after hours

New details on after-school expansion include higher per-student costs

The city finally got specific about its plans to expand after-school programs for middle schoolers today.

A report released by the mayor’s office provides the first glimpse into how the city wants to spend $190 million more on after-school programs, and its per-student cost estimates indicate that the plan has undergone significant shifts over the last few months. Those figures are likely to take center stage when Mayor Bill de Blasio heads to Albany tomorrow to lobby lawmakers to allow a tax increase to pay for his ambitious education initiatives.

“This is not a small undertaking, it’s not a pilot project, it’s not a boutique effort for only a few schools,” de Blasio said today. “This is system-wide change.”

The total funding estimate for de Blasio’s plan to expand pre-kindergarten and the after-school programs has remained steady since he was on the campaign trail: $530 million per year, or what he estimated that a tax increase on the city’s highest earners would raise. 

But some aspects of the after-school plan have clearly been in flux since January, when the mayor’s press secretary told NY1 that the program’s estimated cost was $1,600 per student. Today’s plan estimated the cost of each new after-school seat at $3,000.

“At $3,000 per program slot, more programs will be allowed to hire certified teachers to serve as educational specialists and to retain more highly educated and experienced activity specialists – such as professional artists and graduate students in science – who can be paired with youth workers to offer engaging, project-based learning activities,” the report says.

While the mayor’s pre-K was spelled out in a lengthy implementation plan and a follow-up “progress report” last week, the after-school plan has so far been thin on those kinds of details. The pre-K initiative will be even more costly and requires overcoming larger logistical hurdles in school buildings across the city.

But what the after-school plan will require—in addition to $190 million—is input and resources from middle schools themselves, according to the report. Principals will be required to contribute to the programs at their school through “in-kind donations” of curriculum materials and potentially teachers’ time.

“Working together, principals and middle school teachers will help after-school staff, including education specialists, to align programming with school-day instruction and assist participants with their transitions from one grade to the next and to high school,” the report says.

De Blasio’s plan calls for every middle school in the city to offer the after-school programs, more than doubling the number of schools offering those programs. Charter schools with middle schools will be eligible for additional after-school programming if they don’t already have extended-day programs.

Programs will be required to operate for nine hours each week for 36 weeks of the school year, and 60 percent of students’ time must be spent in structured activities like dance, sports, literacy or science-related activities, or community service projects. (The unstructured time can also include recreation and homework help.) That structure and cost per student aligns with the city’s Middle School Quality Initiative extended day program.

One challenge the middle-school program shares with the pre-K expansion will be evening out the quality among programs. The city’s after-school programs already vary widely in their funding and their use of certified teachers and subject-area experts.

The report notes that many high-quality after-school programs currently do their own fundraising to supplement city funds, and the $3,000 price tag will pay for a more equitable system with more certified teachers.

On Monday, de Blasio said programs will be evaluated by academic measures like improvements in students’ homework completion, class grades, and test scores, as well as non-academic measures like school attendance and students’ engagement in the activities.

The report also quantified how many after-school seats are already being funded by the city: just over 45,000 in 239 schools. The city’s plan will bring that total number of seats to over 95,000, with the $190 million covering the increase, not the entire cost of the city’s after-school programs.

We’ve embedded the whole report below.

Patrick Wall contributed reporting. 

'a bit stuck'

Impasse declared in Denver teacher contract negotiations, prompting criticism from union

PHOTO: Marissa Page
Teachers watch a bargaining session between Denver Public Schools and the Denver teachers union on June 22.

For the first time in recent history, Denver Public Schools has declared an impasse in ongoing negotiations with the teachers union over a contract governing teacher pay, workload and more.

The declaration means the two sides, which have been bargaining since January, will continue negotiations but with the aid of a mediator. In the past, DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have mutually agreed to mediation without one side having to call an impasse to trigger it, said DPS deputy general counsel and lead negotiator Michelle Berge.

But this year, the union refused. DCTA wanted to keep negotiations as public as possible and avoid private meetings with mediators, said DCTA deputy executive director Corey Kern.

In 2014, Colorado voters approved a change to state law that requires contract negotiations between school districts and employee groups to be open to the public. The Denver teachers union has been taking advantage of the public sessions, inviting teachers to attend and talk to negotiators about their experiences and how various proposals would affect them.

Union leaders see the impasse as a way to silence that voice. Their belief stems in part from the fact that the district wants to use a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which helps resolve collective bargaining disputes free of charge.

Although the bargaining sessions would still be public, the mediator could meet with each side separately in private to help them craft proposals, a spokesman for the service said.

That’s not true public bargaining, Kern said.

He said it’s been DCTA’s experience that “the two parties spend most of the time in two rooms apart and the mediator is shuttling back and forth between those two rooms and talking about issues without the public present.” The two sides’ proposals would be shared publicly, but the public would miss out on hearing the thought processes behind them, Kern said.

Even though the district had requested several times to move to mutually agreed-upon mediation, Kern said DCTA was “blindsided” by the impasse declaration a day after a bargaining session that the union felt was productive.

Berge said the district decided to call an impasse because “a number of challenging issues remain where we’re a bit stuck.” Those issues include how much teachers should be paid, the benefits they receive and how they should be evaluated.

The hope, Berge said, is that a mediator will help the two sides find common ground. The mediator DPS wants to use is someone whom the district and union have worked with before.

“Those of us who are involved, we are deep in on this,” Berge said. “Sometimes we’re emotional. It’s tough stuff. A mediator is an independent person who can step above that.”

The current teachers contract expires Aug. 31. The two sides are scheduled to meet again July 24 at McKinley-Thatcher Elementary School in Denver. There are two bargaining sessions set for late July and five scheduled for early and mid-August.

feedback

Tennessee’s ESSA plan gets solid marks in independent review

PHOTO: Amanda Lucidon/The White House
President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015, surrounded by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and other champions and supporters of the new law.

Tennessee’s proposed plan for school accountability rates strong on measuring academic progress, but weak on counting all kids, according to an independent review released Tuesday by two education groups.

For the most part, the state landed in the upper middle of an analysis spearheaded by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success.

Their panel of reviewers looked into components of state plans  ranging from academic standards to supporting schools under the new federal education law.

“Tennessee has submitted a very solid plan for which they should be proud,” said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success. “Their ideas for ensuring academic progress and supporting schools are exemplary. We hope that other states will look for ways to incorporate these best practices.”

The groups brought together education experts with a range of political viewpoints and backgrounds to analyze 17 state plans submitted this spring to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Calling Tennessee’s plan “robust, transparent and comprehensive,” the review praised its “clear vision for reform” and its design of “district and school accountability systems that rely on high-quality indicators.”

The state received the highest rating possible for its proposal for tracking academic progress.

“Tennessee’s plan clearly values both growth and proficiency,” the review says. “Every school, even high-achieving ones, have growth and proficiency targets, and even the growth measure tracks student progress toward grade-level standards.”

The state’s lowest rating — a 2 out of a possible 5 — was for how Tennessee plans to identify and rate schools in need of targeted support for certain groups of students. Reviewers questioned whether the state’s system might mask the performance of some by proposing to combine the scores of black, Hispanic and Native American students into one subgroup.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Tennessee is committed to supporting all students, especially those in historically underserved groups.

“When we say ‘all means all,’ that means much more than just accountability for subgroup performance,” McQueen said in a statement on the eve of the review’s release.

“The state’s accountability framework is designed to hold as many schools accountable for subgroup performance as possible while maintaining statistical reliability and validity, and it provides safeguards to ensure student information is protected,” she said. “In schools where there are a smaller number of students from a specific racial or ethnic category, we are combining them into one group. In doing so, we are actually able to hold schools accountable for more students — more than 43,000 black, Hispanic, and Native American students would be excluded from subgroup accountability if we did not use the combined subgroup.”

Congress passed ESSA in 2015 as a bipartisan law co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former U.S. secretary of education. Signed by President Barack Obama, the law ended the No Child Left Behind era and redirected education policy back to the states.

States have since been working on their accountability plans, and Tennessee was among the first to submit a proposal. The state is now awaiting approval by the U.S. Department of Education, which would make it eligible for receiving federal funds.

For a breakdown of analysis on state plans including Tennessee’s, visit Check State Plans, an interactive website that spotlights the best elements of ESSA plans and those that fall short.