New York

At a city school, Stephen Colbert earnestly reports on new grant

Stephen Colbert appeared at Manhattan Bridges High School this morning to announce a $4 million grant that will help teachers buy supplies. The comedian Stephen Colbert took time out from his regular ranting to conduct a polite, earnest interview at a Manhattan high school this morning, in an appearance meant to announce a new "citizen philanthropy" project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is giving $4.1 million to a Web site that connects private donors with classroom teachers who need extra supplies, DonorsChoose.org, . Colbert, who sits on the site's board, made the announcement in the style of his televised interviews, before an audience of students at Manhattan Bridges High School, but without any of his usual mean comments. (He did draw laughs with an awkward attempt to use Spanish, the native language of many Bridges students, to explain that he was a "perdedor gigante," or giant loser, when he was in high school.) The panel he interviewed included Vicki Phillips, the head of Gates' education division; DonorsChoose founder Charles Best; and a Manhattan Bridges English teacher. The Gates money will be disbursed to teachers who apply for small grants through DonorsChoose's existing "Double Your Impact" program, which allows foundations and companies to earmark donations for specific kinds of projects. When a DonorsChoose user views projects that fall into that category, they appear as already being 50 percent funded. The Gates Foundation money will go to support as many as 17,000 projects that are identified by DonorsChoose as boosting students' readiness for college, one of the new goals the foundation adopted after it re-considered its mission last year.
New York

Fugitive from the Facts

Joel Klein sure gets his name in the papers a lot.  Last week, Klein placed an op-ed piece in the Daily News that was an abridged version of a longer essay appearing in U.S. News and World Report.  "Stop making excuses," the Chancellor commanded.  Teachers, principals, superintendents, and citizens who claim that poverty is an insurmountable impediment to student achievement need to get out of the way and let the real reformers take over.  "The truth is," Klein wrote, "that America will never fix poverty until it fixes its urban schools." Wow.  Setting aside the obvious—i.e., the fact that fixing urban schools will probably have little impact on the 15% of rural children under the age of 18 living in poverty—this is a bold assertion that "great schools," especially networks of charter schools, can succeed in closing the achievement gap and reducing social and economic inequality where nothing else has.  It's not spending and school resources that matter;  it's high-performing charter schools. To support this contention, Chancellor Klein cites the recent study of charter and pilot schools in Boston.  This study finds that students who won lotteries to enter charter schools in Boston outperformed their peers in traditional public schools, as did students in charter schools who were matched with similar students in traditional public schools.  Promising evidence for charter schools, but weak support for the notion that attending charter schools can close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers, and weaker still for charter schools as the centerpiece of a public policy initiative to fix poverty.
New York

NYU is building an accountability system to measure its teachers

Robert Tobias The former testing czar at the old Board of Education, Robert Tobias, sometimes offers criticism of the accountability programs being produced these days at Tweed Courthouse. He's also been hatching an accountability system of his own — this one to study the effectiveness of teachers produced by New York University's school of education, where he now works. Preliminary results suggest that teachers trained at NYU are getting above-average results in English, but they give students no extra boost on math tests, Tobias said last week at the educational research conference Philissa and I attended in San Diego. He also found that NYU-trained elementary-school teachers produced significantly greater results for students than middle-school teachers, and that the teachers get better as they become more experienced. The effect tapers off at between five and nine years into the job, he said. Tobias's results could provide one clue about what's being found in an ongoing research project about teacher training programs in New York City. So far, that project has found that different programs produced different student results but has not named the programs that had the largest effects. The results could also be important as alternative teacher training programs like Teach For America increasingly bring into question the need for traditional programs based entirely at universities. "As a dean I want to say I want to steal these three and have them do it at my school," said Rick Ginsberg, who runs the education school at the University of Kansas, referring to the professors working with Tobias. “We’re fighting this battle all the time.”
New York

Why NAEP Matters

NYC Chancellor Joel Klein's response in Wednesday's New York Times to Diane Ravitch's op-ed last week provides a lot to chew on.  Today, I'm focusing on his comments about the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is also known as the Nation's Report Card.  NAEP began collecting data in 1969, and remains the only federal assessment designed to report on trends in the academic performance of U.S. children and youth.  All 50 states and the District of Columbia participate in NAEP, as does New York City and an increasing number of other urban school districts.  NAEP has an annual operating budget of more than $130 million per year, which represents a significant share of federal investments in education research.  Though not an expert on testing and assessment, Diane Ravitch has a long-standing interest in NAEP—she was appointed to the bipartisan National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, during President Bill Clinton's second term, and remained on the board until 2004. One of the ways that NAEP differs from many other standardized tests is that NAEP is designed to yield a much wider picture of the subject-matter knowledge the test is intended to measure.  Many standardized tests are designed to provide an accurate picture of a particular child's performance.  It's efficient to do so by having all test-takers respond to the same set of test items.  If a group of fourth-graders all answer the same 45 items in a 90-minute math exam, we can learn a lot about performance on those particular items, which are chosen to be representative of the content domain they are supposed to represent (such as fourth-grade math).  But such a test would tell us little about student performance on other items that might have a different format, or address different fourth-grade math skills.  NAEP addresses this problem by having many more test items, but no child answers all of the items, because that would take hours and hours of testing time.  Instead, each child responds to a sample of the items, and the performance on these items is combined across children to yield a picture of the performance of children in general.  Testing experts such as Dan Koretz at Harvard believe that assessments such as NAEP are less vulnerable to score inflation than state assessments because it's more challenging to engage in inappropriate test preparation when there are so many potential test items a student might respond to.  But the tradeoff is that NAEP is not designed to provide a reliable and accurate measure of performance for a particular child.    Let's look at what the Chancellor had to say about NAEP:
New York

Moskowitz asks Weingarten to retract her "hypocrite" accusation

The latest in the cue-card extravaganza: Here's a letter that the former City Council member-turned-charter school operator Eva Moskowitz just sent to teachers union president Randi Weingarten, her rival. The letter is a response to Weingarten's appearance on Fox 5's Good Day New York this morning. Weingarten told Fox 5 that City Council members commonly ask the teachers union for advice on issues. She said that Moskowitz herself asked for information when she chaired the council's education committee. "I find that people shouldn't be hypocrites," Weingarten said. "Eva used to ask us all the time when she was education chair for questions to prep the City Council about, you know, what's really going on in schools." Moskowitz writes back today in a letter to Weingarten saying that the characterization is false — and demanding a retraction: I never asked the UFT or any party to propose questions for me.  I held over a hundred days of hearings as Chairperson of the Education Committee.  I demand that you identify a single instance in which I asked the UFT for questions or used questions prepared for me by the UFT.  You will be unable to find such an example because it does not exist.  In light of that, please retract your inaccurate and defamatory statement. A rivalry between Weingarten and Moskowitz burst open in 2005 when Weingarten campaigned heavily against Moskowitz's bid for borough president of Manhattan. Moskowitz had targeted labor unions in hearings when she chaired the education committee. This week, Moskowitz testified at the same hearing that drew the controversy that a "union-political complex" is holding the city back. Here's the full letter:
New York

Two efforts to improve a school, with two different sets of tools

New York

DOE releases SSO performance data; let the crunching begin

One thing that went under the radar during the nonstop news cycle of the last few weeks is a sizable data dump from the Department of Education, which for the first time released statistical reports about the 11 organizations that support the city's schools. The reports went online last week to inaugurate the period when schools can choose which organization they want to affiliate with. The organizations, called School Support Organizations, or SSOs, have provided support services to individual schools for the last two years in place of the traditional school-district bureaucracy. This is the first time that the DOE has allowed schools to change the affiliation they originally selected back in 2007. The new reports include a chart (above) comparing the SSOs according to their schools' progress report scores, quality review evaluations, and principal satisfaction survey results. The result is the public evaluation that Eric Nadelstern, the DOE's chief schools officer who formerly ran the Empowerment organization, said back in January was being cooked up the department's accountability office. The comparison, which takes into account school data from the 2007-2008 school year, shows that the SSO run by the City University of New York did the best, followed closely by the Empowerment organization. The reports are available on the DOE's Web site only in PDF format, and there is a different one for each organization. A DOE spokeswoman told me that the department had not made available a database compiling the data, so I went ahead and made one, available here or after the jump. I also went one step further and added some calculations of my own, based on the DOE's data: The percent change in progress report and quality review scores from 2007 to 2008. Among my first impressions: Schools either improved their internal operations significantly between 2007 and 2008, or else they figured out how to look like they had improved, because the percentage of schools receiving top ratings on their Quality Reviews jumped in every organization. If you have more statistics knowhow than I do and some extra time on your hands (like during this school vacation), take a look and note what you see. Leave your observations in the comments.
New York

A unionized charter school says it was betrayed by the unions

Renaissance students organized a protest against the freeze in their budget. Staff at a Queens charter school that is represented by several city labor unions are growing frustrated with the unions, which they worry sat quietly by while state lawmakers slashed charter school budgets two weeks ago. The school, Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, is expecting a cut of between $500,000 and $600,000 from what was projected for next year after state lawmakers froze planned funding increases to charter schools two weeks ago. Charter school activists have said that they're hopeful that Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who founded another unionized charter school in Queens, will yet restore the extra funds to charter schools, but no deal has been struck yet. That leaves teachers at Renaissance planning for possible teacher layoffs and big program cuts. (The $500,000 cut from the increase the school was expecting is especially hard to shoulder given that pension costs are skyrocketing by $300,000 next year and teacher salaries are slated to go up.) A main frustration, a Renaissance administrator said, is that the unions to which Renaissance's staff belong did not give them a heads up about the cuts — even though staff repeatedly asked union leaders if they should expect a cut. "Our members here feel shafted," Nicholas Tishuk, Renaissance's director of programs and accountability, said. "We were told that this charter school cut was mentioned two months ago, and it hasn’t been on anyone’s lips. And then we find out the Sunday night before the vote on Tuesday that not only was it on everyone’s lips; it’s actually happening." Most charter schools in New York City are not represented by teachers unions, since the schools operate outside of the Department of Education and therefore do not see their staffs unionize automatically. But the union has fought to bring charter schools teachers into its fold. Their slow but steady inclusion has put the union in the tricky position of on the one hand lobbying for limits on charter schools, while, on the other hand, representing some charter school staff.
New York

Teachers union sent scripted questions to City Council members

Council Member Simcha Felder displays one of the cue cards a teachers union representative handed him. At today's education committee hearing, City Council members took turns questioning Department of Education officials on the rise of charters schools. Their questions were passionate, specific, and universally accusatory. They may have also been scripted. Just before the hearing began, a representative of the city teachers union, which describes itself as in favor of charter schools, discreetly passed out a set of index cards to Council members, each printed with a pre-written question. One batch of cards offered questions for the Department of Education, all of them challenging the proliferation of charter schools. "Doesn't the Department have a clear legal and moral responsibility to provide every family in the city guaranteed seats for their children in a neighborhood elementary school?" one card suggested members ask school officials. "Isn't the fundamental problem here the Department's abdication of its most important responsibility to provide quality district public schools in all parts of the city?" another card said. (View more of the cards in a slideshow here.) Several council members picked up on the line of thought. "Shouldn’t we aspire to have every school in the city good enough for parents to feel comfortable sending their children?" Melinda Katz, a Council member from Queens, said in questioning school officials. "I remember when Joel Klein became the chancellor," the committee chair, Robert Jackson, said. "Back then, he used to talk about making every neighborhood school a good school where every parent would want to send their children. I don’t hear him talk about that anymore." Asked about the cards, union president Randi Weingarten provided a statement saying that she regretted the tactic. "We are often asked by the council for information and ideas about various issues. Additionally, when I am available, I often respond to what others testify to. In this instance, I was in Washington and couldn’t be at City Hall," she said in the statement. "I am proud of the testimony we gave today, but I regret the manner in which our other concerns were shared."
New York

City Council moves to regulate city's placement of charter schools

The former chair of the City Council education committee, Eva Moskowitz, talked to the current chair, Robert Jackson, before today's hearing on charter schools. Moskowitz runs a charter school network, while Jackson said he is skeptical of charter schools. (<em>GothamSchools</em>, Flickr) City Council members today moved to regulate the process of placing charter schools in public school buildings, introducing a resolution that they said would avoid conflicts between families at neighborhood schools and new charter schools placed inside of them. Right now, Department of Education officials offer some charter schools space in public school buildings on their own, but the space-sharing arrangements are sometimes contentious. (Charter schools receive public funding, but operate outside of the DOE watch and are not guaranteed space in public school buildings.) The Council resolution would force the department to follow some kind of a regular procedure — probably involving a requirement to work with members of a neighborhood — before it could place a charter school in a public building. "Make community stakeholders part of that process," City Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, of the Bronx, said. "You fail miserably at including the people that have to deal with the fallout of the decisions that you make." Council Member Jessica Lappin of Manhattan, who chairs the council's work on public land use issues, said that charter schools should be placed in the same way that new traditional public schools are placed. "I have worked very hard to bring community members, principals, and the Department of Education together so that we can resolve the issues that inevitably arise," Lappin said. Why, she asked, shouldn't charter schools be placed in the same way? Testifying before the council, Department of Education officials said they agree that they need to improve the way that they bring in new schools, but they declined to support the resolution that would force them to follow a new procedure when doing it.