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.

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.