lab schools

More schools to experiment with online work, schedule changes

Chancellor Joel Klein is expanding a pilot program that takes the experiments city schools often conduct behind closed classroom doors and brings them to other schools.

Called Innovation Zone, or iZone, the program began this year in ten schools and will grow to include 81 schools next year. At its core is a heavy emphasis on expanding online learning, a major focus of Klein’s tenure at the Department of Education.

Of the iZone schools, more than half will adopt the “virtual school” model. This involves using online Advanced Placement classes and credit recovery courses or simply combining online work and face-to-face instruction. Six schools will alter their schedules to make the school day or year longer and 35 will begin using software that’s designed to change instruction based on how much a student struggles or excels.

One of the six schools that will change its schedule next year is P.S. 50, an elementary and junior high school in East Harlem. A spokeswoman for The After School Corporation said the organization is in talks with P.S. 50 to extend the school day to 6 p.m.

Many of the ideas for iZone schools’ alterations came from public schools like Brooklyn Technical High School, which designed its own online courses, and the Brooklyn Generation School, which radically changed its schedule to create an 11-month school year.

“We know each of these innovations has significant research demonstrating its potential to accelerate student learning,” White said. “Those that have the most impact, we’ll work to scale throughout the system.”

A Brooklyn high school, Victory Collegiate, is going to adopt elements of the Brooklyn Generation School’s schedule, which staggers teachers’ vacations to lengthen the school year and front-loads the school day with core subjects, giving teachers afternoon time to prep.

Next fall, ten schools will begin offering online credit recovery courses. Some, such as Curtis High School, are big schools with students who fail and have to retake courses for innumerable reasons. Others like Chelsea Career and Technical High School are small, but have a proportionally high number of students who are held back because they don’t accumulate enough credits to graduate.

Arthur VanderVeen, who is tasked with overseeing the iZone for the DOE, said the current model of credit recovery isn’t working for many students. “If a student fails a course their options generally are to retake the course in summer school or after school, and usually without very effective results,” he said.

“Schools that use online credit recovery see it’s an alternative approach that’s very engaging. They’re [students] getting that individualized attention and that’s often the difference.”

Online credit recovery programs could also lend some credibility to the process of making up class work or completing extra assignments that sometimes inspires skepticism from critics who see the standards as being too lax.

“This is the kind of delivery system that lends itself to greater rigor, which is what credit recovery needs,” White said. “There are more controls around what a student is obligated to do.”

Twenty schools — many of them with too few high-achieving students to hire a teacher for Advanced Placement classes — will adopt online courses next year. Students at these schools will be able to discuss their work in chat rooms with students and teachers at other schools, VanderVeen said.

Two schools — I.S. 339 and I.S. 228 — are going to become pilots for the School of One program next year, which began as an after-school program in M.S. 131, a Chinatown middle school, last summer. School of One will become part of the day for all three schools next year. The program focuses on math instruction and creates a computer-generated “playlist” of lessons for students.

Nominated by their school support organizations, 110 schools applied to be part of the iZone, which is being funded in part through about $2 million in donations from Cisco Global Education and the Ford Foundation, $3.2 million in stimulus funds, and additional capital fund dollars. DOE officials would not disclose the project’s total cost.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.