soundoff

As details become clear, responses roll in to evaluations deal

We’re still piecing together what Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s teacher evaluations announcement today means for the state — and, even more bafflingly, just what the city and United Federation of Teachers have agreed to.

But the complex nature of today’s announcement hasn’t stopped education stakeholders from around the state from sounding off about it. We’ve compiled reactions to Cuomo’s announcement from unbridled exuberance to measured optimism to — in the case of the UFT President Michael Mulgrew — cynicism about what is likely to come next.

From Dick Iannuzzi, head of New York State United Teachers, which agreed on a new evaluations framework with the state:

Teachers support high standards and accountability for our profession. We believe today’s agreement is good for students and fair to teachers. It includes two principles we believe are essential. First, a child is more than a standardized test score. While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately. Secondly, the purpose of evaluations must be to help all teachers improve and to advance excellence in our profession. This agreement acknowledges those key principles. The settlement also reinforces how important it is for teachers to have a voice in establishing standards of professional effectiveness and in developing evaluations that meet the needs of local communities.

From State Education Commissioner John King:

The goal is and always has been to help students – to give them every opportunity to succeed in college and careers. To make that happen, we need to improve teaching and learning. We owe it to our students to make sure every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Today, the Governor’s leadership and his commitment to our students have helped us take a strong step toward that goal.

From UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

The UFT and the Governor have reached an agreement on an appeal process for New York City teachers that includes the kind of independent, third party component that the UFT has been seeking.

The appeal process will not go into effect unless and until Mayor Bloomberg negotiates agreements with the UFT for an overall teacher evaluation deal or for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants (SIGs).

I want to congratulate Governor Cuomo and NYSUT for their hard work in finding common ground on the statewide issues that separated them.  Their agreement recognizes that students are more than a test score. I also want to thank the Governor for his efforts to find a similar resolution for the issues that separate the UFT and Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor’s obsession with closing schools presents a significant barrier to us reaching that overall agreement.

From Ernest Logan, head of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators:

Today, the Governor’s office announced that an agreement has been reached between the State Education Department and education unions over a new teacher and Principal evaluation system. We thank the Governor for his leadership in pursuit of a fair and transparent evaluation system that acknowledges local collective bargaining.   We urge Commissioner King to bring all parties together here in NYC in an effort to avoid placing 33 schools into a ‘Turnaround’ mode that would arbitrarily close them down and quickly reopen them under new names.

 

From Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

This agreement is a significant improvement over the evaluation law passed in 2010. But our work is by no means over. The Regents have adopted a major education reform plan, and teacher and principal evaluations are just a part of that reform. Today is a good day, but the best day will be when we’ve fully implemented the Regents reforms and we’ve made sure all our students get the education they need to succeed in college and careers.

From Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who four days ago implored the city to come to an agreement with the UFT:

Governor Cuomo has brokered a historic agreement with the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers that puts our children’s education first. Once again we have proof that dialogue and good-faith negotiating deliver far more than posturing and threats ever could. The deal reached today preserves vital federal funding for struggling schools across the city and state, and puts in place a long-overdue system to fairly evaluate teachers. This agreement erases the Bloomberg Administration’s flawed rationale for closing 33 schools and firing half of their teachers—a plan intended as a threat to wring concessions from the UFT. The Mayor must immediately halt those plans and recognize that today’s historic announcement deserves the City’s complete support.

From Elizabeth Ling, the state’s director of Democrats for Education Reform:

In reaching this groundbreaking agreement on teacher evaluations, Gov.  Andrew Cuomo reminded us what it looks like when leaders lead. This is a complicated deal with lots of moving pieces, but the Governor skillfully pulled them all together and the end result is a pragmatic agreement that’s great for students. That it’s also a great deal for teachers, parents, and taxpayers is icing on the cake.  We long ago pegged New York as a ‘follower’ when it comes to education issues, but today our education and political leaders showed that the Empire State can, and should, be a pace-setter once again.

From Hannya Boulous, the director of an upstate reform group, Buffalo ReformED:

I commend Governor Cuomo for facilitating an agreement to create a transformative teacher evaluation system that finally pushes politics aside and focuses on the real objective of improving New York’s education system. Students have been forced to be a part of a system that was internally broken, as New York State outspends the rest of nation on education, yet is only ranked 38th in graduation rates. The Governor has cut right to the heart of the issue and helped those who have suffered the most: our students. A stronger and more effective teacher evaluation benefits both students and teachers, by clearing the path for improved instruction and professional development opportunities. This is the first big step in turning our schools around.

From Educators 4 Excellence, which outlined its dream teacher evaluation system last year:

Finally! This historic agreement will for the first time give classroom teachers the meaningful feedback they need to improve their performance and help their students achieve. This multi-measured solution is very much in line with what Educators 4 Excellence members proposed nearly a year ago and we’re thrilled our voices were heard. It offers the right combination of student test data, multiple observations and a fair and streamlined appeals process that creates opportunities for struggling teachers to get better. Governor Cuomo deserves enormous credit for breaking through the gridlock and delivering such a strong plan. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg for his commitment to giving teachers the tools they need to succeed and UFT President Mulgrew for recognizing how important this feedback is to his members. They all showed great leadership on the issue.

From the Columbia University leader of Students for Education Reform, Ashley Williams:

This new evaluation system will develop teachers to provide high quality instruction to all students. As both a recent classroom student and a future teacher, I am very confident that this system will improve the quality of teachers statewide and ultimately benefit student learning.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”

blast from the past

Harkening back to earlier era, struggling New York City school fights closure but faces long odds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kevin Morgan, the Parent Association president at P.S./M.S. 42, is leading a fight to keep the Rockaway school open.

A decade ago, teachers picketed P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam in Rockaway, Queens and declared the campus unsafe. Parents said the building was in horrible shape — some areas reeked of urine — and they petitioned the education department to close the school and start over.

But when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he had a different idea: Rather than shut its doors, he would revamp it. After three years in de Blasio’s “Renewal” improvement program, which injects troubled schools with academic supports and social services, P.S./M.S. 42 appeared to be making progress: Its test scores and quality reviews have steadily improved. Enrollment, while lower this year, has mostly been stable.

So when the education department announced plans last month to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 and 13 other low-performing schools, many in the school community were shocked.

“We think that this is a mistake,” said Donovan Richards, the local city councilman who said that when he met with schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña shortly before the announcement, far from declaring the school a lost cause, she praised its recent strides and discussed ways to celebrate them.

“You have this glimmer of hope and turnaround in the building,” he added, “and yet we’re reversing the progress.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents used to complain about poor conditions at P.S./M.S. 42, which has since built a new addition.

Now, parents, teachers and local political leaders are vowing to fight its closure. The coalition has launched an aggressive social media campaign, printed highlighter-yellow T-shirts declaring the school “strong and united,” and planned rallies at the school and in Albany, where the school’s supporters traveled Tuesday to make their case to state lawmakers.

On a recent morning, Kevin Morgan, the school’s parent association president, went to his local congress member’s office to appeal for help, and brought in a motivational speaker to inspire students as they drafted essays in defense of their school.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “They need to rethink what they’re about to do. How is this going to affect these children?”

The fight puts the mayor in the uncomfortable position of defending the closure of a low-performing school despite signs of improvement and vocal opposition from some parents — a scenario he railed against when running to replace then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At the time, de Blasio blasted Bloomberg for disregarding the will of parents in his zeal to shutter and replace troubled schools without first giving them a chance to rebound.

Now, after investing $582 million in a program meant to offer bottom-ranked schools the second chance he said they had been denied, de Blasio finds himself coming to the same conclusion as his predecessor: Some underachieving schools simply can’t be resuscitated — at least not quickly enough — so better to pull the plug and start fresh.

“After a serious effort, we do not think, with their current structures, they can make it,” de Blasio said on NY1 the day the closures were announced. Still, he defended the turnaround effort, saying that, without it, “we would have continued to see closures without an honest effort to fix the problem.”

In the case of P.S./M.S. 42, the education department is proposing to replace it with two new schools — an elementary school and a middle school — in the same building.

It’s likely they will serve many of the same students as the school they’re supplanting, though some parents worry the new schools may deploy admissions criteria that will screen out some of P.S./M.S. 42’s current students. An education department spokesman said the new schools would not turn away any P.S./M.S. 42 students. The new schools may also employ many of the same teachers, under a contract rule that says at least half the positions in replacement schools must be offered to teachers at closed schools who apply and hold the right qualifications.

P.S./M.S. 42 boosters hope the new schools never have a chance to open. But they face long odds: Under de Blasio, very few schools on the chopping block have managed to escape.

Last year, the Panel for Educational Policy — an oversight board where the majority of members are appointed by the mayor — signed off on all of the city’s proposed closures. Even when parents at J.H.S 145 in the Bronx mounted a campaign to keep the middle school open, only five of the 13 panel members voted against its closure.

The city’s plan to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 follows a yearslong, grassroots effort to save it.

Today, one of the leaders of that campaign is an unlikely champion: a parent named Queen Makkada, who called for the school’s closure in 2010 when her two children went there. At one point, her daughter was attacked by a group of boys, and students were known to roam the hallways unsupervised.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Queen Makkada says P.S./M.S. 42 has struggled in the past, but is now showing improvement.

“We literally had first graders cutting class,” Makkada said. A joint city-state report from 2011 said teachers there “demanded little” from students and parents complained about unchecked bullying among students.
Makkada says things began to turn around when the current principal, Patricia Finn, took over about seven years ago. Finn did not respond to a request for comment.

The principal smoothed over relations with teachers, who have filed far fewer grievances under her than the previous administration, according to their union. And she forged relationships with skeptical parents, Makkada said. Last year, 90 percent of parents who responded to a school survey said the principal works to build community.

“All the stakeholders had to come together and change it,” Makkada said. “These parents went through the process to improve a failing school.”

At the same time that parents were getting more involved, the school facilities were getting an upgrade. In 2011, a gleaming new addition was built onto the building, and there are plans for a new $7 million playground, according to the city councilman.

The Renewal program, which launched in 2014, marked a new wave of investment in P.S./M.S 42. A community-based nonprofit — Family Health International, which goes by FHI 360 — brought much-needed mental health supports for students, including one-on-one counseling. The school day was extended by an hour. And the school has launched several initiatives aimed at improving school culture, including training students to help resolve conflicts among their peers, parents said.

Since 2014, the school has received improved “quality review” ratings from official observers, and its test scores have ticked upwards. In fact, elementary students at P.S./M.S. 42 earned higher scores on the state English and math tests last year than the average among Renewal schools that the city is keeping open. Its middle-school students perform just below that average.

And enrollment, a key factor that chancellor Fariña says the education department considers when recommending closures, grew by dozens of students the first few years of the program. This past year, its population declined to just over 660 students — but that’s still higher than before becoming a Renewal school.

Given the progress, parents don’t understand why their school is targeted for closure.

“This is ripping everything apart,” said Morgan, the parent-association president.

But despite the recent improvements, the majority of the school’s students still are far behind where they should be.

Only 17 percent of elementary students and 14 percent of middle schoolers passed last year’s state English tests — compared with 40-41 percent of students citywide. In math, 14 percent of elementary students and 6 percent of middle schoolers passed the tests, compared with 42 percent and 33 percent citywide.

Meanwhile, a stubbornly high share of students are chronically absent, despite a major push by the city to boost attendance at Renewal schools. More than 45 percent of P.S./M.S. 42 students miss 10 percent or more of the school year, compared to 36 percent among all Renewal schools and about 26 percent among all city schools, according to the education department.

“This decision to propose a school closure was made based on a careful assessment of the school community as a whole,” Aciman, the department spokesman, said in a statement. He added that community engagement is an important part of proposed closures, and said officials will respond to parents’ questions and concerns.

Officials will hold a public hearing at the school on Jan. 10, before the Panel for Educational Policy votes Feb. 28 on whether to approve the city’s closure plans.

Among the P.S./M.S. 42 parents who will ask the panel to spare the school is Willard Price.

He said teachers have given his son, William, extra help in math and handwriting, and principal Finn has invited him to eat lunch in her office when he felt overwhelmed by the cafeteria. Now, William earns high marks on his report cards and would like to remain at P.S./M.S. 42 for middle school, his father said.

“I think that’s messed up, trying to close the school,” William said. “This school is the only school I ever liked.”