Vox populi

Comments of the week: A teachers strike in the second city

As the city settled into for its first full school week of the 2012-2013 school year, heads were turned westward toward a simmering dispute that boiled over on Sunday night. In Chicago, the teachers union announced that it was striking after negotiations broke down over terms for a new contract.

On Monday, Philissa wrote a series of explainers about what precisely that meant.

T Williams criticized both sides of the strike, blaming the conflict on a clash of personalities more than a fight over the interests of students or families:

The two groups that are most directly affected by the teachers strike are on the sidelines with no role or opportunity to play a role in helping decide the outcomes. Those two groups are the students and their parents/guardians. Far too much of what passes for educational reform is top down. Far too often approaches to resolving labor conflict is adversarial when it should be more collaborative. In Chicago the teachers have drawn their line in the sand and the Mayor and School Board have their lines in the sand and neither line seems to have been drawn with what is in the best interest of public school students. This strike will be a boom to charter school education in Chicago and elsewhere in the country depending upon the final outcome. There will be no winners.

Norm compared the union dynamics in Chicago to the one in New York:

One aspect of this strike is that [it] is also a referendum on the Randi Weingarten/Mulgrew/ Leo Casey “you have to collaborate due to climate of the times”  unionism which has dug such a hole here in NYC. But we are still many years behind the impact of ed deform which began in Chicago in 1994-5. CORE/CTU which has already won some minor concessions that the UFT would have jumped at and sold to the members as the best we could get. Note how class size, which the UFT has refused to put on the table since c. 1970 is a real issue.

Buried beneath Monday’s strike news was an item out of Albany from the New York State Education Department Board of Regents meeting. The state is hoping to overhaul the two-year Global Studies Regents exam because it was too hard for students to pass. Commenters disagreed that it was too hard but seemed to agree that changes were needed.

Travis Dove, a student at CSI High School for International Studies wrote:

Sure, the information is learned over a two year period, but from my experience with the test, most of the questions were from the modern age rather than things like the Neolithic era 14892374816 years ago. Also, the thematic essay GIVES YOU TOPICS TO WRITE ABOUT, as well as the DBQ. It couldn’t be spelled out any better. Kids that spend even a week studying for it on regentsprep.org could easily get an 80+.

One of Mayor Bloomberg’s more successful initiatives has been his anti-truancy campaign to improve attendance. This year he expanded its mentorship program, a move that earned some praise from a comment, but also led to a question about whether there were more systemic solutions:

ms. v. wrote:

I’m glad this is working well for many students, but it seems like yet another example of how sometimes the city is 10 years behind the curve on initiatives well-known elsewhere (and, to be fair, sometimes way ahead). As I read this, all I could think was, this is the role of an advisory program, except it encompasses ALL students. And anyone versed in the best practices of middle schools for sure, and many high schools, will already know about advisory.

On Thursday evening the city released a limited set of data about its Teacher Effectiveness Pilot. The number of effective teachers increased after two years worth of observations, a trend that the Chancellor Dennis Walcott said was evidence that it was a successful way to measure teacher performance moving forward. That struck one reader as self-fulfilling on the city’s part:

Of course an administrator who has spent time observing, conferencing and coaching a teacher is likely to feel that a teacher has improved. Maybe teachers did improve, but I’m not sure the DOE report proves much of anything.

 

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.