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Tisch: Top city schools could be exempt from new teacher evaluation system

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

More than 100 top-ranked New York City schools could be exempt from a prescriptive teacher evaluation system approved by state lawmakers earlier this week, according to the official charged with finalizing the new system.

The schools, which include both elite screened schools and popular zoned schools, are on a statewide list that Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told Chalkbeat may make them be eligible for a waiver because of their students’ high performance. Of 354 schools that earned the distinction last August, 103 are in New York City.

Tisch cautioned that she is still not sure how much flexibility she has under the new law, which charges the state education department and Board of Regents with filling in the details of a new plan. But if schools are allowed to develop alternative evaluation systems, it would mark a significant shift in the way teacher evaluations work citywide.

“Where this goes and how this goes I don’t know,” Tisch said, “but I just thought it should be part of the conversation.”

Tisch has already proposed exempting some high-performing districts, as reported by Capital New YorkOn Thursday, Tisch said she believes the same principles apply to individual schools.

For the last two years, city schools have used the same basic framework for evaluations, with state test scores and teacher observations each counting for a portion of a teacher’s final rating, which ranges from ineffective to highly effective. There has been some variation, though most teachers have been rated effective or better, with some schools opting to use additional city-created assessments, for example, while others tried different rubrics or peer evaluations through an experimental program.

The schools that could be exempt from the new system, according to Tisch, are the state’s “reward schools,” a designation created in 2012 when state officials sought and received a waiver of their own from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Eight of the 103 city schools on the list that also receive federal Title I funding for having a large share of needy students became eligible for separate grants to share ideas and work with low-performing schools. Applications for those grants were due earlier this week, according to the state education department’s web site.

Several of the city’s other reward schools have strict screening policies, or are housed in zones that pull from affluent neighborhoods. As a result, they admit and serve some of the city’s top-performing students.

They include elite specialized high schools like Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School; citywide gifted and talented programs, like the Anderson School and the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars; and hugely popular zoned elementary schools like Brooklyn’s P.S. 321.

There are also many schools serving higher-need populations. More than half of the students in 25 of the elementary and middle schools, for instance, qualified for free lunch last year, according to city data. At P.S 42, in Chinatown and P.S. 172 in Sunset Park, for instance, nearly 90 percent of students receive free lunch and about 30 percent of students speak a language other than English at home.

To earn the distinction, schools had to rank in the top 20 percent of schools on state test scores for two straight years, or in the top 10 percent on student growth on the tests in 2012-13; all student subgroups had to make academic progress; and there couldn’t be “unacceptably large” achievement gaps between a school’s low-income students and their peers.

Tisch did not elaborate on exactly what those schools might do instead of implementing the state’s evaluation system. But the idea of allowing schools within a district to use different systems is certain to raise questions, and Tisch’s proposal to allow district exemptions had already sparked sharp criticism from the state teachers union.

“Now the chancellor seems to be floating a ‘yacht’ evaluation plan for some communities and non-stop testing pressure for the rest,” New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee said in a statement.

Here are New York City’s Reward Schools for the 2014-12 school year:

PS 42 BENJAMIN ALTMAN

PS 172 BEACON SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE

PS 161 ARTHUR ASHE SCHOOL

PS 36 UNIONPORT

MOTT HALL SCHOOL

THE BRIGHTER CHOICE COMMUNITY SCHOOL

PS 176 OVINGTON MAGNET SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, DESIGN

PS 120

PS 112 LEFFERTS PARK

PS 130 HERNANDO DE SOTO

PS 24 ANDREW JACKSON

PS 304 EARLY CHILDHOOD SCHOOL

PS 255 BARBARA REING SCHOOL

IS 227 LOUIS ARMSTRONG

IS 392

PS 235 LENOX SCHOOL

PS 124 YUNG WING

MEDGAR EVERS COLLEGE PREP SCHOOL

PS 184 SHUANG WEN

QUEENS GATEWAY TO HEALTH SCIENCE SECONDARY SCHOOL

PS/IS 113 ANTHONY J PRANZO

PS 133

PS 31 SAMUEL F DUPONT

IS 187 THE CHRISTA MCAULIFFE SCHOOL

PS 32 STATE STREET

PS 18 WINCHESTER

SCHOLARS’ ACADEMY

PS 162 JOHN GOLDEN

PS 173 FRESH MEADOW

IRWIN ALTMAN MIDDLE SCHOOL 172

PS 31 BAYSIDE

TAG YOUNG SCHOLARS

PS 191 MAYFLOWER

PS 26 RUFUS KING

PS 115 GLEN OAKS

QUEENS COLLEGE SCHOOL-MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY

PS 213 THE CARL ULLMAN SCHOOL

PS 11 PURVIS J BEHAN

PS 205 ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL

PS 46 ALLEY POND

PS 47 CHRIS GALAS

PS 159

PS 35 THE CLOVE VALLEY SCHOOL

PS 11 WILLIAM T HARRIS

NYC LAB MIDDLE SCHOOL FOR COLLABORATIVE STUDIES

MS 260 CLINTON SCHOOL WRITERS & ARTISTS

PS/IS 266

MARK TWAIN IS 239-GIFTED & TALENTED

PS 50 FRANK HANKINSON

PS 78

PS 41 CROCHERON

PS 53 BAY TERRACE

PS 1 TOTTENVILLE

PS 203 OAKLAND GARDENS

JHS 67 LOUIS PASTEUR

PS 186 CASTLEWOOD

PS 94 DAVID D PORTER

PS 195 MANHATTAN BEACH

PS 221 THE NORTH HILLS SCHOOL

MATH & SCIENCE EXPLORATORY SCHOOL

PS 144 COL JEROMUS REMSEN

NEW EXPLORATIONS SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & MATH

PS 212 MIDTOWN WEST

PS 196 GRAND CENTRAL PARKWAY

PS 188 KINGSBURY

MS 255 SALK SCHOOL OF SCIENCE

PS 5 HUGUENOT

PS 58 THE CARROLL

EAST SIDE MIDDLE SCHOOL

PS 158 BAYARD TAYLOR

PS 59 BEEKMAN HILL INTERNATIONAL

PS 40 AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS

PS 98 THE DOUGLASTON SCHOOL

PS 290 MANHATTAN NEW SCHOOL

PS 321 WILLIAM PENN

PS 199 JESSIE ISADOR STRAUS

SPECIAL MUSIC SCHOOL

PS 87 WILLIAM SHERMAN

THE ANDERSON SCHOOL

PS 6 LILLIE D BLAKE

PS 234 INDEPENDENCE SCHOOL

PS 77 LOWER LAB SCHOOL

PS 89

PS 183 ROBERT L STEVENSON

NYC LAB HS-COLLABORATIVE STUDIES

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HIGH SCHOOL

MILLENNIUM HIGH SCHOOL

BARUCH COLLEGE CAMPUS HIGH SCHOOL

STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL

HS-DUAL LANGUAGE & ASIAN STUDIES

FIORELLO H LAGUARDIA HIGH SCHOOL

HS MATH SCIENCE & ENGINEERING AT CCNY

BRONX CENTER FOR SCIENCE & MATH

BRONX HIGH SCHOOL OF SCIENCE

HS AMERICAN STUDIES AT LEHMAN COLLEGE

BROOKLYN TECH HIGH SCHOOL

BEDFORD ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL

LEON M GOLDSTEIN HIGH SCHOOL

TOWNSEND HARRIS HIGH SCHOOL

JAMAICA GATEWAY TO THE SCIENCES

QUEENS HIGH SCHOOL AT YORK COLLEGE

STATEN ISLAND TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL

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. 

School Politics

Colorado schools were a hot topic at the state Capitol this year. Here’s what lawmakers did.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers this week are celebrating major education-related policy wins, including finding more money for public schools.

This year’s legislative session, which ended Wednesday, was marked by big compromises on issues that have befuddled policy makers for years: charter school funding, ninth-grade standardized testing and measuring the reading skills of the state’s youngest bilingual students.

With so many thorny debates behind them, lawmakers and Capitol observers are now looking toward other major policy questions they’ve put off for years, including reforming how the state pays for its public schools and making changes to Colorado’s school accountability laws and teacher licensure policies.

“The hope is now that the K-12 community can come together to focus on the big issues,” said Jen Walmer, Colorado state director of Democrats for Education Reform.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look back at the last 120 days:

Lawmakers found more money for schools than anyone could have imagined.

Before the legislative session began, school districts were preparing for the worst. Despite the state’s booming economy, constraints on how much the state could spend meant schools could have gone without much of a funding increase.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, on the first day of the legislative session.

The forecast became even more dire midway through the session when lawmakers learned the local tax base that generates about a third of all state spending on schools was going to shrink drastically. The worst predictions had the state’s education funding shortfall growing to more than $1 billion.

State officials found a technical workaround, and lawmakers were able to send more money to schools. On average, schools will see about $242 more per student next year.

However, leaders in both parties are aware that the state’s problematic constitutional constraints, tax policies and school funding formula still exist. That’s why a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers led a successful effort to create a committee to study and propose changes to the way the state funds it schools.

“We have more work to do. We need to continue with what we’ve done this session: have tough conversations,” said Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat.

“How do we make sure that students, regardless of race, income, regardless of whether they have a disability, that they have the opportunity to succeed?” she said. “There is no doubt that we have structural decisions we have to make when it comes to our budget.”

Republican leaders said they’re also anxious to see the committee get to work. But they’re less likely to support an influx of cash to the state’s schools.

“If we’re going to look at real overhauls to the system and funding, we need to look at all the options — not just throwing more money at the system — a system that by many’s accounting is not working well or efficiently,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican.

He and other Republicans are encouraging the committee to look at how other states have focused their funding formulas on students rather than on a school’s size or geographic location, and used funding to expand school choice.

Lawmakers already have one option on the table: A proposal to set a statewide property tax rate, which was born out of the legislature’s budget office and floated early in the session. While there was a lot of talk behind the scenes, it failed to gain traction. Expect to hear a lot more about the idea.

The charter school funding compromise, which some called “historic,” was just one of many longstanding issues that were resolved this year.

The 2017 legislative session will likely be remembered as the most productive in a decade because of several big compromises.

State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, sits alone on the House of Representatives floor as members of her own party filibustered her compromise on charter school funding. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Lawmakers grinned Thursday as they ticked off a long list of accomplishments to reporters, including one that could send more local money to charter schools. In return, charter schools will be required to post on their official websites more tax documents and will no longer receive two specific financial waivers.

The last-minute charter school funding bill — sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included state Reps. Brittany Pettersen and Lang Sias and state Sens. Owen Hill and Angela Williams — was the compromise no one saw coming.

“Anything is possible,” Pettersen said after the session.

Lawmakers had wrestled with the question of requiring the state’s school districts to share their locally approved tax increases with charter schools for two years. Despite vocal objections from several school superintendents, the legislature overwhelmingly supported the bill.

Early in the session, lawmakers eager to reduce the number of standardized tests reached another compromise with the governor’s office. High school freshmen will no longer be required to take the controversial PARCC English and math tests. Instead, they’ll take a test that is aligned to the college entrance exam, the SAT.

We kicked the PARCC test out of high schools,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. “It’s gone!”

Other deals that were reached include the creation of a diploma seal of biliteracy for students who demonstrate proficiency in two languages and new regulations on how to monitor the reading skills of young English language learners.

Colorado schools will also see a financial boost for the next three years after lawmakers passed an omnibus bill that resolved a debate over a hospital fee that helps pay for the state’s health insurance program.

As part of the biggest compromise of the year, the state will raise taxes on recreational marijuana. Those taxes will send $30 million to rural schools next year and $40 million over two years to the state education fund, a sort of savings account for schools.

Rural schools flexed their muscles and blocked a bill to reform the state’s student suspension rules, but they didn’t get everything they wanted.

Not every piece of bipartisan legislation reached the governor’s desk.

Students at Merino Elementary School work during class.

A bill that aimed to reduce the number of preschool and elementary school students who are suspended was killed by a GOP-controlled committee at the request of rural schools, despite having overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Rural school leaders said the bill attempted to create a statewide solution for a Front Range problem. A Chalkbeat analysis of suspension data, which rural superintendents refuted, showed otherwise.

Supporters of the legislation vowed to work with opponents this summer and fall and try again next year.

While rural schools were successful in blocking that mandate, they were dealt a setback when a bill that would have allowed them to remedy a teacher shortage by hiring unlicensed teachers was killed by its sponsors.

State Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican, said he couldn’t garner enough support for his effort. At least not this year.

“Like Arnold Schwarzenegger said, ‘I’ll be back,’” Wilson said.

Even though that bill failed, lawmakers did take steps to curb the state’s teacher shortage.

Stanley Teacher Prep resident Lily Wool works with kindergartner Samori McIntosh at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. Wood’s residency program is merging the Boettcher Teacher Residency program. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Prior to the session, education leaders at the Capitol had few if any plans to take on the state’s teacher shortage. But retired teacher and freshman state Rep. Barbara McLachlan pushed to address the issue.

The Durango Democrat partnered with a host of other lawmakers from both parties to sponsor legislation to study the shortage and provide solutions. She also sponsored a bill that would allow rural schools to hire retired teachers without penalizing their pension. Both bills were sent to the governor.

Two other bills, including one to create multiple teacher preparation pilot programs, failed to advance. But with the issue on the legislature’s radar, expect it to come back.

“That’s the most pressing issue, next to funding,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat.

Despite newfound freedom from Washington, lawmakers didn’t make any bold changes to the state’s school accountability system.

Several lawmakers early in the session seemed eager to take advantage of new flexibility from the federal government.

While the state education department was busy putting together a mandated statewide plan to adopt the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lawmakers were debating how they could update the state’s school accountability laws.

But only two bills making minor tweaks advanced.

A HOPE Online student works during the day at an Aurora learning center. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

One requires elementary schools that receive low quality ratings to address the needs of students in preschool through third grade.

The second bill requires the state to measure how well high school students are meeting updated graduation requirements. As part of the new requirements, which go into effect in the year 2021, high schools must adopt a list of options students can use to prove they’re prepared for college or a career.

Those options include the SAT exam, which all Colorado juniors are required to take; passing a concurrent enrollment college-level course; passing a Advanced Placement test; or completing a college thesis-like capstone project demonstrating knowledge of a subject.

“This bill is a really clever way to allow school districts to say, ‘This is what we care about, and this how we’re going to do it,’” said Luke Ragland, president of Ready Colorado, a conservative education reform group.

Some of the most anticipated school-accountability bills of the session never materialized.

One would have provided more clarity on what happens to schools that consistently receive low quality ratings from the state.

“This was a big undertaking, and the bill’s sponsors needed more time,” Ragland said.

It’s another issue Capitol-watchers can expect to see return next year.

As Ragland put it, “The lack of clarity at the end of the state’s accountability clock is bad for everyone.”