Time Management

Educators question contract's bet on teacher training over student tutoring

PHOTO: Sarah Darville

The proposed teachers contract stakes a claim about the time educators spend with students: quality beats quantity.

The new agreement would upend a key provision of the 2005 contract, which added two-and-a-half hours to the school week so teachers could work with small group of students. Now, most of that time would be devoted to teacher professional development and some to parent outreach.

The idea behind the contract changes, officials explained, is that better-trained teachers will have a greater impact on students even if they spend less time with them.

“We have to train teachers so that the time they’re spending with students is much more effective and valuable,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “Versus doing, once again, this political punch line — more time with the student. Let’s make it better time with the student.”

While that approach makes sense to many, others note that professional development can vary widely in quality, and they question whether teacher training ever trumps instructional time.

“I honestly have never met one teacher who thinks the solution to the educational crisis is less time with students and more time in PD,” wrote the author of the education blog, Doenuts.

The 2005 contract had most schools divide two-and-a-half hours per week, or 150 minutes, into four after-school tutoring or small-group sessions each week, with some exceptions. “Multi-session” schools that have staggered starts were allowed to spread those extra minutes throughout their normal school day. Also, schools could request to use some of that time for teacher-team planning rather than tutoring.

The new contract, which must still be ratified, would take back those 150 minutes and split them into three chunks: teachers would spend 80 minutes each Monday in school-based professional development, 35 minutes on Tuesdays collaborating with colleagues, and another 40 minutes each Tuesday communicating with parents in writing, on the phone, or through newsletters and class websites.

Not every school would be affected by the change. Multi-session schools will again be exempt from this default arrangement, though they will be expected to provide professional development and parent engagement, according to union officials. Also, schools that prefer their current arrangement with the extra instructional time could request an exemption that would allow them to keep some part of their schedule.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that schools could pay teachers to tutor students after-school or on Saturdays with money saved by running their own professional development rather than hiring outside trainers. Also, the new contract would allow up to 200 schools to restructure their school days, potentially freeing them to add more small-group time.

After details about the proposed contract emerged last week, some educators expressed concern about trading extra instructional time for teacher training, which might not be helpful.

Peter Lamphere, a high school math teacher in Washington Heights, said some school leaders carefully consider teachers’ needs and plan professional development where educators help each other improve. But other administrators run top-down, unhelpful trainings.

“Now they’ll have 80 minutes to do that rather than a faculty conference once per month,” he said. “So it could be torture for some people.” 

Others questioned whether the contract needs to set aside time for parent communication, which most teachers already find time to do without such provisions, said Evan Schwartz, principal of the Bronx’s Alfred E. Smith High School.

“It wasn’t like they were sitting around saying, ‘I have these great creative ideas, but it’s not in my contract so I’m not doing them,’” he said.

But other people who work in schools welcomed the extra time for training and collaboration.

Darlene Cameron, principal of P.S. 63 in the East Village, said the after-school time built into the current contract has helped some struggling students but is not a perfect system, since some students resist staying after the normal school day and some parents pick them up before the sessions end. She said now the school will find time to offer those students extra support during the school day and that the new training sessions could focus on ways to reach those students during class.

“I think in the end this will have a bigger impact for children all around,” she said.

Teacher committees at each school will help decide how to use the new training time, though a main focus will be on the Common Core standards and the city will offer some guidance, officials said. Fariña said teachers could spend some of the time writing curriculum or sharing best practices.

“This is peer-to-peer, teacher-to-teacher,” she said, “And it really is, to me, a dream come true.”

Research has shown that when teachers meet for about 90 minutes per week to plan lessons, analyze student work, or devise supports for students with special needs, it can boost student achievement, said Lynette Guastaferro, executive director of Teaching Matters, an organization that works with public schools to increase teacher effectiveness.

She added that the new learning standards place greater demands on educators and make regular professional development even more essential.

“When our entire educational force has to reboot because of the Common Core, it is essential that teachers have time to learn,” she said.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

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.