Striking deal with Touro, Success jumps into teacher preparation

The Success Academy Charter Schools network is jumping into a new market — higher education. Thanks to a new agreement with Touro College, this year Success Academies officials are teaching courses that will help the network’s newest teachers earn master’s degrees.

For the last four months, 42 teachers from the network’s 14 schools have been taking classes at Touro College’s Graduate School of Education, including some taught by members of the Success staff who have joined the Touro faculty as adjunct professors. The program is fully funded by Success Academies and will culminate in a master’s degree and teacher certification.

Full-time Touro professors will teach about half of the academic courses in the program, and Success-affiliated adjuncts will teach the other half, according to Alan Kadish, Touro’s president. He said the full-time and adjunct professors would also jointly supervise the practical training required for graduation.

The agreement positions Success one small step closer to a possibility founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz laid out in her recent book, “Mission Possible.”

“Our intensive, immersive, school-based teacher training program could eventually become a formal graduate school program,” she wrote. The book also lambasted traditional teacher preparation programs as “completely inadequate.”

In an interview, Moskowitz said the partnership with Touro is a response to the network’s rising demand for teachers that meet its standards. Success opened four new schools this year and is set to launch another six in 2013.

“While we certainly hire teachers from a lot of the big education schools, given our rate of growth frankly there isn’t the pipeline that we need of potential teachers,” she said. “We’ve got to think a little outside of the box.”

Success’s internal training regime, which Moskowitz and co-author Arin Lavinia outlined in “Mission Possible,” includes an apprenticeship program where new teachers spend a year working with a more experienced teacher as well as real-time coaching that gives teachers rapid feedback, sometimes through an earpiece while they are still in front of students.

The agreement with Touro makes Success the latest entrant in a growing national effort to tighten the connection between teacher preparation and classroom results. The movement draws fuel from studies confirming what school leaders have long complained: university credentials do not predict whether a teacher can help students learn.

New graduate programs are sprouting up across the country to try to solve this problem. In New York, three charter school networks — Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First — teamed up to open the Relay Graduate School of Education in 2011 with the goal of uniting preparation and practice. And just this week, the city Department of Education announced that it would petition the state for the right to certify teachers itself in some subjects, a move that would circumvent higher education completely.

The U.S. Department of Education joined the push with its 2010 Race to the Top competition, which required states to commit to defining teacher quality not by the degrees teachers hold but by how well their students perform on measures of academic achievement. The competition also called on states to start assessing education schools according to the performance of students their graduates teach.

New York State took home $700 million in the contest and is now in the process of adopting new certification standards that focus more on practice and less on coursework. Teachers will have to submit videos showing themselves in action to get the state’s seal of approval.

Relay, like a small group of education schools around the country, takes the challenge one step farther, requiring future teachers to show that their own students are making academic progress before they can graduate. (The University of Michigan’s school of education and the new Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education, opened by the MATCH Charter School in Boston, are rolling out similar graduation standards.)

Just as Success is now sending its students to a Success-infused program at Touro, Relay grew out of a partnership with CUNY’s Hunter College. The program at Relay reflects its founding networks’ focus on high-poverty student populations, academic performance, and on offering concrete techniques for instruction and classroom management. About 40 percent of the program takes place online.

About 70 percent of Relay’s 550 current students teach in charter schools, including 55 who work at Success schools. Moskowitz said Relay was “much more alternative” than the program she is developing at Touro, but that Success teachers would continue to attend multiple training programs even as the network formally associates with one.

“We’re going to have to let a thousand flowers bloom and develop that pipeline in a variety of ways,” Moskowitz said.

Relay co-founder and president Norman Atkins said he welcomed new innovations in teacher preparation. “We need more public education leaders like Eva to bring their effective professional development models into the field of teacher preparation,” he said in a statement.

State Education Commissioner John King said the Success-Touro partnership represents only one of many promising efforts to reshape teacher training.

“I think what you see is a trend nationally of folks trying to figure out how to better connect teacher preparation with what’s happening in schools,” King said. “That’s reflected in the state’s move to the new performance-based certification assessment for teacher candidates, and it’s reflected in initiatives like what Eva is doing [and] what Relay has done.”

Touro could seem an unlikely choice of partner. In 2007, an investigation found that several administrators at its education school had been awarding grades and even diplomas in exchange for payment.

Moskowitz said she chose the partnership because Touro is geared toward serving students who are working full-time. It offers weekend and evening classes and sends instructors to students where they are, so Success teachers’ training will happen mostly at the network’s schools.

Currently, Success teachers are not taking any classes with other Touro students because of the charter network’s unorthodox school day, which runs until 5 p.m. four days a week and ends at noon on Wednesdays, according to a spokeswoman for Success. But they might well take classes alongside other Touro students in the future, especially if they choose to specialize in narrower license areas, Kadish said.

For Touro, the arrangement provides an influx of students who have been screened according to the network’s selection criteria at a time when the school, like all teacher preparation programs, faces new scrutiny about its graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Kadish said in an interview that working with Success presented an opportunity that was hard to turn down.

“Their network was expanding, and we thought, why not?” he said.

But he said the agreement that Touro reached with the network was not the only arrangement that officials from the two schools talked about.

“There were discussions about doing some kind of experimental program,” he said. “We decided not to do that. … We talk about all kinds of ideas that we don’t implement.”

Some Success Academies staff members with advanced degrees are already working as adjunct professors at Touro, including the network’s executive director of pedagogy, Paul Fucaloro. Kadish said Moskowitz, who has a Ph.D. in American history, could one day join the faculty as well.

A source who is an experienced teacher-educator laid out one downside of the new approach: Smaller and more specialized programs run the risk of failing to prepare graduates for careers that could eventually span multiple schools.

“It’s like having a master’s degree in computer science versus being trained as a Windows technician,” said the source, who declined to speak on the record because he was not authorized to speak about his knowledge of the Success-Touro agreement.

He added, “There’s a fair question [that] people who are certified out of Relay or Success/Touro … will have general teaching licenses and could eventually go elsewhere in their careers. But will they be technically trapped by a methodology that may not apply to another environment?”

Kadish, Touro’s president, said the answer is no, at least for Success Academies’ teachers who come to his school. They will be getting a Touro education with a Success spin, he said.

“We certainly take advantage of the practical experience teachers have as part of their curricula everywhere. To the extent that Success already offers that, it’s advantageous,” he said. “But it doesn’t substitute for the core coursework we require of our students.”

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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.