In the Classroom

Partnership merges high school AP courses, applied science

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Warren Township schools had to make cuts this year after a drop in federal poverty aid.

Should top students who are interested in both career technology fields, like engineering, and advanced academic courses, like physics, have to choose between them?

That’s what happens in a lot of high schools. Career technology is seen by some as a less academic track, but a new partnership of two top education groups that create high school courses wants to change that.

Choosing between career-oriented and academic electives isn’t easy, said Steve Rogers, chairman of the engineering and technology department at Warren Township’s Walker Career Center. Sometimes parents shy away from courses they aren’t sure will look challenging to a college or employer.

“But when you can have documentation for parents to say, you know, you should take both, then we won’t have stigma that engineering classes aren’t the same relevance as physics classes,” Rogers said.

That’s the idea behind a partnership between the College Board, creator of the SAT and Advanced Placement classes, and Project Lead The Way, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that develops curriculum for applied science and project-based classes.

The partnership would create new high school class sequences, or “pathways,” of both AP and Project Lead The Way classes and give students a certificate to show colleges they’ve completed a demanding course load.

“It is very much focused on pathways and helping kids not just do this once, but do this over time and invest in this and get the kind of preparation to build the confidence to find that this is the thing they are going to fall in love with,” said Anna Jones, senior vice president for Project Lead The Way.

Project Lead The Way moved its headquarters from upstate New York to Indianapolis in 2011. Its CEO, Vince Bertram, was named to the Indiana State Board of Education by Gov. Mike Pence earlier this week.

The organization seeks to encourage more students to study science and math by creating classwork that is rooted in problem-solving and applying the subjects to real life. Schools that participate pay a yearly fee for the curriculum, between $2,000 and $3,000. More than 400 schools in the state offer Project Lead The Way classes.

College Board is headquartered in New York and has been around for more than 100 years. The nonprofit writes tests, designs curriculum for Advanced Placement classes and offers resources for parents and students planning for college.

The partnership between the two would be fairly straightforward, Jones said.

The companies would take the existing Project Lead The Way programs — in engineering, biomedical science and computer science — and create options for how AP science and math classes could fit in. For example, a student might be on the Project Lead The Way engineering track and take introduction to engineering and principles of engineering as well as AP Physics.

Students who complete a combination of at least three AP and Project Lead The Way classes will earn the recognition certificate beginning in 2016. To be eligible, however, they must pass all the classes and earn a passing score of three, four or five out of five on an AP exam.

“This credential is designed to value the work that our students are doing that are participating in AP and Project Lead The Way,” Jones said. “So it really is building, frankly, the strength of both organizations.”

Showing the value of career tech classes

Rogers, who has worked as a Project Lead The Way teacher since 2003, said he likes that the pathways could be used to show parents how students could map out their classes during high school. That way, they might better understand what classes would help their kids succeed in college.

For many STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — professionals, that means both content-heavy AP classes and ones rooted in projects and problem solving like Project Lead The Way.

Oftentimes, Rogers said, it’s not clear to parents why students should forgo an AP or core academic class to try the Project Lead The Way classes. Universities typically count passing AP exam scores for college credit, but many don’t do the same for other courses. That means kids who take Project Lead The Way classes in engineering might be repeating basic skills classes in college.

“We have kids every year that take three, four, five (engineering) classes and go on to Purdue and Rose-Hulman (Institute of Technology) and really get no benefit,” Rogers said. “The class was a benefit, but nothing credit-wise to help the kids out.”

Edward Biedermann, with College Board, said the pathways might also help diversify both programs’ students.

“All too often we see some students think of themselves only as (career and technical education) students and not try to take AP, and other students may think of themselves as college-bound students who take AP and don’t focus on classes with applied learning,” Biedermann said. “This partnership is a way to get all types of students into an AP course that has the potential for college credit.”

Rogers said that though he’s just recently heard about the partnership, he thinks it has the potential to be mutually beneficial for students — AP kids can learn more about STEM careers they can pursue after high school, and Project Lead The Way kids focused on career and technical study, who might not be thinking of college, will be encouraged to earn college credit.

Plus, the new recognition might strike a chord with colleges and push them to cut repetitive introductory classes down the line, Rogers said, saving students time and money.

“It makes sense that we’re putting those courses together into more of a defined pathway because, let’s be honest, they need AP Physics, they need AP Chemistry,” Rogers said. “They might as well see it now when they’re in a class of 20 because they’ll take freshman chemistry in a lab, and it could be 200 kids at Purdue.”

yeshiva findings

After 3-year probe into yeshivas, city admits it was blocked from visiting many schools, found little instruction in math and English

PHOTO: Jackie Schechter
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been accused of delaying an investigation into whether yeshivas provide an adequate secular education.

At some of New York City’s yeshivas, attendance was voluntary when it came time to learn secular subjects like math and English. Students said they didn’t learn math beyond basic division and fractions. None of the students reported receiving steady lessons in science. 

That’s according to a long-delayed probe by the New York City education department into whether some of the city’s private Jewish schools are providing an adequate secular education for students. But even as the city released findings on Thursday, it admitted that it was never able to go inside any high schools and never received a full set of curriculum materials to evaluate — significant gaps for a report that took three years to be released.

In a letter sent to the state education commissioner on Aug. 15, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza asked the state for guidance on how to proceed after a recent change in law that put the state education commissioner in charge of evaluating the schools. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the letter. 

“We deeply believe that all students — regardless of where they attend school — deserve a high-quality education. We will ensure appropriate follow up action is taken based on guidance provided,” Carranza said in a statement.

The letter marks a new phase of an investigation sparked by current and former students and parents who complained they received little instruction in math or English while attending the schools. The city has been accused of delaying the investigation to avoid angering a politically powerful community.

New York requires private schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to public schools, and that allows the schools to access public money for things like school security. Students and parents who were interviewed for the probe said they received instruction in math and English for only 90 minutes for four days out of the week, and all but two said they received “little to no” history lessons, according to the city’s letter.

The report finds that some schools have adopted new curriculums in English and math, but officials have not been able to evaluate the new materials because they haven’t received a complete set.

The city also said that officials at eight of the schools they were unable to visit recently gave word that they would schedule meetings.

Read Carranza’s full letter here.

In the Classroom

Carranza aims to speed up anti-bias training for educators, calling it a ‘cornerstone’ of school improvement

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Chancellor Richard Carranza, bottom right, joined New York City principals and superintendents for an anti-bias training in Brooklyn.

After bending fluorescent pipe cleaners into loopy and angular shapes, a group of about 100 New York City principals and superintendents paired up for a chat. Their assignment: to recount their childhood aspirations of what they wanted to be when they grew up.

This was no arts and crafts class — and no ice breaker, either. The Wednesday morning session at Brooklyn Law School was an example of anti-bias training that the education department will now require for every employee who works with students across the country’s largest school system.

After committing $23 million to the work this year, Chancellor Richard Carranza announced at the session that the trainings will be mandatory, and that the city aims to speed up how quickly they happen. The goal is to compress the original four-year roll out to two.

“It’s about us as a community saying we want to change systems so that it privileges all of our students in New York City,” Carranza said. “The evidence right now, I will tell you my friends, is that not all students are being served well.”

Advocates had long agitated for the training, citing disparate rates in school discipline for black and Hispanic students, and high-profile incidents of schools accused of teaching racist lessons in the classroom. They argue that teachers need to be better equipped to serve diverse students as the city moves forward with plans to integrate its starkly segregated schools.

“We have to make school environments the most welcoming places possible for our young people. That includes adults doing personal work,” said Natasha Capers, a coordinator for Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent organization that lobbied for the training.  

Their advocacy has gotten a boost since Carranza became schools chancellor in April, bringing an approach that is bolder and more frank than his predecessor when it comes to addressing the system’s racial inequities. On Wednesday, he spent more than an hour participating in the training session just like the other school leaders, calling it “God’s work.”

“This is going to penetrate everything we do,” he said.

Wednesday’s session was lead by experts from the Perception Institute, a research and training organization, and Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs), which provides leadership training. The pipe cleaners helped bring to life a metaphor about “bending” expectations for what educators might learn throughout the day. The one-on-one conversations were a way to “interrupt” stereotypical assumptions about other people by having sustained conversations with them, said trainer Dushaw Hockett.

“This isn’t some touchy-feely, get-to-know-you exercise,” he said.  

There is some evidence that, when done right, anti-bias trainings can work — and improve outcomes for students. But there is also research that shows it can often be ineffective.

Carranza said the city is committed to doing the work for the long-term, with the trainings designed to be ongoing and build on each other. He also said the department will keep an eye on measures such as student attendance and whether teachers report improvements in school climate to gauge whether it’s having an impact.

“This is going to be one of those cornerstone pieces in terms of, how are we going to continue to transform this immense system to really, truly serve all students?” he said. “This is going to be something that’s not going to fall off the radar. We’re going to keep pushing.”