PHOTO: G.TatterThe Department of Education created videos to explain the reports. View them ##http://schools.nyc.gov/Teachers/TeacherDevelopment/TeacherDataToolkit/LearnKeyConcepts/Videos/VIdeo2.htm##here##. The Department of Education is moving to extend a program that judges teachers based on their students' test scores — and it plans to start paying for the project with taxpayer dollars, at a projected cost of $1.5 million over the next three years. A formal request for vendor proposals released today indicates officials are also mulling an expansion of the program to more teachers. The program, called the Teacher Data Initiative, launched quietly this school year after causing a politically explosive fight between the DOE and the teachers union the year before. The reports allow principals to track the "value" teachers add to students by looking at student test scores from one year to the next. The teachers union here has gone along with programs to judge entire schools based on test scores, but it drew the line at measuring individual teachers' performance, arguing that so-called "value-added" models risk unfairly misjudging teachers. (Many academic researchers make this claim as well.) After news of the effort surfaced, the union fought back by ushering a bill into state law that made it illegal for the city to use test scores when making decisions about job security. Both Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein decried the bill (Bloomberg called it a "special interest protection"), which the legislature passed with no public debate, and the data reports went out as planned.
A SurveyQuest comparison of two Bronx high schools. Out of all the criticisms that have been hurled at the Department of Education's accountability regime, there's one that I don't think even the DOE would dispute: The reports that explain every school's grade, review, and survey results are too hard to find. To fetch these documents, a parent or principal or poor old reporter must first traverse a maze of Web links. Then she must risk possible system crash to open the PDF documents that house the reports. And please do not consider comparing two different schools' grades or even one school's grade over two different years. Before you know it you will have too many windows open and think about something else, like maybe a cookie. This week, officials made a move to change that, launching a new online tool called SurveyQuest that allows users to sift through the results of surveys given to parents, teachers, and students at every school. SurveyQuest also offers a tool that allows users to compare two different schools.
I recently reported about one mother's high marks for the amount of testing at her son's school, Explore Charter School in Brooklyn. Today I asked Morty Ballen, Explore's founding principal, exactly how often Explore students are tested. That depends on how testing is defined, Ballen answered. "There's a really big difference between test prep and getting information from assessments," he told me. Where tests, and test prep, are meant to judge students and teachers, assessments are used to generate information that teachers can use to improve their instruction, Ballen said. Explore prefers assessments. So how are Explore students assessed, and how often? In a variety of ways, and every day. Here's a summary of the school's testing regimen: Students complete tests and assignments that their teachers create on a daily basis. They also take interim assessments several times during the year to give their teachers information about their progress in math, science, and social studies. These tests are created by Explore's teachers.
Chancellor Joel Klein conducted at least one of his meetings with lawmakers in his office at Tweed Courthouse. After suffering a beating from legislators who accused him of being rudely unresponsive to their concerns since taking office in 2003, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is taking the hint and reaching out. In the last few weeks, Klein has walked Mark Weprin, a Queens lawmaker who is one of his sharpest critics on the Assembly's education committee, through his Tweed Courthouse headquarters; sat down with a handful of other lawmakers; and made appointments with more, including the committee's chairwoman, Catherine Nolan. He has also begun, through his staff, to send out prompt replies to lawmakers' requests. "We’re getting letters answered, we’re getting information that we’ve asked for," a spokeswoman for Nolan, Kathleen Whynot, said. "We have a really good working relationship right now with some of the DOE staff, which has been a nice addition." Assembly members said the outreach began after they launched a series of five hearings on the subject of mayoral control — the governance structure that Klein strongly supports, but which several lawmakers have criticized as authoritarian. The state legislature handed the mayor control in 2002, but the law they wrote sunsets this year, and so many in Albany are rolling up their sleeves and hoping to revise it. The hearings were a chance for citizens to give their thoughts on how they'd like the law changed (or not). They also became opportunities for the lawmakers to air their concerns. Several of the complaints had to do specifically with Klein and his staff, who lawmakers said frequently failed to respond even to basic questions and concerns. The complaints accelerated at a hearing held in Manhattan where Klein himself testified, sitting before a row of lawmakers who took turns rebuking him.
Yesterday's Quinnipiac poll results showed the chancellor's popularity holding steady. But no one would call him popular — his approval rating has never broken the 50 percent mark. Not true for charter schools. The poll results Quinnipiac released today show that 67 percent of registered voters in New York City want to see more charter schools open. Among public school parents, the number rose to 72 percent. Support for an expansion was highest in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where charters are prevalent. One caveat: Only registered voters were polled. In a city of immigrants, many public school parents are not registered to vote. As far as I can tell, this is the first time Quinnipiac has asked about charters.
New York State United Teachers, the state chapter of the city teachers union, just announced that the union is on the brink of adding about 500 1,200 lifeguards into its fold. The lifeguards used to belong to another union, but they sought out NYSUT hoping it would offer "stronger representation," according to the press release below. Most of NYSUT's 600,000 members are teachers (and most of those are in New York City) but the union also represents some groups that aren't affiliated with schools, including hospital nurses, group home workers, and day care providers. Read background on how lifeguards got unionized here. Here's the NYSUT press release: Lifeguards join NYSUT seeking a voice, better pay & improved safety ALBANY, N.Y. February 25, 2009 — Along with their whistles, sun block and rescue buoys, some 1,200 state lifeguards, including nearly 500 who protect beachgoers on Long Island’s shores, will be carrying something else on their stands this summer — a NYSUT union card. New York State United Teachers announced today that state-employed lifeguards who protect pools, lakes and beaches from Lake Erie to Montauk are affiliating with the 600,000-member union. The NYSUT Board of Directors will formally vote to accept the new local union — known as the New York State Lifeguard Corps — on Saturday, ending a nearly six-year legal odyssey that started when lifeguards began seeking better pay, improved training and safety equipment, and a voice in their working conditions.
The Daily News reported yesterday that Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education's headquarters, added bureaucrats to its staff as the city schools underwent millions of dollars of budget cuts. That's true: Official records show that there were 30 more people working at Tweed this January than in January of 2008. But outside of Tweed, in a set of administrative offices scattered across the five boroughs, DOE bureaucrats are losing their jobs. These other offices — a mix of "integrated service centers" and "school support organizations," which help schools with tasks like managing payroll, providing food, and teacher training — lost a combined 114 staff in the last year. I don't know the breakdown between SSO and ISC cuts, or what kind of jobs were lost; I've asked the DOE, and would love reader advice on this.
President Obama talked quite a bit about education last night in his address to Congress and the American people, setting out a number of priorities that will soon be backed up with resources from the economic recovery package. But there's something about the staging of this that makes me very nervous: most of the key positions in the U.S. Department of Education that involve policy development and implementation, and the administration of the Department's resources, are not yet filled by individuals chosen by the new administration. It's now been more than a month since President Obama's inauguration, and more than two months since he nominated Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education. Yet here is a list of just some of the key positions that remain open or staffed by acting individuals on the ED organizational chart: