human capital

UFT wants city to reconsider Teaching Fellows program

UFT President Michael Mulgrew is urging the de Blasio administration to reconsider the city’s flagship teacher training program after a union survey found that few graduates say their preparation was “excellent.”

Just 5 percent of teachers who answered the union’s survey said their training through the city’s Teaching Fellows program was “excellent,” compared to 21 percent of graduates of education schools.

And while 18 percent of education school graduates called their training “poor” or “fair,” that figure was nearly 50 percent for Teaching Fellows.

The findings were based on responses to a wide-ranging survey that the union sent to 2,500 randomly selected members. It received more than 800 responses, including from 81 Teaching Fellows and 636 teachers who came through traditional pathways. (The number of Teach for America teachers who answered the survey was too small to generate a finding, the union said.)

Since 2000, the Teaching Fellows program has placed new teachers, many entering their second careers, in high-need classrooms after a summer of intensive training. Then the fellows teach full-time while also working toward master’s degrees in traditional education schools. In contrast, graduates of education schools have previously committed to careers in the classroom and have had at least one full year of training, including a stint as a student teacher.

The Department of Education pays TNTP, a nonprofit group that also lobbies on teacher quality issues including in favor of evaluations that consider student test scores, to operate the Teaching Fellows program. Now, the union wants the city to reconsider that contract.

“Teaching in our schools is tough job, particularly if you feel that your training program didn’t really prepare you for the challenges of a New York City classroom,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “Given the millions of dollars that the Bloomberg administration spent on this contract, I hope the new leadership at Tweed makes it part of its review of all the Bloomberg-era deals, many of which have years to run.”

Noting that current and former fellows comprise more than 9,000 of the city’s teachers, a TNTP spokeswoman criticized the survey as offering “little insight about how the Fellows actually feel about their preparation.”

“A response rate below one percent is unlikely to be indicative of Fellows at-large or to stand up to scientific scrutiny,” said the spokeswoman, who also pointed to studies that showed the program’s graduates improved student learning more than those of traditional programs.

(Teaching Fellows make up 11 percent of the city’s teaching force and about 10 percent of the survey respondents. But the number of Teaching Fellows who responded to the survey reflected less than 1 percent of the 9,000 graduates of the program teaching in city schools right now.)

The finding comes as Chancellor Carmen Fariña is poised to reshape the ways that the city prepares new teachers. While Fariña has said little about teacher training since taking office at the beginning of the year, she has emphasized the value of experience in other areas, most notably setting a new experience requirement for school administrators. She has also pledged to build stronger relationships with local schools of education as the city adjusts its teacher hiring needs to reflect its pre-kindergarten expansion plan.

The survey was wide-ranging and covered the Common Core standards, teaching conditions, and education policy questions, according to a spokesman for the union, Dick Riley. Its aim was to establish a set of questions that could be asked of teachers annually, and more results will be published in the union’s newspaper, Riley said.

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.