A group of New York City mothers are appealing to divine intervention to stop the renewal of mayoral control, with a daylong fast that starts a minute before midnight tonight. "I am hoping that the legislators in Albany, if they don't have direct knowledge of how bad things are for our children, that they will be influenced by the hand of the Lord on their heads," said Benita Lovett-Rivera, one of the event's organizers. From tonight until 8:19 p.m. tomorrow — the official sunset — opponents of mayoral control citywide will abstain from eating and drinking. At 7 p.m. they will gather in small groups for "fervent" prayer and to sing the protest song "We Shall Overcome," Lovett-Rivera said. She told me she has heard from nearly a thousand people who said they would participate. The fast was the brainchild of a small group of mothers who attended a recent town hall meeting about mayoral control in Brooklyn (that Elizabeth moderated), where Major Owens, the former longtime congressman from Brooklyn, said he wished opponents of mayoral control would mobilize to stop the school governance law from being renewed, rather than just hold forums about it.
A few years ago, after more than 20 years of full-time college teaching, I taught a course on survey research methods for the first time. Was I a novice teacher? Not at all, from the standpoint of having taught well over a thousand students and around 75 courses over that period. Yes, certainly, in the sense that I was teaching this subject matter at this level for the very first time. Some of what I had learned from my teaching experience, such as how to organize a class, or assess student learning—what we might call general pedagogical knowledge—would readily transfer to this new teaching setting. And I felt that I knew the subject matter of the course quite well. But I was still a novice in discerning which course topics students might struggle with, or what the best way to present a particular topic might be—what Lee Shulman and others have called "pedagogical content knowledge." The next time I taught the course, I felt that the experience gleaned from the first time around gave me much more insight into how to sequence the material, which topics needed additional time to master, and when an informal explanation was more useful than a technical one. If my teaching experience at the time I first taught this class were being gauged by administrative records, or a paper-and-pencil survey, it's very likely that I would have been recorded as having more than 20 years of experience. And yet I was a novice at teaching this subject at this level of schooling. We might get a different picture of the distribution of teaching experience in a population of teachers if we looked at how much experience a teacher has teaching a particular subject—e.g., math, or reading—at a particular grade level—e.g., second grade, or sixth grade. There's some recent evidence on this in the technical report for the Teacher Data Initiative, the NYC Department of Education's effort to generate a value-added measure for individual teachers' contributions to their students' performance on the state math and ELA exams. The technical report shows the distribution of years of teaching overall for fifth-grade teachers in New York City, as well as the distribution of the number of years of experience teaching math at the fifth-grade level and reading at the fifth-grade level. I wouldn't place too much stock in the precise numbers for experience teaching a particular subject at the fifth-grade level, as they were produced specifically for the Teacher Data Initiative from teacher course-assignment data from 2000-01 to 2007-08, and these course-assignment data are a work in progress. In contrast, the overall years of teaching experience are from the DOE's human resources records. There are experience data for 95% of the teachers.
There's another round of federal stimulus dollars that local school districts can hope for, but it may be out of reach for New York schools. That's because the state has a law Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says could jeopardize applications for the funds: a cap on the number of charter schools educators are allowed to create. Duncan told Congress last week that, in awarding a new pot of stimulus funds meant to encourage innovation, he will give preference to states without charter school caps. He said he would also give preference to states with caps that agree to lift them. The pot includes $5 billion to be given through a competitive grant process known as the "Race to The Top." Chancellor Joel Klein has indicated that he wants to apply for Race to the Top funds to expand innovations such as the citywide data system and the bonus program for schools whose students show improvement on test scores.
Teach for America is reassuring its 2009 corps members assigned to New York City public schools that they'll likely have spots come September — despite a hiring freeze that prohibits most Department of Education principals from hiring new teachers. The assurances came in an e-mail message to people who were hired to join schools via Teach For America in September. "Despite some of the uncertainty that exists currently across the city, the NYCDOE and our charter partners continue to provide us with enough evidence to suggest that placing 230 corps members in district schools, and the remaining 100 in charter schools, will be possible," Jemina Bernard, the executive director of Teach For America's New York City branch, wrote in the e-mail. The hiring freeze, announced earlier this month, prohibits principals at district schools that have operated for more than three years from filling vacancies with new teachers. A tight budget situation has already inspired Teach For America to scale down the number of people it recruited to work in New York City, and Teach For America is now sending more of its corps members to city charter schools, which are exempt from the hiring freeze. Bernard's e-mail message explains exceptions to the freeze, and it tells prospective teachers that the majority of them cannot be hired "unless and until the restrictions are lifted." The Teach For America corps member who sent the message to me said many corps members were calmed by the note. "There's no evidence to suggest that we can't hold them to their word," the corps member said. "If they were going to screw this up, they would know by now." But the email's sender was skeptical and thought Teach For America was being overly optimistic.
Teach for America, the program that places new teachers in hard-to-staff public schools, is planning to send nearly a third of its new New York City teachers to charter schools this fall, up from just 3% in 2005, internal TFA projections show. The shift to charter schools insulates the latest batch of Teach For America teachers from a new-teacher hiring freeze the city announced earlier this month. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated, so they aren't subject to the freeze and can hire any certified teacher, whether she is already in the Department of Education system or not. The move follows a downsizing in Teach For America's pool to about 300 from 500 teachers last year. The city's dismal budget picture led to the retraction.
In a reminder that only six months remain before the current city teachers contract expires, the teachers' union is now telephone-polling members with questions like "How do you feel about seniority?" and "How do you feel about paying for health care?" The teacher-blogger NYC Educator first reported the questions on his blog yesterday, relaying questions that were posed to an unnamed teacher in a phone call. One of the most prescient questions on that list asks teachers when they'd like contract negotiations to end — before or after the 2009 mayoral election? The contract is set to expire in October, and the election is in November. Negotiating a contract before the election would mean working with Mayor Bloomberg for sure, rather than whoever wins the 2009 mayoral race. It could also offer a boost to the mayor's re-election campaign, as happened in 2005. Nailing down a contract before the 2009 election could also have an impact on the debate on mayoral control. Some have suggested that the union could, for instance, make a concession on its demanded checks and balances to the mayor's power over schools now in exchange for help in the contract later.
The city should be prepared to see the average class size continue to increase this fall, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told members of the City Council today. During a hearing this morning about the Department of Education's proposed budget, finance committee chair David Weprin asked Klein what might happen to class sizes next year, when school budgets are cut by more than 5 percent, especially given that schools used $84 million to reduce class sizes this year yet the average class size went up for the first time in several years. "I think they will increase, not dramatically," Klein said, explaining that the expected decline in the size of the teaching force through attrition would likely cause class sizes to inch up. Education committee chair Robert Jackson asked Klein how watchdogs can make sure that state class size reduction money is being spent on its intended purpose if class sizes continue to increase.
PHOTO: Geoff Decker / ChalkbeatImage from the DOE's Parent Link Web site First it was principals, then it was teachers, and now parents are next in line to gain access to ARIS, the Department of Education's data warehouse. Each school will give parents passwords to log into the Parent Link section of ARIS sometime "between now and the end of the school year," according to DOE spokesman Andy Jacob. Once logged in, parents will be able to monitor their child's test scores. The department is planning to hold a press conference tomorrow to debut Parent Link, ARIS's previously missing puzzle piece, Jacob said. But the site is already up and running, and it appears that at least one school has given parents their usernames and temporary passwords: A commenter on Insideschools reports having received a password to access Parent Link — and finding that some of the information there was incorrect.
When City Council Member Bill de Blasio criticized the Department of Education's bill of rights for parents as being too limited last week, it was the first many of us had ever heard of such a document. Now, just a week later, the document has expanded, ballooning to an eight-page list of 57 enumerated rights divided into four sections. That's up from five one-sentence rights published on a single Web page. A spokesman for de Blasio said school officials alerted his office to the new bill of rights yesterday, the same day the document appeared on the department's Web site. In a statement, de Blasio said he is encouraged by the expansion, but not satisfied. The new version outlines a litany of specific rights for parents, including the right to receive their children's full instructional schedule, the right to have meetings about their children's educational record, and the right to communicate with teachers. The original bill of rights, which is also still published online, in English and a slate of other languages, was more vague, affording parents the right to things like "a free public school education" for their children and to "be actively involved in the education of their children." The new version does not include one of de Blasio's recommendations, though: the right to attend a zoned school in their neighborhood. De Blasio called that omission "troubling." His full statement is below the jump. UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the department, Nicole Duignan, said school officials have actually been working on the expanded document for two years. She said the family engagement and advocacy office built it "based on input and experience from parents who wish to play an active role in their children's education." "We always welcome ideas and suggestions from elected officials to promote and improve parent involvement in our schools," Duignan said.