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Sarah Darville is Chalkbeat's national editor. She was previously the bureau chief for Chalkbeat New York and a Google Journalism Fellow.
October 25, 2013
Rise & Shine: Critics, but no chaos, at new Common Core forum
The first of John King’s second round of Common Core hearings saw no “angry confrontation.” (LoHud) The President will visit P-TECH today, a school…
October 23, 2013
Test score drops mean uncertainty in screened H.S. admissions
Ananda Kimm-Drapeau, who hopes to attend Stuyvesant High School, is also considering several schools that will weigh her state test scores in admission. The city has instructed schools to screen students with lower scores this year because the state tests were harder to pass, but the process remains uncertain for families and schools alike. (Photo: Oliver Morrison) For eighth-grade students looking to attend a screened high school, the opaque admissions process has gained another layer of complexity — their own state test scores, often lower than they had been in the past. The city has been assuring parents and students that they won't be penalized for the drop in state test scores following the rollout of tougher, Common Core-aligned exams. If a school previously looked for students at a level 3 (out of 4) or above, for example, the city has said the school should look for students who scored at least a 2.25. For schools that tried to limit admissions to students with a 2 or higher, the city is suggesting using a 1.8 benchmark this year. Those equivalencies are meant to assure parents and students that this year's system won't work much differently than last year's. But that leaves two open questions: Will students apply to different schools than they would have because they are nervous about their scores? And will schools will actually look at students who fall closer the bottom of their test score range? "These kids, they were previously 4s and 3s, and now they're 1s and 2s. And they're really stressed about it," said Quincee Robinson, who oversees admissions at Bard High School Early College Manhattan, which screens for levels 3 and 4. "They're worried they're not eligible to apply to our school."
October 18, 2013
Remainders: How a school closure becomes high(er) drama
A not-for-profit theater group is putting on a show about a school closure called “And Miles to Go.” TNTP President Tim Daly compares the state teachers…
October 18, 2013
Rise & Shine: More criticism for King as meetings rescheduled
Two state lawmakers have called for John King to step down after canceling public meetings. (Capital) As the state schedules new meetings, a parent…
October 17, 2013
For a deal on teacher conferences, usual adversaries team up
The Coalition for Educational Justice announced the $5 million allocation for additional test score talks in September. Parent advocates stood with a top city education official on the steps of City Hall in late September to make an announcement: The city was setting aside $5 million for extra parent-teacher conferences for students with low state test scores. But advocates weren't sure that was the event they were going to have. Until two days before the press conference, members of the Coalition for Educational Justice thought they might just be calling on the city to set aside the funds. Though the group had met with Department of Education officials twice, they had been told that the costs seemed too high and the funding source unclear. Three days after their last meeting, Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky emailed the group. You made a persuasive argument, he wrote, promising to continue the search for funds. The city did find $5 million to finance the conferences, which the Coalition announced at City Hall. Since then, the teachers union and the principals union have joined the city and Coalition members to hammer out the logistics — a level of collaboration that many of involved said they hadn't seen in years on an optional initiative. "It's been a little surreal," said Natasha Capers, a parent leader with CEJ. "At one point I was sitting at the table, and thought, would it be weird if I just took a picture of everyone doing this?"
October 16, 2013
At PEP meeting, the probable next mayor's promises loom large
At a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, parents and elected officials opposed to changes to their schools let the members know — and many said they were already looking ahead to a Mayor de Blasio to review the decisions. Only after more than five hours of testimony and discussion did one of the final PEP meetings under Mayor Bloomberg end with the approval of 12 new schools, including five new charter schools operating in public space, and 17 new co-locations to begin in 2014. Dozens came to protest proposed changes to I.S. 78 Roy H. Mann, wearing bright red T-shirts with the phrase, "Together We Make a Difference." The Panel approved the addition of a Success Academy elementary charter school in the school's Bergen Beach building, along with a reduction in Roy H. Mann's size. From their public comments emerged a complicated picture of Roy H. Mann. Parents blamed a succession of principals and a lack of staff cooperation for what they acknowledged was low enrollment at the school.
October 11, 2013
Rise & Shine: Family of boy missing from Queens school to sue
The mother of the still-missing 14-year-old autistic boy plans to sue the DOE. (WNYC, NY1, CBS, Times) The state education department’s…
October 10, 2013
Remainders: A third grade exam score's tie to graduation
In one cohort, only one in three city third graders who failed ELA exam graduated high school. (Flypaper) A magazine editor debates the ethical…
October 10, 2013
Report illustrates disparities in over-the-counter enrollment
Percentages of over the counter students at schools that began phasing out in 2011 Students who enter city high schools outside of the regular admissions process are disproportionately sent to struggling schools, according to a new analysis of Department of Education data—something advocates for those schools have long asserted. The statistics also illustrate how differently seats are filled in high schools across the city. At the High School for Telecommunication Arts and Technology in 2011, only 7 percent of students were enrolled "over the counter," meaning they were assigned some time after the traditional high school choice process. At Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, which the city has tried to close, 26 percent of students were enrolled over the counter that year. Christopher Columbus High School, which is closing at the end of this year, had some of the highest rates in the city. Over-the-counter enrollments made up 39 percent of the school's total in 2008, and the pace continued as the school began phasing out, with 37 percent over-the-counter enrollment in 2011.
October 8, 2013
At rally, charter parents stuck between Lhota and a hard place
Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota greets young charter rally participants on Tuesday morning. For a full account of the charter school rally, see Geoff Decker's report here. Just before 11 a.m., Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota leaned down to eye level with five year old Kenyon Lovett, a student at Success Academy Cobble Hill. He wants to be an architect, his mom explained. "What do you want to build?" Lhota asked as dozens of reporters and curious parents pushed closer. "Is that the mayor?" another girl asked as she squirmed toward the candidate. Lhota basked in the attention from parents and students this morning at the end of their march across the Brooklyn Bridge in support of charter schools, greeting children and answering questions outside of City Hall Park an hour after delivering a speech at the Association for a Better New York touting his support for the charter sector. That position puts him at odds with Democratic frontrunner Bill de Blasio, who has advocated for capping the number of charter schools in the city and charging charter schools rent to operate in public buildings. At the rally, many parents admitted that they were perplexed about how to square their Democratic ties and their desire for a mayor who is friendly to the charter school movement. Kenyon's mother Yolanda White told reporters that she had never voted for a Republican. But Lhota's support for charters means that if she can convince herself that his policies are reasonable, "I have no problem jumping the line for him," she said.
October 7, 2013
In study, black and Latino students explain their paths to college
The Expanded Success Initiative Leadership Summit brought together students from the 40 participating schools in June. One student credited a specific teacher who taught English like a college-level course. Some recalled their parents not allowing them to spend time outside to avoid gang activity. Others remembered teachers who calmed them before taking the SAT. Those were some of the responses students gave in new study that worked backwards from male black and Latino students' success, looking at college-bound, academically successful high school juniors and seniors at 40 schools and asking, what worked? To find the answers, a group of University of Pennsylvania researchers in conjunction with the city interviewed more than 400 high school students and recent graduates who had at least a 3.0 grade point average, were involved in extracurricular activities, and planned to attend college (or were already attending). The students attended the 40 high schools selected last year to be a part of the Expanded Success Initiative, each with at least 60 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. The results are a fascinating look at the students' lives. You can read the whole study here, but we picked out some highlights:
October 4, 2013
Rise & Shine: UFT didn't disclose robocalls for Robert Jackson
The UFT’s PAC didn’t disclose a robocall made during the primaries, raising questions. (GothamSchools) A new report finds lower pension costs make charter schools…
October 3, 2013
Evaluation system's start means new tests in many schools
A new year has meant new tests to administer for many city teachers as a much-debated teacher evaluation process kicks off—earning shrugs from some and…
October 2, 2013
Remainders: A look at the challenges of being a teacher-advisor
The start of junior year means new challenges for a teacher’s high school advisees. (Edwize) Yoga, Zumba, and healthy lunches have helped four city…
October 2, 2013
As terms end, council members push to curb school closures
The City Council was host to a fresh round of familiar debates today, as education committee members sparred with Chancellor Dennis Walcott about central Bloomberg-era education policies: school closures and co-locations. The committee proposed three resolutions, all curtailing aspects of the process that allows the city to change what schools operate in what buildings. One would require school closures or phase-outs to be approved by the local Community Education Council before being voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy, requiring a change in state law and amounting to a reversal of mayoral control. Another resolution calls for a moratorium on school closures and co-locations for a year, something that mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has said he supports. The third calls for additional communication with parents about school closures and co-locations. The calendar took center stage at the hearing, given the little time Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg have left in office. Councilman Stephen Levin, who called for an even broader moratorium on all charter school openings in June, pushed Walcott about the proposed co-locations that wouldn't take effect until a new mayor is in office — which he said would put schools and the city "on a collision course." "Isn't it time to leave well enough alone?" Levin asked. "I am chancellor until December 31 and I have a responsibility to our 1.1 million students," Walcott responded.
October 1, 2013
Report: District-charter special ed gap not from "counseling out"
Stories of charter school officials telling — or hinting to — high-needs students that they should look elsewhere for their educational needs have long fueled criticism of the charter sector. But a new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education argues that "counseling out" is not the cause of the special education gap between the city's district and charter elementary schools. In New York City, 13.1 percent of charter school students receive special education services, compared to 16.5 percent of district school students. Using lottery data from 25 charter elementary schools and information from the city, researcher Marcus Winters found two main reasons for the gap: that fewer students with disabilities apply for kindergarten spots at charter schools, and charters classify fewer students as needing special education services once they start school. The report was not mean to "fully explain away what is a well-documented disparity," New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said at a discussion at the center on Monday. "What it does do, importantly, is demonstrate conclusively that a significant number of charter schools in New York City are having success in keeping children from inappropriately being classified in the first place as needing special education services and at the same time, hopefully giving them a far better chance at success in their school careers," Merriman said.
September 30, 2013
How eight city students are approaching the high school search
On Saturday, middle school students and parents waited in lines that stretched for blocks to enter the city's annual high school fair inside Brooklyn Technical High School. City students must choose from among nearly 600 options. Finding a high school in New York City is like searching for an apartment: It's hard to find a place that's just right, and students know that even if they find a school that meets all their criteria — academics, sports, location, community, and more — there's no guarantee that they'll get in. So they start early. By 10 a.m. Saturday, the line outside the annual high school fair at Brooklyn Technical High school had wrapped around the building. Over the next two days, middle schoolers streamed through Brooklyn Tech's seven floors with parents, siblings, and teachers in search of the perfect school. The Department of Education estimated that 36,000 people visited the fair, making it the best-attended high school fair in the past five years.
September 27, 2013
Remainders: A focus on parents' speech to bridge literacy gap
Researchers are trying to get parents to talk more to level the school-readiness playing field. (Hechinger) This is how per-pupil spending has grown from…
September 27, 2013
Report urges next chancellor to focus on college preparation
The city's next schools chancellor will soon have to determine his or her ultimate goal: for every student to graduate from high school? To be "college or career ready"? To graduate from college? A report released yesterday illustrates just how complicated those last two can be, as only a fraction of those who graduate from city high schools actually enter college and earn a diploma. Researchers embedded in 14 high-needs middle and high schools found a litany of roadblocks that originate before students graduate, from the limited number of advanced college-preparatory courses available to a lack of trained counselors to help students through necessary paperwork. "What happens to our students in New York City, particularly in low-end communities, is they don't have all of the traditional tools that middle class and upper class families do in terms of academic and social supports to actually make it through college," said researcher Kim Nauer of the New School's Center for New York City Affairs. "As more and more students have been told that they can, and should, attend college, too many of them get to college and just fall off a cliff." A lot of the report's content was previewed in a panel discussion held last June. But after four years of firsthand observation, the center is recommending an action plan for the next administration.
September 27, 2013
Rise & Shine: City says 132 more schools' lights now PCB-free
The city is making progress on removing school light fixtures that may contain PCBs. (GS in Brief, NY1) Some elected officials have criticized schools…
September 25, 2013
Plans for new rally draw out old tensions within charter sector
Two weeks before a pro-charter-schools rally begins in Brooklyn, a deep divide within the charter sector is reappearing. The rally — which charter operator Eva Moskowitz is pushing — is aimed at sending a stern message to mayoral candidates, especially frontrunner Bill de Blasio, about public support for charter schools. De Blasio has said he believes charters should pay rent to occupy space in district school buildings, a change that could threaten some schools' ability to operate. Many of the city's largest charter school management organizations, including KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, and Moskowitz's Success Academy network, have already lent their support to the rally, organizers say. But so far, few independent charter schools have signed on, and the city's main charter school advocacy organization isn't endorsing the event.
September 20, 2013
Remainders: Using zombie brains to teach about human ones
A new program, STEM Behind Hollywood, puts zombies at the center of science lessons. (Forbes) An upstate education advocate calls Rochester’s test scores unacceptable. (…
September 20, 2013
NYC sitting out national move to tie charter, district admissions
Superintendent Seth Andrew at a 2012 Democracy Prep admissions lottery event. When the city announced last week that a kindergarten admissions website would link to the charter school application, it took a small first step toward unifying charter and district school applications. But there appears to be little local enthusiasm for a fully unified enrollment process—something that many of the nation's other large school districts are working toward with urgency. In Denver, parents can apply to every charter and district school through one form and a single process. In New Orleans, the same is possible, with the exception of some of the city's highest-performing charter schools. Newark is well on its way, as is Chicago, and similar discussions are taking place in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. But while there hasn't been any significant movement on that front yet in New York, city officials have indicated it's a long term goal. "Eventually, we plan to streamline the application process to allow parents to apply to many types of public school programs in one place – be they district, charter, gifted and talented, or otherwise," department spokesman Devon Puglia said. Pushing for an integrated enrollment system could help cement charter schools' place in the city's school system at a time of political uncertainty for the charter sector. But city charter school advocates have indicated that they are focused on other issues.
September 20, 2013
Rise & Shine: Schools' compliance with P.E. laws still unclear
The city won’t release information about schools’ compliance with physical education laws. (NY1) A judge said a teacher caught with 20 bags of…
September 16, 2013
Touting city's top test scores, officials visit its most elite schools
Mayor Bloomberg and city officials fanned out across the city today to spread one message: New York City has an outsize share of the state's top-performing elementary and middle schools. Twenty-two of the state's top 25 schools, as defined by the highest average proficiency rates on state recent reading and math exams, are located in the city. That's up from zero city schools among the top 25 in 2001. The Daily News reported the tidbit last month, and city officials have been repeating it frequently. "It is as good a verification of what done in the last 12 years as you could possibly hope for," Bloomberg said of the statistic. Speaking at TAG Young Scholars, an elementary and middle school in East Harlem that serves gifted students and came in 20th statewide, Bloomberg said the school "is representative of an incredible turnaround in our city's public schools over the last 12 years." This year, the city's proficiency rates did come closer to the state averages, which are buoyed by high-performing suburban districts, than other cities' in New York. Many schools, such as P.S. 107 in Brooklyn, did better than would be expected given their student populations. But the 22 schools the city chose to highlight today have student populations nearly as exceptional as their average proficiency rates, an outgrowth of the Bloomberg administration's policies that emphasize school choice.
September 13, 2013
Remainders: N.J. newspaper goes to bat for the Common Core
The Star-Ledger Editorial Board: Common Core standards aren’t brainwashing or a federal plot. How many of these UFT chapter leaders say they’re still without curriculum…
September 13, 2013
Rise & Shine: Research points to Race to the Top flaws
Critics of Race to the Top say their research reveals its shortcomings. (Politico, Huffington Post) After a late-night meeting at the…
September 12, 2013
Kindergarten admissions to head online, with link to charter app
Chancellor Dennis Walcott reads to kindergarten students at Peck Slip this morning before making an admissions announcement. Parents applying for spots in kindergarten across the city next year will be able to complete the process online through what Department of Education officials today called a "transformative" change to the enrollment process. The changes also include the beginning of a long-term project to integrate charter school admissions into the city's general enrollment process. The new, online kindergarten admissions system will affect the parents of the more than 70,000 students entering kindergarten this year, reducing the hassle associated with applying to multiple schools. The city called it an effort "to make enrollment more family friendly." "Right now, parents must go from school to school to school, submitting applications at each school in order to apply to multiple schools, and that really is something we don't want to have happen to our parents," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at a press conference today after an appearance at the Peck Slip School, which like many downtown Manhattan schools had a wait list for kindergarten this year. "So if you're a single parent, and you're balancing a job and a child, this is something we want to definitely avoid," Walcott said. "It's really tough for parents, whether you're single or not."
September 11, 2013
Principal, King frame tensions over school choice changes
A back-and-forth between State Education Commissioner John King and a Brooklyn high school principal today provided a window into the tensions at play when high-needs students are placed in city schools — at a moment when additional shifts in enrollment policies may be imminent. As King toured the High School for Public Service, principal Sean Rice outlined his worries about serving 35 special education students, up from "almost none" two years ago, in a school with about 440 students. Five or six have been added to his rolls in just the past week, he said. Commissioner John King spoke with principal Sean Rice, center, about special needs students at his school. "It is a major concern," Rice said. "It's going to be challenging for us this year, because we have a teaching staff that has not had extensive experience with students with disabilities." But Rice's situation is rare for how few special education students he has, since some high schools, like William E. Grady High, have more than 20 percent special education students. Figures like that have created a schism between the city and the state for years, as King has criticized the city's school choice policies for allowing some schools to become overloaded with needy students. "I think this is the balance, though, between our concern—which we've long expressed—of students being concentrated in isolated buildings, and attempts by the city, which I think is the right direction, to try and avoid those overconcentrations of students," King said to Rice during a discussion with Chancellor Merryl Tisch and other state education officials.
September 10, 2013
"Gold standard" study identifies benefits of TFA math teachers
Middle and high school students whose math teachers entered the profession through Teach for America learn what researchers are calling the equivalent of 2.6 months more than similar students each year, according to a study released today. But the study found that teachers who entered the profession through the Teaching Fellows program, which supplies large numbers of New York City teachers, did not similarly boost students' math scores. The findings are likely to shape ongoing debates over the value of teacher experience and and over alternative certification programs, given the limited number of large-scale studies on the programs' effectiveness. For years, Teach for America's detractors have pointed to a 2005 study led by Linda Darling-Hammond, while supporters have been left to offer up smaller studies and anecdotal evidence about outsized gains. But more recently, studies showing benefits to Teach for America teachers have begun to pile up, even as criticism of the program, which allows recent college graduates a fast track into the classroom, has continued. The latest study, conducted by the firm Mathematica, is among the largest and uses random-assignment methodology, which is widely considered the "gold standard" in education research. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, an office that supports randomized studies in an attempt to boost the quality of education research.
September 6, 2013
GothamSchools voter guide: The NYC mayoral primaries
We've published story after story about where the mayoral candidates stand on education. But with the primary around the corner, who should education voters vote for? The Democratic front-runners share many of their positions of education—many of them pushing back against Bloomberg's legacy—but they also have some key differences. The Republican contenders, meanwhile, have offered fewer specifics but are looking to maintain the status quo. Here, we took a look at where the candidates diverge on crucial issues of education policy and compiled their top priorities to help if you haven't yet made a final pick.
September 6, 2013
State looking to shrink the pool of students requiring extra help
When state test scores were released last month, the huge drops in proficiency meant that thousands of additional failing city students now qualify for extra help mandated by the state. But state officials are working to ensure the number of students requiring those services doesn't change dramatically. The state education department will ask the Board of Regents to change regulations requiring schools to give extra support to all students who score a level 1 or 2 on state reading and math exams, according to a memo sent by deputy state education commissioner Ken Slentz last week. Last year's tougher, Common Core-aligned tests meant that just 26.4 percent of city students cleared that bar in reading, and 29.6 percent did in math. The rest of the students in grades 3-8 now qualify for Academic Intervention Services: additional instruction, student support like counseling and study skills help, or both. The state is proposing that AIS only be required for students with raw scores below a threshold that, for most grades and subjects, is equivalent to last year's passing mark. (You can compare 2013 scores and 2012 scores by percentile here.) Those shifts would keep the number of students requiring academic intervention relatively steady, which is what the Regents did in 2010 to keep AIS stable when cutoffs were adjusted.
September 5, 2013
Report: Asian American students are bullied more
“However, as the five-year anniversary of the anti-bullying Regulation approaches, our survey found a significant gap between the promise of bias-free public schools and…
September 4, 2013
As election nears, Walcott issues one more plea for continuity
Chancellor Walcott criticized mayoral candidates who want to change direction on education policy. Chancellor Dennis Walcott attempted to spell out his legacy this morning, recounting improvements in school safety and graduation rates over Mayor Bloomberg's tenure in front of a friendly audience in midtown. The Association for a Better New York, a group of civic and business leaders, is a forum Walcott and other officials have used to announce policy proposals with a political edge. With the mayoral election around the corner, Walcott used the setting for a valedictory speech and a chance to take a swipe at candidates who he says want a return to policies that led schools to failure. "There are powerful adults whose control over our students’ education was loosened when Michael Bloomberg became mayor. They are now vying to regain their grip," Walcott said. Though Walcott didn't mention any candidates by name, he called out those who advocated changes using "euphemisms for some very bad ideas"—namely, allowing more local control of schools, reducing emphasis on high-stakes testing, and calling for a moratorium on school closures and co-locations.
April 5, 2013
Seven moments in UFT history maybe more pivotal than this one
<a href="http://gothamschools.org/tag/state-of-the-union">Read the whole series.</a> Even as many unions nationwide are struggling to retain their clout, the United Federation of Teachers is still flexing considerable muscle in New York City. But with a teacher evaluation deal still up in the air and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's last months in office approaching, the teachers union is nonetheless at a crossroads. Just how much the current moment translates into change for the UFT will not be clear for years. Other turning points in UFT history have been more obvious. Here are a few: 1960: The UFT is born out of rival factions Teachers Guild President Charles Cogen, addressing a rally in Manhattan, later became the UFT's first president. (Courtesy of UFT) The Teachers Guild, a group made up primarily of older teachers, and the more confrontational High School Teachers Association merged in 1960 to create the UFT. Relations between the two groups, which were not the only unions representing city teachers, had thawed after members picketed together the previous year. The UFT's future hegemony was not at all obvious then, as the union didn't have collective bargaining power until December 1961 and the Teachers Guild didn't dissolve until 1964. The UFT would play a crucial role in the education upheaval later that decade, including the 1968 teachers strike precipitated by the firing of teachers in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. 1968: Teachers strike for months
March 13, 2013
Where do city teachers’ union dues go? A detailed breakdown
Every two weeks, $49.89 is taken out of teachers' paychecks as UFT dues. Depending on their jobs, other members of the UFT contribute different amounts, ranging from $24.95 for paraprofessionals to $51.08 for psychologists and social workers. For all union members, dues are a flat fee determined by position, not a percentage of their salary. The union doesn't spend all of its money every year, or immediately, of course. But because member dues and fees are spent on all facets of the union's operation, it's reasonable to track dues to spending. If we did that for the union's total spending for the 2011-2012 fiscal year ($166,528,712), this is how a teacher's (then-lower, $49.39) dues payment would have been divided up: (Scroll over the chart for details and look below the jump for even more information.)
March 5, 2013
As UFT elections get underway, dissenters face an uphill climb
P.S. 15 teacher Julie Cavanagh, speaking to teachers at Murry Bergtraum High School last week, is running against UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this year's union elections. It's been nearly three years since Michael Mulgrew was elected to his first full term at the helm of the United Federation of Teachers, which means election season has arrived for the city's teachers union. As would-be candidates work to meet Wednesday's deadline to collect the signatures they need to get on the ballots in April, we'll be keeping you up to date on Mulgrew's re-election bid and about what to expect from the changing union landscape. What is clear is that there won't be much suspense in the race for UFT president, as Mulgrew will almost certainly coast to a second full term. He's backed by the union's longtime dominant party, Unity, whose presidential candidate typically wins by a landslide. Three years ago, Mulgrew received 91 percent of the vote. The unified support that the union's leadership typically receives is one of many ways that the union has remained powerful in the face of threats. In other ways, too, the elections are about more than Mulgrew. There will be hundreds of positions on the ballot, including 90 executive board positions and delegates to the national and state unions, many with significant ability to impact decision-making. The vote totals also offer an opportunity to gauge dissent within the union — and this year, the dissenters are working hard to harness their power.
December 13, 2012
In new arrangement, teachers' pensions to fund infrastructure
President Bill Clinton was joined by AFT President Randi Weingarten (behind him) and other union and city officials today to announce a $1 billion investment of the city's teacher pension fund into Hurricane Sandy recovery projects. One billion dollars of the city's teacher pension fund will be used to finance construction and repair projects for city roads, bridges, and homes, President Bill Clinton and other officials announced Thursday. Clinton joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew, AFT President Randi Weingarten, City Comptroller John Liu, and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan to announce the pledge, which Clinton called “a remarkable commitment” to “properly rebuild in the aftermath of Sandy.” “This storm exposed weaknesses in our infrastructure that must not only be repaired, but we must rebuild in a different way,” said Donovan, who is now in charge of federal Sandy recovery efforts. This will be the first time the city’s teacher pension funds are used for infrastructure projects, Liu said, even though the idea has been around for years. “There’s always been apprehension about, is it going to work, is it potentially a vicious circle? So what I’ve seen is everybody is waiting for somebody else to do it, and therefore nobody does it. I’m very proud that, in this case, New York City is taking the lead,” Liu said after the announcement.
August 12, 2011
'Restart' partners say they plan to ease into management role
The radical "restart" plans for 14 struggling schools seem likely to get off to a slow start. In exchange for millions of dollars in federal School Improvement Grants, the city announced this week that it would turn over the reins of 14 schools to nonprofit Education Partnership Organizations. But with the start of the school year just weeks away, those groups say that much of their first year will be spent assessing needs and adding support, not making drastic changes. “Whenever you’re in a position of partnering, you’re always balancing the need of that sense of urgency with the idea that there is a certain risk or downside to, say, overhauling the master schedule two weeks before school starts,” said Doug Elmer, the director of Diplomas Now, which will manage Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn and Newtown High School in Queens. The nonprofits put in their bids to take over schools — where they'll control everything from curriculum to hiring to budgeting — in May. But after a delay while the city and teachers union hammered out a deal over teacher evaluations in the struggling schools, the groups learned only in the last two weeks that the city wanted them to become EPOs. And they found only just this week which schools they would take over. The city had asked the schools and organizations to rank each other, then paired them off. "It was a little bit of a flurry," said Sheepshead Bay Principal Reesa Levy of the matching process. But she said she was excited to work with Diplomas Now. "We're actually thrilled. I think maybe this will give us that extra push." The federal government has promised up to $2 million a year for three years for the restart schools.
August 10, 2011
Church policy could complicate city's new sex ed requirements
Public schools located in former Catholic school buildings will have to find another place to teach newly required sex education. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott surprised principals last night with the news that sex education will be mandatory in middle and high schools starting this year—a decision the New York Civil Liberties Union called "a great step forward for students' health." For schools that operate in space leased from the Archdiocese of New York, the new requirement could induce a scheduling headache. A Department of Education spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, confirmed that those schools would have to conduct the sex education lessons off-site in accordance with the archdiocese's longstanding policy prohibiting sex education in space that it owns. As Catholic schools have lost students in recent years, the archdiocese has closed dozens of schools, including 27 this year. The city has then rented some of those buildings to relieve its own space crunch. Last year, when the city decided to rent the former Saint Michael’s Academy to house the Clinton School for Artists and Writers, it noted that students would have to return to the school's previous site for sex education. Fran Davies, education spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said today that church officials were still researching the issue. Most public schools housed in rented former Catholic school space are elementary schools, which are not affected by the new requirement. But at least a few middle and high schools, like West Brooklyn Community High School and El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Williamsburg, will have to make other plans if they haven't already.
August 5, 2011
City billing teacher-sharing as a way to keep arts positions filled
More than 50 schools have signed up for a new matchmaking program to help them pool positions. The Department of Education has created a centralized process for principals looking to share teachers with another school —having a teacher work a few days a week at one school, and the rest of the week at another. In a notice to principals, the city said sharing teachers "may be a particularly efficient way to provide arts instruction." In the process's first month, 38 schools have indicated interest in gaining a shared teacher. Eighteen of the schools are looking for an art, music, or dance teacher. Another 28 schools have indicated that they have someone to share, including nine arts teachers, according to DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan. It's a positive step toward providing more students with access to the arts, according to Richard Kessler, director of the nonprofit Center for Arts Education. But he's not convinced principals have the support they need to share teachers effectively. Splitting teacher schedules presents a logistical challenge for the principals who pay their salaries and teachers who might have to travel. Kessler said those logistical difficulties are one reason why the practice has become rare after being relatively common in the 1980s. "The majority of principals just don't know how you share faculty from school to school," Kessler said, adding that he did not know of any schools currently sharing arts teachers. “There was a reason why it disappeared — it gets tricky traveling from one school to another. But in tough times, this is certainly better than nothing."
August 4, 2011
A Queens principal fears his budget trimming will cut into scores
Clemente Lopes is trying to keep his head above water. As the principal of I.S. 10 in Long Island City for the last six years, Lopes is now in a situation familiar to principals across the city: trying to increase scores with fewer teachers, less money, and more students. “As budget cuts increase and I have to make my classrooms bigger, I’m not so sure how my scores are going to reflect all those cuts,” Lopes said. “It’s getting to the point when I’m running out of options." Since the 2005-2006 school year, he’s eliminated 11 positions, even though he’s gone from a low of 849 students in the 2006-2007 school year to 957 students last year. Facing the third straight year of citywide budget cuts, I.S. 10's budget for this coming year is $6.49 million, down from a peak of $7.26 million for the 2008-2009 school year. Lopes' solutions to the budget crunch have been common ones: cutting instructional coaches, deans, after-school activities, tutoring, and textbook purchases. Now he's worried that the trimming will cut into academic performance, too.
July 28, 2011
State test scores still under wraps, but release 'imminent'
Schools are still waiting for the results of state ELA and math tests, exactly one year after the 2010 scores were announced. The July 26 Principals’ Weekly newsletter said that the state had “postponed the release” of the grade 3-8 scores, though the New York State Education Department said today that results were right around the corner. “The release this year is imminent and will be announced shortly,” NYSED spokesman Tom Dunn said. The Principals' Weekly item told principals that after the scores are released, they will need to send "July promotion update letters" to students who had been held back, and to students who failed the tests but had been promoted to the next grade on the expectation that they would pass. Now, it looks like those July updates may not come until August. Clemente Lopes, principal of Horace Greeley Middle School in Long Island City, said that he was anxious to see his school's scores—for planning, but also out of curiosity. “I’d like to see how my students perform. I’m like a parent—I want to know how my kids did,” he said.
July 28, 2011
Cuts cost a gym-less school its physical education teacher, too
James Horan is used to being creative, after spending years teaching physical education at an elementary school without a gym or outdoor space of its own. Now, like many other city teachers, he’s going to need to use that creativity to find another position. Horan was recently excessed after teaching for four and a half years at PS 68 in Ridgewood, Queens. Even though the school's population has been shrinking for years, Horan thought his job was safe because it wasn’t included in the list of projected layoffs that the city circulated in February. When layoffs were averted, he joined the cheers — only to be told one month later that budget reductions made his position too expensive for the school to maintain. The city has not yet released details about how many teachers shared Horan's fate this year, but after three straight years of cuts, the number is sure to be significant. Principals eliminated nearly 2,000 positions last year. “I just find it very frustrating,” Horan said. “Now that I’m excessed, it’s just very unexpected. Until June, everything’s great. I would have planned differently.” Horan came to PS 68 as a first-year teacher in the spring of 2007, teaching 30 to 50 students at a time in an empty classroom that served as the school's gym. The school hadn’t offered physical education in at least three years, he said, and he bought the program's only supplies himself using Teacher’s Choice funds. (Those funds were also eliminated this year.)
July 27, 2011
Fewer teachers granted tenure this year, but denials hold steady
Percentage of Teachers Who Had Tenure Denied or Extended In a stark departure from tradition, more than 40 percent of city teachers up for tenure this year did not get it. Just over 5,200 teachers were up for tenure this year. Of them, 58 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion -- 39 percent -- had their probationary periods extended for another year. The number of extensions inched up in 2010 to 8 percent, but skyrocketed this year after the Department of Education revamped the tenure evaluation process in an effort to make the protection tougher to receive. Yet the rate of tenure denials actually fell slightly from last year, from about 3.3 percent in 2010 to 2.7 percent in 2011, or 151 teachers, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's insistence that the figures were the first step toward "ending tenure as we know it." The numbers, which Bloomberg touted at a press conference today, confirm anecdotal reports pointing to a sharp rise in the number of probation extensions under the new system. Before last year, that option was rarely used and the vast majority of teachers received tenure almost as a formality.
July 22, 2011
After city's legal win, Bloomberg attacks UFT and NAACP on air
Being able to move forward with plans to close and co-locate schools isn't enough for Mayor Michael Bloomberg — he said this morning that the UFT and NAACP should feel ashamed for trying to stop the changes. Bloomberg used his weekly appearance on "The John Gambling Show" to celebrate yesterday's late-night decision by Judge Paul Feinman to allow the city to move ahead with 22 school closures and 15 charter school co-locations. The UFT and NAACP sued in May to stop the closure and co-locations. "There are thousands of families whose children have been in limbo because of this lawsuit, and now we can give them a clear direction. This is a big victory for the kids, and I think those that brought the suit should be ashamed of themselves. There’s no other way to phrase it," Bloomberg said. UFT officials bristled at the suggestion, saying that the lawsuit — which will now move into a new phase — was meant to address inequities introduced by Bloomberg's school policies. "If there is any shame in this matter, it belongs to the mayor and the administration that sat back and made no attempt to help schools and students that were struggling, an administration that favored charter schools while it ignored the needs of public school students," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. The radio show's segment on education began this way:
July 20, 2011
Special ed teachers need 'tweaked' evaluations, advocates say
Advocates are worried that the city's new evaluation system could penalize teachers of students with special needs. The nonprofit organization Advocates for Children of New York recently released a fact sheet calling on parents to ask how the new system, which will be piloted in more schools next year, will affect those teachers. Sixty percent of the new evaluations is based on subjective measures like principal observations, and the other 40 percent is based on student test scores. AFC's concern is that teachers who work with high-needs students will be at a disadvantage because they likely won't see the gains in test scores that other teachers will. That will make it more difficult to earn a high evaluation score, lowering the incentive for teachers to take on students with disabilities and English Language Learners. "Teachers are basically going to be looking at lower test scores, and lower evaluations because they're so heavily reliant on test scores," said Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator for AFC. "We're worried that they will be teaching more to the test in those classes."
July 15, 2011
Turnaround hopefuls bring on official with innovation pedigree
When the first graduates of Green Dot Charter High School move on to college next year, the school's founder is hoping to manage two more schools in the Bronx. Steve Barr's renamed organization, Future is Now Schools, is planning to take over a middle school and a high school in the South Bronx in fall 2012. But unlike in Green Dot's model, Future is Now wants the two schools to remain district schools, not become charter schools. That model, which the group announced in March, still requires complicated negotiations over teacher contracts, and especially teacher evaluations, where the city and Future is Now differ greatly. For now, FIN is growing its staff, developing curriculum, and continuing its three-way negotiations with the UFT and the city. "We’ve made good progress and have come to a general agreement on the form of an evaluation system that is based on Green Dot's,” said Gideon Stein, FIN's president. "The difficulty has been all of the other priorities that the DOE and the city have." FIN's most recent hire strengthens the group's alignment with one of the DOE's top priorities: Pushing models that blend online and in-person instruction through the two-year-old Innovation Zone. This week, Barr brought on Daniel Gohl, who was previously in charge of innovation efforts in Newark's public school system, as the company's chief academic officer.
July 13, 2011
One firsthand account of how teachers could soon be observed
The fight over the state's new teacher evaluations has focused on the 40 percent to be based on student test scores. But the other 60 percent, based on subjective measures like principal observations, could be just as tough. That's according to one teacher reporting from a school piloting the city's stricter guidelines for classroom observations. Commenting in our Community section yesterday, a reader posting as HS Biology Teacher said that system "seems to be designed to make it extremely easy to rate any teacher ineffective if the principal wants to." The DOE has drafted a rubric for rating classroom observations, but it is very tough. To be rated effective (3), you need to really hit every competency on the rubric during each full-period observation... and that is extremely difficult given the language of the rubric.
July 8, 2011
City Council's UFT charter school support raises ire, eyebrows
People on both sides of the charter school fight are not happy about a hefty City Council earmark that's going to the teachers union's charter school. The funding, sponsored by City Councilman Erik Dilan and approved last month in the council's annual capital budget allocations, gives the union $2 million to develop a plan for moving its charter school out of the two East New York buildings it shares and into space of its own. The announcement comes as charter schools and their critics are locked in fierce debate over how the city funds and allocates space to charter schools. That dispute is central to a lawsuit, filed in May by the UFT and NAACP, that seeks to stop 16 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. The lawsuit alleges that some charter schools receive disproportionate public resources, and some of its backers say the City Council earmark is another example. Teacher activist Norm Scott called the funding "a double outrage, maybe a triple outrage."
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