pooling resources

N.Y. business community bands together to back Common Core

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 12.09.17 PMA day after test scores were released showing that less than a third of students are meeting the state’s new standards, advocates announced support for the standards from the business community.

Forty CEOs from across New York signed on to a letter arguing that the state should not slow down its implementation of the Common Core learning standards, which includes testing students and evaluating teachers based in part on student performance. The new standards are necessary if state high schools are to produce graduates ready to work, they said.

“As business executives, we understand how challenging it can be for organizations to operate in a changing environment,” reads the letter, which is posted on a new website created for the campaign, NYSucceeds.org. “Yet the need to raise college- and career-readiness in K-12 education is urgent — which is why moving forward with Common Core is crucial.”

It’s a message the state has tried to deliver as well. In its presentation about the test scores on Wednesday, the State Education Department highlighted a study that found $17 billion in economic dividends for a 1 percent gain in college readiness rates.

The business leaders — who come from large and small companies in New York City and beyond — were recruited by Education Reform Now, the nonprofit advocacy branch of the political action committee Democrats for Education Reform. New York is one of 14 states where ERN operates.

Former schools chancellor Joel Klein, who as the CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify signed the letter, was briefly ERN’s board chair back in 2011, just after he left the Department of Education. At the time, the group was lobbying legislators to do away with “last in, first out” seniority layoff rules. The group formed as a coalition of charter school supporters in 2010 when legislators were locked in fierce debate about whether to allow more of the publicly funded and privately managed schools.

In both of those campaigns, ERN lobbied against the teachers union and the battles were pitched. But now, even though the UFT has criticized the city and state for not supplying a curriculum tied to the Common Core, the policy frontier is less clear. The Common Core has already been adopted in New York State and legislators have not indicated an intention to take on the issue. Plus, even critics of the city’s and state’s implementation largely say they support the standards, which aim to get students thinking critically and solving real problems.

Elizabeth Ling, ERN’s state director, said opposition to the Common Core is sharper outside of New York City. “I think in some other parts of the state there is a strong anti-testing crowd,” she said.

But Ling said she could not predict whether the low scores, which state education officials had warned about because of the new standards, would fuel opposition to the Common Core, which has come under attack from Republican lawmakers in other states.

“We’ll just have to see,” she said. “We can’t assume anything really.”

Ling unveiled the letter today at an event about linking business and education at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in Manhattan, which State Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Dennis Walcott also attended.

 

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.