In residence

Teaching prep pilots on the rise in SIG and high-needs schools

A new recruitment program designed to keep teachers in high-needs schools for the long-term is ramping up its presence in schools where the city is preparing to replace large swaths of teachers.

The city’s $1.3 million teacher apprenticeship program, called the NYC Teaching Residency for School Turnaround, embeds teachers-in-training in high-needs schools and pairs them in classrooms taught by experienced teachers to ease the learning curve. The program launched last summer with 26 residents in two schools and was funded in part with money from federal School Improvement Grants. Next year, the Department of Education aims to double the number of residents and expand into more schools eligible for SIG funding.

Currently the only schools in line to receive SIG funding are the 33 the city has proposed for a “turnaround” at the end of the year, meaning one of the schools that hosted residents this year — Queens Vocational and Technical High School — is likely to close its program at the end of the school year. Queens Vocational was one of six schools that had been receiving SIG funds that the city determined in January should no longer be eligible for them. An education department spokeswoman said no decision has been made about the residency program, but the school’s website is already promoting a different residency starting next year.

The residency is part of a series of recruitment models that the department’s Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality is piloting to better prepare new teachers for classrooms in high-needs communities. One hundred and thirty-six new NYC Teaching Fellows — up from 25 a year ago — were paired with a mentor teacher this month and will work in classrooms for the remainder of the school year as part of an apprenticeship program to supplement the 10-week training they will receive this summer. The fellows will earn a $3,500 stipend for the remainder of the school year.

The DOE is busy staffing up for the expansion of both programs. It is hiring a director to oversee the residency program, something that aroused some confusion and suspicion among some current teachers this week. In a SchoolBook column earlier this week, a teacher lamented that a job posting for the position spelled doom for “tenured, higher paid teachers” because it would replace them with uncertified teachers.

In fact, this year’s small cohort of residents will be eligible to apply for fulltime teaching positions in the fall while finishing up a Master’s program at St. John’s University. The residency expansion was planned months before Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to shake up the SIG program, shuffling most of the schools that had been receiving funds into the turnaround model in order to qualify for the money without union sign-off. The SchoolBook column has since been updated with a correction.

The fledgling residency program in New York City, which pays residents $22,500 for the school year, has received largely positive reviews this year. Linda Rosenbury, principal at J.H.S. 22 Jordan L Mott in the Bronx, said the residency benefited all who were working in it.

“Our strongest educators are our mentors and they’re being intellectually fulfilled because they have to articulate their practices in a way that they didn’t have to when they were alone,” Rosenbury said. And since two residents work in the classroom most of the time, student-teacher ratios have dipped below 10:1, maximizing individualized instruction, she said.

For the residents, Rosenbury said, their crash course in first-year teaching is coming in a low-risk environment.

“They’re making all of their mistakes now, so when they start in September in their classroom, they’re going to be much more ready,” Rosenbury added. Like principals in the other turnaround schools, Rosenbury will likely have to replace up to 50 percent of her staff at the end of the school year. She said that it was too soon to make decisions about who would be hired back but added that she had confidence that many of her residents this year were ready to take over full-time teaching positions in schools such as hers.

The residency’s first year was not without some road bumps. Department officials said that mentor teachers, who earn $3,000 for each resident they work with, are the most important element to a functioning residency program. But at Queens Vocational, residents reported that some mentors picked for the program were not readily available to support their development, according to a survey the department conducted. The school’s principal declined to comment.

Residency programs are also prohibitively more expensive than any other kind of certification program, a factor that will likely prevent the city’s programs from expanding to fully meet the city’s hiring needs. Despite the programs’ promise, experts say it’s still too early to know how effective they will be at achieving their goal, which is to place stronger teachers in high-needs schools in low-income communities.

“I think we have a lot to learn about them, but it’s certainly provided much more promise in terms of ensuring that teachers will have support in these kinds of settings,” said James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance at New York University, who studied talent development as a director of MDRC. “They’re changing the game quite a bit, but I don’t think we know anything about their effectiveness.”

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.