standards movement

City's Common Core rollout ramps up today with teacher training

When it comes to new “common core” standards, theoretical language is giving way to hands-on practice.

The curriculum standards, accepted by 48 states, are being rolled out citywide this year after being piloted in 100 schools last year. Today, every teacher in the city is expected to get training on them.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott sat in on a training session this morning at Brooklyn’s PS 124, which took part in the pilot last year. But at many schools, today is likely to be the first time that teachers learn just how the common core standards are poised to change their jobs.

Some principals put together their own plans for today, but they can also draw on four 90-minute lessons the city devised. One session asks teachers to evaluate student work from their own school to see if it meets the new standards. In another, they will practice assessing teachers according to a new evaluation rubric. A third lesson focuses on connecting two overarching citywide goals: strengthening student work and teacher practice. And a fourth lesson asks teachers to examine student work from a school that adopted the new standards last year. The lessons are part of the Department of Education’s online “Common Core Library” of resources.

In a letter to principals last week announcing the lesson plans, Walcott laid out a timeline for schools’ common core-related accomplishments. This fall, he wrote, teams of teachers at each school should identify students’ shortcomings. In the winter, teachers should ask all students to complete two common core-aligned “tasks,” one in reading and one in math. Through it all, principals should be giving teachers frequent feedback based on classroom observations, Walcott wrote.

Walcott’s letter to principals is below:

Dear Colleagues,

As we begin the new school year, I am excited to continue our conversation around increasing the rigor of student work and strengthening teacher practice. In partnership with the CSA and UFT, we’ve designated Tuesday, September 7, for you to engage with your staff in an additional day of professional learning and planning around this exciting work. To support you in preparing for this day and for implementing the 2011-12 citywide instructional expectations, we have posted resources and facilitation materials on the Common Core Library. The posted activities will provide you and your staff members with an opportunity to identify gaps in knowledge, familiarize yourselves with Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, and examine Common Core-aligned tasks and corresponding student work.

At our conference in June, I was energized by your eagerness to lead this instructional work in our schools and I continue to be inspired by your commitment to ensure that our students are engaged in cognitively-demanding tasks that will prepare them to succeed later in life.

This year, we need to take the next step toward college and career readiness for all our students. As you know, we’ve asked all schools to:

  • This fall, in teacher teams, review samples of student work and identify the gaps between what students currently know and are able to do and the demands of the Common Core. This analysis will help schools develop next steps for helping their students reach the level of the Common Core.
  • This winter, engage all students in at least one literacy task and one math task aligned to strategically-selected Common Core standards and embedded in Common Core-aligned curricula. Schools should include multiple entry points for all learners, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

To support this work in classrooms, we’ve asked you to:

  • Use sections of Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, or continue to use a research-based teaching framework that is already in place, to articulate clear expectations for teacher practice and serve as the focus for teacher development.
  • Engage in short, frequent cycles of classroom observation, collaborative examination of student work, and timely, specific, evidence-based feedback teachers can act on to increase the rigor and effectiveness of their instruction. Teachers should receive feedback on student work on Common Core-aligned tasks and on successes and challenges related to reaching all students, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners.
  • Strengthen your own capacity to provide high-quality feedback to teachers through professional development and support from network teams.

Please work with your network if you have questions. I hope that September 7 is a robust learning experience for you and your staff.


Dennis M. Walcott

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.