testing testing

Conflict could exclude this year's tests from tenure decisions

A schedule conflict could mean that students’ scores on this year’s state standardized tests may not play a role in whether their teachers get tenure. Nevertheless, if the city does use the scores, it could land in court with the union on the other side.

Citing a loophole in state law, Mayor Bloomberg ordered the city’s Department of Education last week to begin using students’ test scores in tenure decisions this year. But the results of this year’s state math and English tests will not be available until after the deadline for submitting tenure decisions has passed.

The state changed its timeline for administering math and English exams this year, pushing both exams to the spring. Previously, they were given in January and March. Though principals have to make decisions about whether to grant teachers tenure by May 1, this year’s tests will not even finish going through the scoring process until weeks after that deadline.

This schedule conflict could leave principals to make tenure decisions using two years of test scores rather than three, and those could be two easier years. Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch has said that this year’s tests will be “less predictable” than in previous years.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Ann Forte, said officials were still discussing how student test scores would be used in tenure decisions and did not know whether this year’s test scores could be used.

Of the approximately 7,500 teachers who will be eligible for tenure this year, the majority will be unaffected by the schedule conflict as only students in grades three through eight take the state’s annual math and English exams.

A spokesman for the teachers union, which vigorously opposes the use of test scores in tenure decisions, agreed it’s unlikely that test scores will be used to judge teachers this year, but vowed to fight the city in court if scores are used.

Even if the city extends the deadline for principals to make tenure decisions, teachers have to receive performance reviews, which include tenure decisions, by the end of the school year in June. If this year’s standardized test scores are published over the summer, as they typically are, and principals decide to reverse certain tenure decisions in light of those scores, the union would likely challenge those reversals in court, the official said.

The principal of M.S. 324, Janet Heller, said not having the results of the most recent state tests would not affect how she makes tenure decisions this year, as she assesses teachers throughout the year based on how they respond to students’ scores on interim tests.

“I don’t wait until the end of the year to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. By then it would be too late,” she said.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.