Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk highlights two writing assignments, both given to seventh-graders, with widely different levels of difficulty. As Rotherham says, this is what wonks mean when they worry about an "expectations gap." I'm highlighting this because we would like to collect similar comparisons from New York City. What does student work look like at your school? What do the assignments look like? Send us your stuff so we can start comparing. We're happy to keep you and your students anonymous, as long as you give some identifying information (grade, district, public/private, charter/traditional public, large/small). The first seventh-grade assignment:
Lots of state education funding news today. First, Governor Paterson removed his proposal to enact mid-year cuts. From a letter he sent to school leaders today: While school aid reductions remain on the table, it is unlikely the Legislature will consider them any time soon. Therefore, we would be well into the final quarter of our fiscal year and even further into the school year before any action would likely occur. So mid-year is off the table, but Paterson says that means cuts next year will have to be much worse; the state simply cannot afford to ramp up school spending as it had been doing, he wrote. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity has already pushed out a response to this letter. The group, which led the 14-year-long lawsuit asking for more funding for New York City schools, asks Paterson to find ways to raise revenues before cutting budgets. One idea is to raise income taxes on wealthy New Yorkers. The full letter is below the jump, and for a review of all planned budget cuts, see my cheat sheet here.
About one in six secondary school classes in the United States is taught by a teacher who didn't major in the subject and isn't certified to teach it, a new report by the Education Trust concludes. The problem is even worse in schools with a high percentage of poor students, where more than a quarter of classes may be taught by an "out-of-field" teacher. Middle school classes and math classes are also more likely to be taught by less-expert teachers, the report says. This is worrisome because previous studies have found that secondary school teachers with more expertise in their content area get better results from students — especially in math. Bringing it closer to home, New York State does better than the national average in making sure that classes are taught by teachers who know their subjects well, according to the Education Trust report. Still, a look at more recent data shows that although it has narrowed somewhat, a teacher-qualifications gap persists in New York State.
Another Wall Street Journal report on how the financial crisis is hitting foundations highlights the Harlem Children's Zone. HCZ, run by the mayoral control proponent Geoffrey Canada, was promised $25 million grant by the Starr Foundation, which is run by Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the former chief executive officer of AIG. Now, the Journal reports: Anyone with a foundation whose endowment is heavily invested in AIG stock "is taking a bath," says Mr. Greenberg, adding that he intends to fulfill current commitments but that gifts would inevitably be fewer and smaller in the months ahead. "You can't give what you haven't got." ... Among the beneficiaries feeling the pinch are Harlem Children's Zone Inc., to which Mr. Greenberg recently pledged $25 million. "I'm spending a lot of time now thinking about how we could replace the kind of support we've received from Wall Street," says Geoffrey Canada, president of the organization, which provides parenting classes and charter schools for poor families. Mr. Canada says he is cutting 10% of his staff of 1,400. Other New York City education projects could be affected.
Writing at the Huffington Post, former Gates Foundation honcho Tom Vander Ark suggests a radical response to education budget cuts that could actually gain traction in New York City: While far from easy, states with courageous governors could use this crisis to make a radical change: cut the budget by 10% and send the money directly to schools. Every school would get a three year performance contract (i.e., charter) and would be required to join a support network (which could include what used to be a school district, a university, a non-profit like New Tech Foundation, a charter management organization like Green Dot, a for-profit like Edison Learning, or a self-organized coop). New York City schools already get to choose exactly how much bureaucratic support they want by selecting from a menu of support organizations, and paying the fee the organization (Empowerment? New Visions? Knowledge Network?) charges. What if a school could also select a new menu option: no bureaucracy at all?
The nonprofit pro-mayoral control advocacy group that was originally titled MASS, for Mayoral Accountability for Student Success, is now called Learn NY, and its official first day of existence is today. The group has close ties with the Bloomberg administration, but it is not being funded by the mayor, officials said in a background press conference with reporters this morning. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has already done impressive digging into the group's media strategy. A spokesperson for the group confirmed to me today that the blog commenter Haimson noticed voicing his passion for mayoral control is indeed on the payroll of Learn NY. Brian Keeler, an online-media specialist who ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2006 with the help of a following he built at Daily Kos, has been posting positive comments on this blog, Leonie's, and others. He is also an employee of the Web design firm that built Learn NY's Web site and will write a regular blog on the site, the spokesperson, Julie Wood, said. Something that will surely be asked — especially by critics of mayoral control and the Bloomberg administration, including Haimson — is how much of a "MASS" organization Learn NY really is.