learning curve

Black on city history, teacher turnover, and school closures

Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't on NY1 last night.
Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't in her first month on the job on NY1 last night.

Chancellor Cathie Black’s interview on Inside City Hall last night is worth watching in full. The interview exposes just how much Black has been able to absorb in her first month on the job — and how much she hasn’t.

In a moment first highlighted by NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ on Twitter, Black declared, “The public school system in New York City has been unbelievably successful since the birth of our nation.” She was responding to a question from host Errol Louis about why she chose to send her children to private rather than public city schools.

Black did not elaborate, but the statement is confusing given that public schools in New York City did not emerge until the early 1800s.

Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the “last in, first out” policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom (PDF link).

Here’s how Black responded:

Well you have to know, like, what’s really at the heart of the issue. I don’t know that we know what’s really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They’re there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave.

She then returned to the “last in, first out” question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren’t concerned about being laid off. “Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t have a job next year.’ Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, ‘I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?’ That’s going to be a catastrophe,” she said.

For years, researchers have asked why teachers leave schools — particularly struggling schools. A 2007 paper by a group studying New York City teachers, the Teacher Pathways Project, summarized the major findings this way:

  • “Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which student achievement is higher and teachers — especially white teachers — are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students.”
  • “Teachers who score higher on tests of academic achievement are more likely to leave,” as are teachers from out of town.
  • Less-qualified teachers are more likely to stay at a school than teachers with higher qualifications, “especially if they teach in low-achieving schools.”

The researchers themselves — a team from Stanford and the University of Albany — wondered how attrition related to teachers’ effectiveness at improving student achievement. Maybe the turnover wouldn’t be so upsetting if the teachers leaving were also the teachers who were least effective.

Studying New York City schools between 2000 and 2006, the group found that less-upsetting possibility was indeed true, but only in part. After a year of teaching, the most effective teachers were more likely to stay put than the least effective teachers, as judged by value-added measures. But after another year or two, more effective teachers’ next moves depended on the quality of their schools. If they taught at low-performing schools, they tended to leave them, on average, for higher-performing schools.

Here’s a link to the paper I’m drawing from (note it’s a PDF).

A final noteworthy moment came when Louis asked Black about the report out this week from the Independent Budget Office, which found that schools slated for closure served a more troubled student population. Were those school being treated unfairly?

Black’s response:

I would differ with the statement DOE sent you a problem. We have seen in several situations same neighborhood, same children, same problems same situations. When we re-do the whole structure — the physical outside stays the same, new schools go inside — this group of kids and this group of kids are performing better — 20 and 30 percentage points better. Nothing has been changed on the outside except for the level of commitemnt and teachng and effectiveness that’s going to hopefully impact that child in a positive way.

Watch the full interview online here.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”