Taking it Slowly

PROSE schools limited in changes they can make, documents show

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
City and teachers union officials announced the schools that were selected to join a school-experimentation program.

Schools picked to participate in a new experimentation program could alter the way teachers are evaluated and students are assessed, though when or even if they will be able to carry out those experiments is still unsettled, newly released documents show.

City and teachers union officials announced the names of 62 schools in the new program on Monday, but only provided details about three sets of plans. The union on Thursday released the schools’ full applications and the portions that had been approved, which show that most schools received only part of what they asked for and many have permission only to start planning. (Officials also said on Thursday that another school was part of the program.)

Fewer than half of the 63 total schools in the program have tentative approval to begin carrying out their plans in September, which call for teachers to be rated partly on portfolios of their work and for principals to get feedback on their performance from teachers, according to the documents. And even those schools must wait for a joint city-teachers union panel to iron out the teacher-evaluation changes and submit them to the state before they can get started.

The other schools, which are hoping to adopt new teacher-evaluation rubrics, revamp their grading systems, reconfigure their school years, and make other changes, only received approval for “potential implementation” of their plans. Those schools might be able to carry out their plans “at a future date,” pending even more approvals, according to the panel-approved ballots that those schools voted on.

Different schools had hoped to try innovative enrollment practices, such as setting aside seats for students with incarcerated parents, or unusual promotion policies, such as ceasing to hold back students who fail their classes. But those parts of their applications did not make it onto the final ballots.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said that all 63 schools will make some changes next year, with some potentially carrying out more parts of their plans as the year goes on. She noted that new methods of teaching and evaluating take longer than one summer to put into place.

Tina Collins, an official from the teachers union who is on the city-union panel, agreed that schools had been left with very little time to plan for next year’s changes, since the program only officially launched last month after the new teachers contract was ratified. She pointed out that almost all the schools had made some schedule changes for next year, though many of them did that through a process that is open to any school.

Collins also made clear that some of the schools, which have been accepted into the program for five years, may not enact parts of their plans until later years. Other changes that some hope to make, such as replacing Regents exams with student projects, would require the approval of state policymakers.

“We encouraged schools to be creative,” said Collins, “with the understanding that this was the first step in an ongoing conversation.”

Find your school's PROSE proposal.

The experimentation program, known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, or PROSE, was negotiated into the new teachers contract. It gives schools with a history of teacher-administrator collaboration freedom from certain contract rules and education department regulations so they can try new approaches. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the program would allow schools to “reinvent themselves,” while United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said it would “move education forward not just in New York, but around the country.”

Most of the schools that are tentatively allowed to start carrying out their plans this year are part of the Performance Standards Consortium, where some students complete projects instead of taking certain Regents exams. Collins said leaders of that group approached the union and pitched their plan as soon as word of the program got out.

Pending final approval from the panel and the state, the schools will be able to tweak the portion of the new evaluation system that rates teachers on their instructional skills. The teachers will be scored by evaluators fewer times, but will create portfolios that showcase their abilities in a particular area of teaching.

Under a separate part of the schools’ plans, the teachers will evaluate how well their administrators supported them, though those evaluations will not affect principals’ job ratings.

The other schools in PROSE are members of a few other groups: New Visions for Public Schools, a school-support organization; the Internationals Network for Public Schools, which serve recent immigrants; and two other coalitions of like-minded schools.

Those schools have been cleared to plan to make various changes, mostly around teacher evaluations and student assessments.

The evaluation changes involve using new rubrics, observations by fellow teachers, or student projects to rate teachers. The assessment shift would allow schools to move to “mastery-based” systems, where students earn credits by completing projects that show they understand a topic, rather than simply by attending class.

But some of the schools’ more innovative proposals were not approved by the panel. For instance, Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan was granted permission to plan for some teacher-evaluation changes.

On their application, however, school leaders outlined plans for a teacher apprenticeship, a mentoring opportunity for high school students as an alternative to suspension, and an enrollment policy that would reserve some seats for children with family members in prison. The proposal author also asked for an “office/business manager” for the school, then explained why.

“Rationale—my head’s going to pop off if I don’t get more clerical/administrative support,” the application says.

Reporting contributed by Sarah Darville.

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.