sunny forecast

City officials say college readiness rate should double by 2016

Students from the Urban Youth Collaborative present suggestions to boost college readiness before a City Council hearing on the subject.

By 2016, the proportion of students who graduate from city high schools ready for college-level work will double, Department of Education officials told skeptical City Council members today.

The ambitious projection, made during a hearing on college and career readiness, would require growth that far outstrips even the most liberal assessments of the Department of Education’s recent record of improvement.

But even then most students would not be considered “college-ready.” In 2010, when the city touted a 61 percent four-year graduation rate, just 21 percent of students who had entered high school in four years earlier met the state’s college-readiness requirements.

A disjuncture has long been visible between what city high schools require for graduation and what the City University of New York expects from new students. Three quarters of the students enrolling in CUNY’s two-year colleges must take remedial math or reading classes, and that number has risen along with college attendance rates in recent years, especially as CUNY has toughened its standards.

Testifying before members of the council’s committees on education and higher education, UFT President Michael Mulgrew accused the city of practicing “social graduation” by giving high school diplomas to students who must repeat high school-level work before starting college classes.

But until recently, high school graduation, not college readiness, was considered the gold standard for success testified Shael Polakow-Suransky, the DOE’s chief academic officer. He said school officials had been adjusting their priorities to meet rising expectations and were confident that initiatives already underway would substantially change the picture.

In particular, he said, new curriculum standards known as the Common Core that are being rolled out this year would push students to develop critical thinking skills required for college-level work.

“It’s not just about getting to a number on a test,” Polakow-Suransky said. “It’s about resilience, persistence, being able to use your mind well, being able to think critically to solve unfamiliar problems.”

Officials also said they are optimistic about plans Mayor Bloomberg sketched out in his State of the City speech last week to open more schools that bridge high school and college instruction and expand the city’s career and technical education high schools, which are designed to prepare students to choose between college and entering the workforce.

Since 2008, CUNY and the DOE have swapped data about students in order to learn more about what it takes to prepare high schoolers for success in college. Now, collaboration between the two school systems “is the strongest it’s ever been,” testified John Mogulescu, a dean in charge of CUNY’s relationship with the city schools.

But Mogulescu said the two institutions had also demonstrated a “joint failure” to let students know just how challenging college is, adding that CUNY would soon launch a public awareness campaign to explain college readiness.

“We think it is the responsibility of our admissions folks to work more with the community,” he said. “I am as impatient as you are to make the kinds of changes you are talking about.”

The hearing drew protest from the Urban Youth Collaborative and Coalition for Educational Justice, activists and students who held a press conference to call attention to even lower rates of college readiness among black and Latino students and to demand that the city invest more in college preparation initiatives.

Council members echoed many of the students’ suggestions, championing the College Now program that allows high school students to take CUNY courses before graduating and urging the department to provide more one-on-one counseling about college admissions and financial aid. Some guidance counselors work with as many as 500 students at a time, said Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee.

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.”

Future of Work

Trump’s education department merger plan echoes Indiana priorities under Pence, Holcomb

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Then-Gov. Mike Pence speaks at a school choice rally at the Indiana statehouse in 2016.

President Trump’s proposal to merge the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Labor might sound familiar to Hoosiers.

The education and workforce development rhetoric hearkens back to some of Vice President Mike Pence’s education priorities as Indiana’s chief executive, as well as those of his predecessor and successor.

“This sounds very Indiana,” said Betsy Wiley, executive director of the Institute for Quality Education, a group that advocates for school choice. “This sounds very Gov. (Mitch) Daniels, Gov. Pence, Gov. (Eric) Holcomb-like, in terms of the last 12 to 15 years here in our state.”

It’s not really surprising that Indiana and the federal government again share education policy goals — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has repeatedly pointed to Indiana’s charter school and private school voucher systems as models for the nation.

Across the country, connections between workforce and K-12 education have been increasingly emphasized, and Indiana has been legislating in this vein for years. As governor, Pence expanded the state’s career and technical education programs, an accomplishment he still touts. It also bears similarities to the efforts of Indiana’s current Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has followed in previous governors’ footsteps by prioritizing workforce development and how it connects to education in his 2018 legislative agenda.

And though some local education advocates cheer the federal push to link K-12 education and workforce, to others, it’s troubling.

When she saw the news of the merger proposal, Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, felt a rush of deja vu: “Oh here we go — and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

When Pence ran for governor in 2012, he said the state was too focused on getting students to college — there was too little effort on getting them up to speed for heading directly into the workforce. There were plenty of jobs, he said, that paid well and didn’t need a four-year degree.

As soon as he got into office, Pence successfully pushed through two bills creating regional works councils and a state career council that would help the state better understand job needs and develop relationships between schools and local employers.

And the career-focused influence has continued even after Pence left office in 2016. The state’s new graduation pathways system, passed last year, redirects the Core 40 diploma’s more academic focus toward one that more equally weighs job-related post-secondary plans.

Wiley said Indiana, under Holcomb, has made even more progress in this arena by consolidating efforts into a workforce cabinet and pushing for an appointed state schools chief. While the state still has a ways to go, she said, it serves as an example, and she applauds the Trump administration for making the proposal.

“What is trying to be done, again, is to figure out how to be more efficient and effective as the federal government, and better serve the customer, be it either the K-12 level student or the adult in terms of workforce training or development,” she said. “Those are admirable goals.”

Meredith, though, said the efforts to make schools a pipeline for the workplace seem short-sighted.

“What is the purpose of K-12 education? Is it to prepare individuals to go into a job that exists right now, or is it to teach them about a love of learning and give them the skills to be able to adapt?” she said. “I would argue that’s what we ought to be doing — giving them creative thinking skills, giving them basic life skills, teaching them how to navigate the world.”

As Chalkbeat has reported, the merger itself likely faces an uphill battle to congressional approval — if it even stands a chance at. So far, efforts to scale back or get rid of the federal education department have failed.