merryl mouths off

In 90 minutes, Tisch took on readiness gap, test objectors, TFA

Learning Matters' John Merrow and New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (Photo: Nancy Adler)

The city’s very low college and career readiness rate for black and Hispanic students is a statistic usually cited by advocates seeking to discredit the Bloomberg administration’s education record.

But when asked to measure the true value of a high school diploma in New York City Wednesday night by education reporter John Merrow, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch turned to the familiar statistic to convey her concerns.

“That, to me, is tragic,” Tisch said, after rattling off the numbers.

Merrow pressed her to account for the disparity between the city’s graduation rate, which is over 60 percent, and its low college-readiness rates. “Why isn’t this fraud?” he asked.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” Tisch said.

The exchange was part of a 90-minute public dialogue in which Tisch also criticized families who opt out of state tests, set firm limits about the city’s request to certify teachers, and proclaimed that the city and its teachers union would reach a teacher evaluation deal before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mid-January deadline.

The conversation was part of a series at the JCC on the Upper West Side in which Merrow interviews high-profile education personalities. Past guests have included AFT President Randi Weingarten, former city Chancellor Joel Klein, Success Academy Charter Network founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz, and KIPP founder Dave Levin.

During the wide-ranging conversation, Tisch took a number of stands on contentious education issues facing the state. Notably, Tisch faithfully defended standardized testing and its use to measure student growth and evaluate teachers, even after Merrow confronted her with a copy of last year’s widely lambasted “Hare and the Pineapple” test question.

Tisch criticized parents who opted their children out of the state tests as setting a “dangerous precedent” about privilege. In the city, 113 students opted out of the math and reading tests this spring, and this month, some schools are refusing to administer field tests meant to help the state develop more challenging exams. The most vocal objections have come from parents at a handful of high-performing Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn schools with many middle-class families.

“When you choose not to be part of something, you’re sending loads of messages about who can and who can’t opt out,” Tisch said. “And I always think that’s a dangerous precedent.”

And despite her grim view of the city’s college readiness rates, Tisch also hailed Bloomberg’s decade-long effort to overhaul the city’s schools. She said Bloomberg wasn’t to blame for the city’s failure to prepare poor students of color for college and careers after graduation.

“In New York City, you’ve had a very deliberate attempt to try and fix the public school system,” Tisch said. “I think it’s been a heroic attempt.”

It was a common theme for Tisch, who carefully balanced her opinions on both sides of most of the issues Merrow raised.

In one breath, Tisch praised the energy that Teach for America’s teachers were injecting into the poorest neighborhood schools. In the next, she criticized the organization because too many of its teachers end up leaving the profession after only a few years.

“I don’t like the fact that Teach for America produces a lot teachers who come in and out of the system quickly,” she said.

Tisch had equally critical things to say about traditional teachers colleges and the NYC Teaching Fellows, a city-run alternative certification program that is now run by TNTP. Tisch said the program for years sent hundreds of unprepared teachers into the class room.

Tisch reiterated her support for the city’s recent proposal to certify its own teachers, so long as the city limited the practice to license areas where it hasn’t been able to fill positions, such as science and special education. But would she consider giving the city permission to certify teachers for any job?

“Absolutely not,” she said.

Perhaps the most urgent issue for Tisch and the New York State Education Department is the timeline that districts have to submit evaluation plans for approval. Gov. Cuomo has set a January deadline and threatened to withhold state aid from districts that miss it. As of 5:00 p.m. yesterday, Tisch said 495 of the state’s 694 districts have submitted plans.

The state’s largest district by far, New York City, is one that hasn’t submitted plans, but Tisch insisted she wasn’t worried about that.

“I am telling you here tonight that they will get to an agrement before the deadline,” she said.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “… I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “… We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

hands on

Apprenticeships are now open for the second round of CareerWise high school students

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
Denver student Quang Nguyen works at an internship this past summer.

More than half the companies that signed on for the launch of Colorado’s apprenticeship program CareerWise have renewed and plan to take on a second group of apprentices this fall, while a number of new companies have added programs.

That means there are 160 new openings for Colorado high school students in fields ranging from manufacturing to information technology to healthcare, a 33 percent increase from the 120 positions available to the first group of students last year.

CareerWise offers three-year apprenticeships to students starting in their junior year of high school. It’s based on the Swiss apprenticeship model and was conceived by Gov. John Hickenlooper and businessman Noel Ginsburg, who is himself now a candidate for governor, after a trip to Switzerland in 2015. The first apprentices started in 2017.

Brad Revare, CareerWise’s director of business partnerships, said most of the companies that didn’t renew are small firms that don’t feel like they have the capacity to take on a second apprentice right now. Some are still deciding if they’ll renew — this recruitment cycle hasn’t closed — and some companies have said they plan to take a second apprentice when the first apprentice is in his or her third year so that the older student can serve as a mentor.

Revare said the renewal rate has been a pleasant surprise.

“We didn’t anticipate this high of a renewal rate,” he said. “We believe that demonstrates that partnerships aren’t just a good corporate citizen thing, but a good return-on-investment business decision. To sign up for a second cohort when the first cohort is only on the job for six months speaks to the value of this program.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done for the program to achieve its goals, though. The charge from the governor, who has made workforce training and apprenticeships one of his priorities, is to have 20,000 high school students in apprenticeship programs within 10 years. He reiterated that goal in his State of the State address Thursday.

The renewing companies include Arrow Electronics, the city of Grand Junction, University of Colorado Denver, DaVita, DH Wholesale Signs, DT Swiss, EKS&H, Geotech Environmental, Gordon Sign, HomeAdvisor, Intertech Medical, Intertech Plastics, Mesa 51, Mile High United Way, Monument Health, Nordson Medical, Prostar Geocorp, Research Electro-Optics, SAS Manufacturing, Skillful, Stonebridge, Swiftpage, TeleTech, and Western States Fire Protection

New participating businesses for 2018 include Janus Henderson Investors, Otter Products, SAVA Senior Care, the city of Aurora, and the governor’s Office of Information Technology.

CareerWise is still recruiting more businesses for 2018.

To find an apprenticeship, check out CareerWise’s Marketplace.