the AP gap

City plans Advanced Placement expansion in high-need schools

AP_photo (5)
Chancellor Dennis Walcott moderated a panel about Advanced Placement courses at New York University today. To the immediate left, Park East senior Yailizabeth Castillo.

New York City school officials are bringing Advanced Placement courses to far more high schools in their latest effort to get black and Hispanic students doing college-level work.

Almost 58,000 students were enrolled in AP courses in 2012. Now, the city is spending $7 million on an Advanced Placement Expansion Initiative to bring 120 sections of AP classes to 55 high schools. Most of the new classes are in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where white and Asian students far outpace black and Hispanic students.

The new initiative is a collaboration with the College Board, which designs and administers the test, and whose president is David Coleman, architect of the the state’s new Common Core standards.

At a kickoff event this morning, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the expansion reflects the goals of the Common Core, which is aimed at getting students to think deeply and critically.

“This will be Common Core-plus,” Walcott told students from schools participating in the program. “What Advanced Placement does is just take it to the next level.”

AP courses require more writing and big-picture thinking than traditional high school courses, which tend to focus on preparing students to pass tests required for graduation. Students who pass AP exams while in high school can earn college credits.

But the exams are optional, and nationally, fewer black and Hispanic who take AP classes sit for the exams at the end, according to Trevor Packer, a vice president at College Board. Locally, while students of all races have taken and passed more AP exams in recent years, black and Hispanic students have continued to pass far less often than white and Asian students.

The racial AP achievement gap is most pronounced in science and math courses, Packer said today.

That was apparent at Park East High School, one of the participating high schools that began offering AP courses last year, according to Suzy Ort, an assistant principal who coordinates the school’s AP program. She said 58 students enrolled in at least one of the three AP courses offered last year, and results from the lone science course — Environmental Science — were the lowest: Just two of 18 students earned a level three or higher on the exam.

City officials want the AP Expansion Initiative to focus on high schools that have not traditionally offered the more rigorous coursework. Of 55 participating schools, 40 percent never offered AP courses before the 2011-2012 school year and none offered AP courses in science or math, city officials said.

The AP initiative is also an effort to expand opportunities for students to receive college credits while still in high school. The city’s largest program which provides college credits for high school students, College Now, enrolls close to 20,000 students annually from more than 350 high schools. The other dual credit enrollment courses, such as the one modeled on the two-year-old Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, have gained national attention.

Some students said today that they were giving up enrollment in College Now classes to take part in their school’s AP expansion.

“You can email your professor for College Now but you won’t actually  be able to see him until that day of the week,” said Yailizabeth Castillo, a Park East senior explaining why she prefers the daily AP classes to the weekly college classes. Castillo took three College Now courses over the last two school years but is currently enrolled in three AP courses this year. “For AP courses, you have your AP teachers there with you every single day so if you’re not sure about something you could easily just contact them or come earlier in the day to speak to them,” she said.

Ort emphasized that while the test scores are important, the class experience, modeled after a college lecture course, should also factor into success. This year, the school is offering two more AP courses under the expansion initiative — calculus and U.S. history — and Ort said she expects AP enrollment to double.

No new teachers are being hired for the new courses, so the program will rely heavily on training existing teachers. The city is partnering with the National Math and Science Initiative to support the teachers.

“There is not an AP community among teachers here,” said Gregg Fleisher, NSMI’s chief academic officer. “Not yet, but this program is going to start to build that.”

Here is a list of all participating schools, which range from highly selective and specialized schools, such as Brooklyn Latin, to non-selective schools such Park East:

Academy for Young Writers
Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School
Astor Collegiate Academy
August Martin High School
Automotive High School
Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts
Bronx Lab School
Bronx Latin
Bronx School of Law and Finance
Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment
Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School
Brooklyn Lab School
Brooklyn School for Global Studies
Brooklyn School for Music & Theatre
Brooklyn Studio Secondary School
Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School
Business of Sports School
Central Park East High School
Channel View School for Research
Coalition School for Social Change
Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory School
East New York Family Academy
East-West School of International Studies
EBC High School for Public Service–Bushwick
Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School
Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School
George Washington Carver High School for the Sciences
Green School: An Academy for Environmental Careers
Health Opportunities High School
High School for Civil Rights
High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety
High School for Medical Professions
High School of Arts and Technology
Mathematics, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School
N.Y.C. Museum School
New Design High School
New Heights Academy Charter School
Pace High School
Park East High School
Performing Arts and Technology High School
Queens Vocational and Technical High School
Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education High School
Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts
School for International Studies
School of the Future High School
Science, Technology and Research Early College High School at Erasmus Secondary School for Journalism The College Academy
The Marie Curie School for Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions
The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice
University Heights Secondary School
Urban Assembly New York Harbor School
W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School
William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School
Wings Academy World Academy for Total Community Health High School
Young Women’s Leadership School

Top 10

From forest preschools to a secret apology, here are Chalkbeat Colorado’s must-read stories of 2018

PHOTO: Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat
Megan Patterson works with children to make a dam in a creek during a recent "forest school" class.

We spend a lot of time at Chalkbeat chasing the news to keep our readers informed about controversial policy changes, fast-moving debates, and late-breaking decisions.

But we also relish the opportunity to dig deep into issues affecting students and families, shine light on innovative ideas, and hear from dedicated educators making a difference. With that in mind, we’ve gathered 10 of our best stories from 2018.

These stories don’t necessarily chronicle the biggest education issues of 2018, from teacher walkouts to unprecedented state interventions. But they are stories we think are important and insightful, and that we enjoyed reporting and writing. We hope you enjoy reading them.

No walls: Forest preschools let kids run free, but can they change to reach diverse families?

One day this past summer, about a dozen children frolicked by a Jefferson County creek — making pretend tea in small metal buckets, and building dams with sticks and mud.

They were students at Worldmind Nature Immersion School, where children spend all their time outside. So-called forest preschools like Worldmind are beloved by many families but face significant regulatory and logistical barriers in expanding their footprint nationwide. Here in Colorado, a pilot program could lead a new kind of child care license designed for them.

And being licensed could help the schools confront another problem: a lack of diversity among their students. Read more.

Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?

It was an oft-cited statistic: that Colorado, despite its booming economy, ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The eye-popping number found its way onto social media posts and signs at massive teacher rallies last spring. News outlets latched on to it, too.

But it was wrong. Colorado was actually ranked 30th in the nation.

Our story breaks down how the mistake happened (hint: a new data system, an unrevised report) — and how groups with different agendas seized on the snafu to score points. Read more.

This is the letter of apology that Adams 14 leaders never sent

The Adams 14 district in Commerce City is arguably the most troubled and low-performing in Colorado. Just last month, state officials directed Adams 14 to hire an external manager to oversee the district’s operations for at least the next four years.

Back in September, Adams 14 officials considered taking a rare step: saying sorry to the community. But an apology letter was never signed nor sent out.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the letter, which makes mention of “various and conflicting priorities, coupled with constant turnover and organizational disarray.” Read more.

Rising test scores and dwindling trust: Denver’s Tom Boasberg leaves a complicated legacy

Colorado’s largest school district experienced a big change this year when longtime leader Tom Boasberg announced he would step down after nearly 10 years in Denver Public Schools.

Because of his school improvement strategies — some of which were controversial and heightened tensions with the community — the district that the new superintendent, Susana Cordova, will inherit in January is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

One tangible difference: Schools that once served as anchors of the community but struggled academically have been closed or replaced. That disappearance was on display on one of Boasberg’s last days, when he held his cell phone close to his mouth and enunciated each word so his GPS would understand his direction: “Montbello High School.” Read more.

Parents in one Aurora high school are visiting classrooms and giving teachers feedback

Like many schools in Colorado, Aurora’s Rangeview High School has a test score gap between white and black students. But the assistant principal there came up with a unique way to try to address it: by inviting black parents to visit classrooms and observe how students are — or are not — engaging with the teacher’s lesson, and then provide suggestions for improvement.

“We give true and honest feedback,” said one parent involved, “if they looked or appeared comfortable, how they interacted with the environment, the temperature of the room.”

Although the assistant principal considers the African American Parent Committee an experiment, she said it’s generating uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Read more.

How education reform became a wedge issue among Colorado Democrats this election year

For years, more moderate Democrats, often working in unison with like-minded Republicans, championed education reform efforts ranging from school choice to holding educators accountable for student performance.

But partly because of backlash against President Donald Trump and his education secretary, those strategies no longer fly with many Democrats — especially left-leaning Democrats who see them as undercutting public education and devaluing the work of teachers.

That sentiment was palpable in Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, and could shape the next legislative session, which starts in January. “Education is the issue that really stands to divide the left in a very substantial way,” one observer said. Read more.

How a Colorado school district turned things around at 10,000 feet above sea level

School improvement efforts look a little different high in the Rocky Mountains. While many of the strategies used by the 1,000-student Lake County school district are familiar to urban settings, they’ve been retrofitted to meet the needs of a district that’s 100 miles west of Denver.

For example, instead of firing teachers and principals who weren’t accelerating student learning fast enough, the district adopted a new curriculum and gave its teachers lots of training.

“The belief that the people are the problem is wrong,” the superintendent said. “Our teachers are professionals, and we believe in them. We’re proving that there is a framework or a pathway for rural schools to improve that’s about building capacity within your own community.” Read more.

7 things to know about how Colorado schools punish their youngest students

After state lawmakers rejected a bill to limit the use of suspensions in the earliest grades, Chalkbeat wanted to know more about the early childhood discipline landscape in Colorado. Data from the Colorado Department of Education revealed several trends.

Among them: Young black boys are suspended at disproportionate rates. Some rural school districts have the highest early childhood suspension rates in the state.

And despite nationwide debate about the impact of harsh discipline on young children and local efforts to bring the numbers down, suspensions in the early grades are actually going up. Read more.

In Denver’s gentrifying neighborhoods, some middle-class parents are avoiding the school down the block

Many neighborhoods in Denver are gentrifying, with middle-class families moving into what have historically been working-class communities. That type of demographic shift could easily lead to neighborhood schools that are more integrated by family income and race.

But that doesn’t always happen in Denver. Instead, data show that wealthier families – more often than low-income families – are using Denver Public Schools’ universal school choice process to send their kids to schools elsewhere in the city.

That’s a problem because research shows integrated schools boost test scores for students from low-income families without lowering the scores of those from wealthier ones. Denver officials want to see those benefits, but allowing parents to choose may be thwarting them. Read more.

Why this Colorado principal hand delivers birthday cards to more than 2,000 students and staff

Northglenn High School Principal Sharee Blunt is Colorado’s 2018 School Principal of the year — but perhaps even more impressive is the enormous number of birthday cards she hand delivers each year. If you’re one of those people who can barely remember your spouse’s birthday, you’ll be floored by Blunt’s annual feat.

In our interview with Blunt, part of Chalkbeat’s “How I Lead” Q&A series with distinguished school leaders, she talks about what she realized after a mother’s emotional reaction, and why she gave a teacher a pass during a lesson that went awry. Read more.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.