will be using as we go into the fall semester.”

The city will produce similar reports for alternative certification programs, including Teach for America and the city’s Teaching Fellows program, next month.

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.