race to the race to the top

We read the Race to the Top application so you don't have to

Raise your hand if you know what the state’s 450-page Race to the Top application actually says. Besides, of course, “We raised the cap on charter schools and came up with a new way to evaluate teachers.”

Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to what the application actually proposes, including some details about the proposal that I hadn’t heard before I read it. The application is divided into four main goals. You can find more background on Race to the Top here, and a copy of the state’s second round application is here.

Making better tests and curriculum:

National reading and math curriculum standards are coming, and New York education officials plan to opt in to them. The state wants to spend $26 million to write curriculum based on the new standards, which will show up in classrooms beginning in February 2012. Another $40 million would be used to create new tests, including a way to judge kindergartners through third-graders’ progress in learning to read. Students would start to take initial versions of those tests in January 2012. The final versions of exams based on the new standards would be due in 2015.

Building new databases to track student progress:

By “data systems,” the state means a program that can track students’ academic progress from the very beginning of their education to the end. The state wants to spend $50 million in Race to the Top funds to help build a program that will be used state-wide. Another $10 million would go toward linking information from grade schools to information from New York’s colleges and universities. The application describes a future data system that sounds a lot like ARIS, the city’s $81 million data system launched in 2008.

State education officials also envision a program that included an “early warning system”: by keeping track of things like attendance problems, disciplinary actions, grades and test scores and the language progress of students learning English, the system will be able to alert schools to students who are at risk of dropping out.

Training teachers and judging them:

Much of this section of the application centers around the new law that incorporates student achievement data into teacher evaluations.  Some uses of the evaluations are pretty obvious: schools will use them to figure out which teachers need more training and which should be removed. Others are less intuitive. For example, the application proposes a new program where teachers who have been highly rated under the evaluations for three years running can get a $30,000  bonus for transferring to teach in a high needs school.

The application also mentions that 20 New York City schools are currently experimenting with the best ways to evaluate teachers and figure out what tools are needed to do it fairly. This pilot is separate from the Measuring Effective Teaching research project that the city is running with the teachers union and the Gates Foundation.

Improving low-performing schools and letting charter schools thrive:

The application’s plan to improve failing schools centers around creating what state officials are calling “partnership zones,” which are very similar to the city’s system of support networks for schools. Each school that is targeted for turnaround would get a total of $3.6 million over three years to support its efforts.

State officials also emphasize in the application that they believe charter schools — particularly the large, well-established charter networks like KIPP and Uncommon Schools — would play a large role in re-making schools. To encourage the growth of charters, the state is proposing a fund that will help “high performing” charter operators reduce the interest on debt they owe from building their own facilities.

The application also gives some clues for where to look to figure out how the state’s new Request for Proposal system of opening new charter schools might work: the RFP process will be modeled after similar programs in New Orleans, Chicago and Denver.

Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.