First Person

Ask an Expert: My school is failing to make 'adequate yearly progress'

Q. I recently received a disturbing letter regarding my school. I love my neighborhood school, but the letter indicated it’s not meeting adequate yearly progress under NCLB and it said I could send my daughter to a higher performing school and that her transportation would be covered and she would be guaranteed placement. I don’t know how to make sense of this. I am leaning toward keeping my daughter at the school and staying involved as a parent, but it feels as if someone is giving up on us. What if many parents pull out their kids? What happens to the school then, or in the future? Should I reconsider my gut feeling to keep my daughter at this school? She has three years to go.

Many reasons to choose a school – beyond CSAP

First, do your research

You have asked a timely and important question that is also quite complex.  I am going to provide some short answers, and also direct you to the Colorado Department of Education where there are pages and pages of information about Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP):

http://www.cde.state.co.us/FedPrograms/danda/ayp.asp

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools have a target for all children to be proficient in reading and math as measured by CSAP (or soon to be TCAP) by spring 2014.  When NCLB was adopted, targets were set for each year leading up to 2014. For 2011, the target was near 95 percent for elementary schools in reading and writing with slightly lower percentages required for middle and high schools. So, in order for schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) they must have 95 percent of students earning partially proficient, proficient, or advanced on CSAP in reading and math.

Please note that for AYP, students earning “partially proficient” are counted as “proficient.”  There is also a requirement that 95 percent of students in CSAP testing areas be tested. In addition, there are some ways that schools can show significant improvement to achieve AYP without meeting the targets. But, most schools meeting AYP do so through having nearly 95 percent of students earning partially proficient, proficient, or advanced on CSAP in reading and math.

Many schools fail to meet AYP

In 2010, only 62 percent of schools achieved AYP.  Your daughter’s school is certainly not alone in not making AYP!  For Title I schools, those schools receiving additional funding due to higher percentages of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, there are significant implications of not meeting AYP.  The second consecutive year in which a Title I schools fails to meet AYP a letter must be sent to parents telling parents of this and allowing parents to transfer their child(ren) to another school in the district that is making AYP.  That is why you received the letter that you received.  It is required by NCLB that parents are notified if their school is not making AYP after the second year.

What happens in the third year or beyond of not making AYP

If the school fails to make AYP for a third year, they must provide supplemental services to students who are low-income and low-performing.  For instance, they may provide after-school tutoring at no cost to families.  After four and five years of not making AYP, schools may face corrective action and restructuring.  Corrective action may be something such as required additional professional development for the staff.  Restructuring may include such things as hiring a new principal or new staff members.

Not all families jump ship

In my experience, some families will decide to move their child after receiving this letter, but many will not.  For many families, the alternative provided by the district presents challenges.

Although transportation is provided to the other school, it is much harder for parents to be involved when the school is farther away from home.  My guess is that families who are very concerned about CSAP results likely have already moved their child out of the school or chose a different school from the beginning.  If you feel like your daughter is receiving a good education where she is, then I would suggest leaving her at the school.  There are so many other measures of success for a school.

Other reasons for open enrolling

Kathleen LutteneggerI open enroll my daughter into another elementary school in our district.  I think her school is absolutely wonderful!  That said, it pales in comparison to what would be our assigned school based on CSAP alone. Our assigned school has extremely high CSAP scores whereas the school we choose tends to score much lower.  However, I know that the school she is at is much better suited for her as a learner and for us as a family. I am involved at her school and I feel confident about what she is learning and doing as a student.  That is much more important to me than her school’s CSAP scores, which tend to reflect family income perhaps more than the quality of education.

– Kathleen Luttenegger

Ask yourself these key questions

I love your thoughtful, considered approach to this letter offering change.  There are not many places in our lives that consider or encourage slow, measured decision making.  Taking that approach is encouraging to me and great modeling for your kids.

As you work with this concern you might do a pro/con column.  Ask questions such as:

  • What would you gain by moving?
  • What would you lose?
  • What would gain by staying? Lose?
  • Who is sending in the letter?
  • What would they gain if you moved?
  • What would they lose?

Suzanne LustieYou know what is good for you, your family and your community.  There isn’t a perfect school.  We make the best choice we can for our kids and our family and then work with that decision.

NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is only one measure.  It’s a measure that is not universally recognized.  It’s unfortunate that a letter would cite that as a reason for dismissing what another school is doing.  If a school is taking care of business you will be able to see that with several measures not just one.

I encourage you to broaden the lens you are using if you are curious after a pro/con exercise turns up reasons for further exploration.  Thank you for being the kind of thoughtful parent that makes our schools thrive.

– Suzanne Lustie

First Person

I was an attorney representing school districts in contract talks. Here’s why I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t weaken teachers unions.

PHOTO: Creative Commons / supermac1961

Many so-called education reformers argue that collective bargaining — and unions — are obstacles to real change in education. It’s common to hear assertions about how “restrictive” contracts and “recalcitrant” unions put adult interests over children’s.

The underlying message: if union power were minimized and collective bargaining rights weakened or eliminated, school leaders would be able to enact sweeping changes that could disrupt public education’s status quo.

Those that subscribe to this view are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At issue is the constitutionality of “agency” or “fair share” fees — employee payroll deductions that go to local unions, meant to cover the costs of negotiating and implementing a bargaining agreement.

In states that permit agency fees (there are about 20), a teacher may decline to be part of a union but must still pay those fees. If the Supreme Court rules that those agency fees are unconstitutional, and many teachers do not voluntarily pay, local unions will be deprived of resources needed to negotiate and enforce bargaining agreements.

Based on my experience as an attorney representing school districts in bargaining and contract issues, I have this to say to those hoping the Court will strike down these fees: be careful what you wish for.

Eliminating fair share fees (and trying to weaken unions) represents a misguided assumption about bargaining — that the process weakens school quality. To the contrary, strong relationships with unions, built through negotiations, can help create the conditions for student and school success. Indeed, in my experience, the best superintendents and school boards seized bargaining as an opportunity to advance their agenda, and engaged unions as partners whenever possible.

Why, and how, can this work? For one, the process of negotiations provides a forum for school leaders and teachers to hear one another’s concerns and goals. In my experience, this is most effective in districts that adopt “interest-based bargaining,” which encourages problem-solving as starting point for discussions as opposed to viewing bargaining as a zero-sum game.

Interest-based bargaining begins with both sides listing their major concerns and brainstorming solutions. The touchstone for a solution to be adopted in a bargaining agreement: Is the proposal in the best interests of children? This important question, if embedded in the process, forces both sides to carefully consider their shared mission.

For example, some districts I worked with paid teachers less than comparable neighboring districts did. It would have been unreasonable for unions to insist that their pay be increased enough to even that difference out, because that would mean reducing investments in other items of importance to children, like technology or infrastructure. At the same time, it would have been untenable for management to play “hard ball” and deny the problem, because to do so would likely lead to a disgruntled workforce.

Instead, both sides were forced to “own” the issue and collaboratively craft plausible solutions. That made unions more agreeable to proposals that demonstrated some commitment by the district to addressing the issue of pay, and districts open to other things that they could provide without breaking the budget (like more early release days for professional development).

To be sure, many school administrators could get frustrated with the process of bargaining or having to consult the negotiated agreement when they want to make a change. Some districts would very much like to adopt an extended school day, for example, but they know that they must first consult and negotiate such an idea with the union.

Yet, in districts where school administrators had built a reservoir of goodwill through collective bargaining, disagreement does not come at the cost of operating schools efficiently. Both sides come to recognize that while they inevitably will disagree on some things, they can also seek agreement — and often do on high-stakes matters, like teacher evaluations.

How does this relate to the Supreme Court’s pending decision? Without fees from some teachers, unions may lack the resources to ensure that contract negotiations and enforcement are robust and done well. This could create a vicious cycle: teachers who voluntarily pay fees for bargaining in a post-Janus world, assuming the court rules against the unions, will view such payments as not delivering any return on investment. In turn, they will stop contributing voluntarily, further degrading the quality of the union’s services.

Even more troubling, if fair share fees are prohibited, resentment and internal strife will arise between those who continue to pay the fees and those who refuse. This would undercut a primary benefit of bargaining — labor peace and a sense of shared purpose.

Speaking as a parent, this raises a serious concern: who wants to send their child to a school where there is an undercurrent of bitterness between teachers and administrators that will certainly carry over into the classroom?

It is easy to see the appeal of those opposing agency fees. No one wants to see more money going out of their paycheck. The union-as-bogeyman mentality is pervasive. Moreover, in my experience, some teachers (especially the newer ones) do not recognize the hidden benefits to bargaining contracts.

But, obvious or not, agency fees help promote a stable workplace that allows teachers to concentrate on their primary responsibility: their students. Removing the key ingredient threatens this balance.

Mark Paige is a former school teacher and school law attorney who represented school districts in New England. He is currently an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth.

First Person

I’m a Florida teacher in the era of school shootings. This is the terrifying reality of my classroom during a lockdown drill.

Outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“Remember,” I tell the children, looking them in the eyes in the darkened classroom. “Remember to keep the scissors open. They’ll stab better that way.”

My students, the target demographic for many a Disney Channel sitcom, laugh nervously at me as they try to go back to their conversations. I stare at the talkative tweens huddling in a corner and sigh.

“Seriously, class,” I say in the tone that teachers use to make goosebumps rise. As they turn back to me with nervous laughter, I hold up that much-maligned classroom tool, the metal scissor that’s completely ineffective at cutting paper. “If a gunman breaks in, I’ll be in the opposite corner with the utility knife.” Said tool is in my hand, and more often used to cut cardboard for projects. All the blood it’s hitherto tasted has been accidental. “If I distract him and you can’t get out, we have to rush him.” I don’t mention that my classroom is basically an inescapable choke point. It is the barrel. We are the fish.

They lapse into silence, sitting between the wires under the corner computer tables. I return to my corner, sidestepping a pile of marbles I’ve poured out as a first line of defense, staring at the classroom door. It’s been two hours of this interminable lockdown. This can’t be a drill, but no information will be forthcoming until it’s all over.

I wonder if I really believe these actions would do anything, or am I just perpetrating upon my students and myself the 21st century version of those old “Duck and Cover” posters.

We wait.

The lockdown eventually ends. I file it away in the back of my head like the others. Scissors are handed back with apathy, as if we were just cutting out paper continents for a plate tectonics lab. The tool and marbles go back into the engineering closet. And then, this Wednesday, the unreal urge to arm myself in my classroom comes back. A live feed on the television shows students streaming out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a high school just a short drive away. I wonder whether the teachers in its classrooms have passed out scissors.

*

The weapons. It’s not a subject we teachers enjoy bringing up. You’d have an easier time starting a discussion on religion or politics in the teacher’s lounge then asking how we all prepare for the darkness of the lockdown. Do you try to make everyone cower, maybe rely on prayer? Perhaps you always try to convince yourself it’s a drill. Maybe you just assume that, if a gun comes through the door, your ticket is well and truly up. Whatever token preparation you make, if at all, once belonged only to the secret corners of your own soul.

In the aftermath of Parkland, teachers across the nation are starting to speak. The experience of being isolated, uninformed, and responsible for the lives of dozens of children is now universal to our profession, whether because of actual emergencies or planned drills. You don’t usually learn which is which until at least an hour and sometimes not until afterwards. In both cases, the struggle to control the dread and keep wearing the mask of bravery for your students is the same.

And you need a weapon.

I’ve heard of everything from broken chair legs lying around that never seem to be thrown away to metal baseball bats provided by administration. One teacher from another district dealt with it by always keeping a screwdriver on her desk. “For construction projects,” she told students. She taught English.

There’s always talk, half-jokingly (and less than that, lately) from people who want teachers armed. I have a friend in a position that far outranks my own whose resignation letter is ready for the day teachers are allowed to carry guns in the classroom.

I mean, we’ve all known teachers who’ve had their cell phones stolen by students …

*

Years earlier, I am in the same corner. I am more naïve, the most soul-shaking of American massacres still yet to come. The corner is a mess of cardboard boxes gathered for class projects, and one of them is big enough for several students to crawl inside.

One girl is crying, her friend hugging her as she shakes. She’s a sensitive girl; a religious disagreement between her friends having once brought her to tears. “How can they be so cruel to each other?” She asked me after one had said that Catholics didn’t count as Christians.

I frown. It’s really my fault. An offhand comment on how the kids needed to quiet down because I’m not ready to die pushed her too far. Seriously rolling mortality around in her head, she wanted nothing more than to call her family. None of them are allowed to touch their cell phones, however, and the reasoning makes sense to me. The last thing we need is a mob of terrified parents pouring onto campus if someone’s looking to pad their body count.

She has to go to the bathroom, and there are no good options.

I sit with her, trying to comfort her, wondering what the occasion is. Is there a shooter? Maybe a rumor has circulated online. Possibly there’s just a fleeing criminal with a gun at large and headed into our area. Keeping watch with a room full of potential hostages, I wonder if I can risk letting her crawl through the inner building corridors until she reaches a teacher’s bathroom. We wait together.

It seemed different when I was a teen. In those brighter pre-Columbine times, the idea of a school shooting was unreal to me, just the plot of that one Richard Bachman book that never seemed to show up in used book stores. I hadn’t known back then that Bachman (really Stephen King) had it pulled from circulation after it’d been found in a real school shooter’s locker.

Back then my high school had plenty of bomb threats, but they were a joke. We’d all march out around the flagpole, sitting laughably close to the school, and enjoy the break. Inevitably, we’d all learn that the threat had been called in by a student in the grip of “senioritis,” a seemingly incurable disease that removes the victim’s desire to work. We’d sit and chat and smile and never for a second consider that any of us could be in physical danger. The only threat we faced while waiting was boredom.

*

Today, in our new era of mass shootings, the school districts do what they can, trying to plan comprehensively for a situation too insane to grasp. Law enforcement officials lecture the faculty yearly, giving well-rehearsed speeches on procedures while including a litany of horrors meant to teach by example.

At this level, we can only react to the horrors of the world. The power to alter things is given to legislators and representatives who’ve been entrusted with the responsibility to govern wisely while listening to the will of the people. It’s they who can change the facts on the ground, enact new laws, and examine existing regulations. They can work toward a world where a lockdown is no longer needed for a preteen to grapple with gut-churning fear.

We’re still waiting.

K.T. Katzmann is a teacher in Broward County, Florida. This piece first appeared on The Trace, a nonprofit news site focused on gun violence.