ed policy

In a tumultuous presidential campaign season, a rare spotlight on education issues

Teachers College at Columbia University President Susan Fuhrman, left, led a question-and-answer session with Christopher Edley, Jr., a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Christina Veiga)

A senior policy advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign channeled the Democratic presidential candidate at an intimate question-and-answer session on Thursday hosted by Teachers College at Columbia University.

Christopher Edley, Jr. — a former U.C. Berkeley School of Law dean and expert in civil rights and education policy — talked about charter schools, early childhood education, and how to better serve English Language Learners.

He also hinted at a different kind of accountability era under a Clinton administration.

“She believes that there’s been, over the last 20 years, too much attention to trying to hold students and teachers accountable — and not enough emphasis on holding accountable the people who hold ultimate responsibility for the investments and for policy design,” Edley said, drawing applause.

The Donald Trump campaign did not respond to an invitation to join the forum, according to Teachers College.

Here are some other highlights from Edley’s remarks.

On charter schools:

Clinton supports charters, “but there are very important caveats,” Edley said.

“She believes we should … get back to one of the principal purposes of charters, which was to innovate and then export successful innovations to the rest of the public school system. We just haven’t done that,” he said. “Let’s be much more intentional about exporting the successes, and about closing down the charters that are not performing up to expectations.”

Edley didn’t express a position on the NAACP’s proposed moratorium on charter school expansion — something the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Post all editorialized against this week.

Charter school supporters have battled New York City and the state over the right to expand. At the end of September, 25,000 people rallied in Brooklyn, calling for the state to lift its charter school cap.

In June, the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools released a report arguing New York City could co-locate more charters inside traditional public school buildings. City officials disputed the report, saying it didn’t take into consideration the types of spaces available within schools, or future growth projections.

On early education:

Clinton “knows the research” when it comes to early childhood education, and has called for a doubling of spending on federal Early Head Start and Head Start programs, Edley said.

“We don’t, by any means, have a comprehensive system at either the federal level or the state level. It’s a crazy quilt of initiatives — some evidence-based, some only intuition-based,” Edley said. “One of the things I know she wants to do as president is help draw forward a consensus, a national consensus, about how to make our investment in early childhood … more systemic.”

He said home visit programs for new mothers — where social workers and health professionals check in and provide guidance — could get a boost under a Clinton administration.

Early childhood education in New York City has been in the national spotlight. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city launched free universal preschool. The program has proven popular with parents and earned high marks on quality measures.

On English Language Learners:

Edley said policy reform for how English Language Learners are taught would be “one of the top five assignments for the new secretary of education” under a Hillary Clinton administration.

“She is very frustrated, and indeed, angry, about the lack of progress in narrowing the achievement disparities and attainment disparities between English Language Learners and others,” Edley said.

In New York City, more than 142,000 students — about 13 percent of the student body — are English learners. Only 41 percent of the city’s ELL students graduate in four years and 22 percent drop out, according to the most recent city stats.

On state exams, 4 percent of ELL students were proficient in reading last year; in math, 13 percent were proficient.

“There is no consensus on how to replace the current framework for holding schools and districts and states accountable for narrowing these disparities. There’s no consensus even among, let’s say, the Latino civil rights groups, about what they would advocate as a wholesale reform structure,” Edley said. “So, as president, she would like to be a part of brokering that new consensus about a more ambitious and effective English Language Learner strategy.”

second chance

An embattled Harlem charter school that serves kids with disabilities will be allowed to keep its middle school — for now

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Opportunity Charter School

A Harlem charter school will be allowed to keep its middle school next school year, despite the fact that top city education officials have repeatedly ruled that it is too low performing to stay open.

That decision offers at least temporary relief for Opportunity Charter School, which has been embroiled in a dispute with the education department since March. The disagreement centers on whether city officials properly took into account the school’s students — over half of whom have a disability — when it judged the school’s performance.

The city’s education department, which oversees the school as its charter authorizer, tried to close the middle school and offered only a short-term renewal for the high school when the school’s charter came up for review earlier this year. The school appealed that decision, and was denied late last month.

But the education department is backing down from its position — at least for now. That reversal appears to be based mostly on logistics: A Manhattan Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked the closure through at least mid-July in response to a lawsuit filed by the school and some of its parents last month, complicating the process of finding students new schools outside the normal admissions cycle.

“Students always come first, and given where we are in the school year, we will allow the middle school grades to remain open in 2017-18,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman wrote in an email on Thursday. Still, he noted, the department will continue to push to close the middle school in the future.

Kevin Quinn, a lawyer representing Opportunity Charter, said the city’s decision was the only responsible one, given that the school has already held its admissions lottery and made offers to parents.

“This is a wise decision by the [education department],” Quinn wrote in an email, “and [we] appreciate their acknowledgment that placement of this population at this time would be significantly disruptive.”

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”