Future of Schools

Read Chancellor Fariña’s speech outlining the city’s new school rating system, but no other changes

Chancellor Carmen Fariña is fulfilling her promise to eliminate A-F letter grades for rating schools.

Her speech, her second major address as chancellor, focused on a revamp of how the city will measure schools’ success and present that information to parents. The centerpiece is a new framework for judging schools that takes community ties and teacher collaboration into account. And a new “School Quality Snapshot” will compare schools to schools serving the same grade levels, rather than schools with similar populations — a shift that addresses the problem of high-performing schools earning low ratings because they don’t show the test-score growth of similar schools, but one also likely to raise questions about how schools with high concentrations of high-needs students will be evaluated.

The speech was low on surprises, though. The accountability changes were long promised, and the speech included no new details on the city’s plans for struggling schools, a new school discipline policy, or fresh ideas for assigning school space.

We’ll have more on the speech over the course of the day. In the meantime, here’s the full text as prepared for delivery. The highlights are Chalkbeat’s.

Good morning and thank you, Principal Bernadette Fitzgerald and Principal Lisa Sarnicola. How wonderful to begin our morning with the P.S. 503 chorus and P.S. 506 chamber group. How about another round of applause for them.

It is an honor to speak to a group of people so invested in New York City, and who share Mayor de Blasio’s belief that public education is the gateway to a brighter future for all of us.

I remember visiting this school 13 years ago when this community had 1,400 students, one principal, and more challenges than successes.

Today, it’s a community on the move because of several crucial factors.

First and foremost, rigorous instruction that is consistent from pre-k through fifth grade.

Resulting in students reading, writing, and performing mathematics with energy and excitement.

A supportive environment that recognizes that social–emotional growth is as important as academic growth and embraces guidance counselors, social workers, and community partners.

Collaborative teachers who team teach, video tape each other during lessons, and give each other critical feedback.

Effective leaders who have made their vision clear, coherent, and visible.

Strong family-community ties. When I attended the 5th grade graduation ceremony at P.S. 503, I was struck by the number of parents who were not only proud of their students, but were celebrating the teachers who helped their children succeed.

Several parents rushed over to tell me what a wonderful learning environment the school was for them as they volunteered and became learning partners in the school.

Last but not least, the culture in these schools is based on trust.

Trust to be risk takers. Trust that values and respects the cultures and languages our students bring to our schools. Trust that all students will be accepted at their level of entry. Trust that their achievement will be accelerated.

So now let me reiterate the six essential elements that have driven continual school improvement and moved students to the next level:
 
They are: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust.

I can tell you that this school’s journey was not easy. Every time I visited over the past years, common questions were, “How do we get better?” “Who really belongs in the classroom?” “What materials will improve achievement?”

But there wasn’t a time when the principals didn’t invite other educators into the room to dialogue, to ensure transparency and that all opinions were being valued.

The work in 503 is certainly not finished nor perfect. However, it has steadily progressed in ways that can be measured and sustained, even with a population that reflects the diversity of the City: 96% of students receive free lunch, 53% are English Language Leaners, and 20% are students with disabilities.

No wonder this school was chosen as a Learning Partner school hosting many visitors this year.

I’m describing the accomplishments of this school because we see that their progress has implications for the City as a whole.

We are looking beyond test scores and focusing on making sure that each school has what it needs for sustained and continuous growth. And we have developed a framework that mirrors the essential elements we see in schools that continually improve.

For the past six months, we solicited feedback through focus groups and conversations with more than a thousand stakeholders, from parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents to labor leaders, elected officials, advocates, and nationally-recognized researchers and education experts.

We built our framework around an established body of research conducted by Anthony Bryk and his colleagues from the University of Chicago. In their public school system over a seven-year period, they identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved—and 100 that had not.
 
The schools that improved demonstrated a comprehensive set of practices and conditions, once again: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust.
 
These schools were 10 times more likely to substantially improve in reading, math, and attendance, and 30 times less likely to stagnate in these areas.

Bryk’s findings have been further validated by other independent researchers across the country.

Today, I am announcing our new framework adapted from Bryk’s research. Our framework provides a robust basis for building on each school’s strengths, addressing its needs, and determining a course of action that holds everyone in our school system accountable for our students’ futures.

It will provide the basis for how schools will be evaluated and supported and give superintendents clear guidelines for individualizing their supervision.

One size does not fit all.

With student achievement at the center of everything we do, the first element focuses on the classroom and the delivery of rigorous instruction that aligns content and practice to the Common Core State standards — within and across grades.

The second element revolves around the classroom and measuring schools’ capacity to foster a supportive environment that encourages students to be there for one another and provides for their social and emotional growth.

The third element focuses on the head of the class, celebrating and honoring collaborative teachers who are committed to the success of their students, improvement across the schools, and continuous professional learning.

For the fourth element, we step just outside the classroom to turn our attention to how well the rest of the adults in the building collaborate to create conditions that lead to student success. Effective school leaders who support teachers, work with their school community, and build coherent instructional and social-emotional support will improve student achievement.

The fifth element focuses on the capacity to build strong family and community ties. Schools that welcome, value, and incorporate families and communities, and build strong partnerships with businesses and community-based organizations, function most successfully.

All of this work must be done in a culture of trust, the sixth element, which is the engine for rapid improvement across all of the elements. We will create a school culture where value and respect exist across the system — among teachers, principals, staff, central, and families.

This is a new era in education in New York City.

We are no longer forcing change on people, we’re creating change with people.

Having transformed how we approach school accountability, it is crucial that we also revise the way we report progress — to keep our promise to make change that will make our school system more transparent and accessible for students, families, and school staff.

The original intention of our Progress Report was to reward schools that were making a big effort to move in the right direction. Unfortunately, it often gave a misleading impression to families about what was actually happening in the school.

In my first years as a consultant, I walked into an A school with a progress report pasted on every door and I was horrified when evidence of good classroom instruction and collaboration was missing.

It was possible that test scores were moving in the right direction, but there was no evidence of students conversing, problem solving, or engaging in critical analysis so crucial in preparing students for college and careers.

The principal couldn’t wait to tell me that because of the A, the school had arrived—as if it was the end of the journey instead of the beginning.

Teachers, too, were singing their own praises and were so busy congratulating themselves that they couldn’t think of any next steps in improving their craft except to give the students more homework.

Conversely, I received a frantic phone call from a principal who had gotten a D. I knew for a fact that the school was full of engaged families, collaborative teachers, and students participating in hands-on, interactive learning.

At the principal’s request, I attended the PTA meeting that night to give my feedback on the school and try to rationalize the existing grade. I found it difficult to answer parent questions and had to admit that if I were grading the school, they would have received a much higher grade.

In 100 subsequent school visits throughout the City, I was consistently amazed that my evaluation often did not match the Progress Report.

So I am beyond thrilled today to announce that our new School Quality Snapshot will replace the Progress Report — and change the way we inform schools and communities about what’s going on in the classroom and the way we hold schools accountable.
 
The Snapshot will provide the first balanced picture of a school’s quality — and reflects our promise to stop judging students and schools based on a single, summative grade.
 
This is a common sense approach that recognizes that students learn and display knowledge in different ways, and we must respect, not denigrate, the qualities that make each student unique.

Likewise, schools have unique qualities that cannot be captured in a letter grade. They are not restaurants.

In lieu of an A to F grading scale, the Snapshot will provide rich details about the life of the school by capturing successes, challenges, and strategies for improvement.
 
This is a totally new approach. We are no longer penalizing a school for its weaknesses.

One way we will support schools is to evaluate their performance based on multiple measures, including information collected during the Quality Review, which is undergoing a significant change. This year, the Quality Review will be modified based on feedback from the field and it will evolve next year to align to the new framework.

The Quality Review will provide principals with specific feedback about what to look for in classrooms and where they can prioritize their ongoing efforts to improve their schools. It will also offer support in areas of greatest need.

There is another major change that will move us away from grading schools on a curve.

Unlike the Progress Report, the School Quality Snapshot compares a school’s performance to all schools in the City serving the same grade levels—regardless of student population. This is no longer a competition. All of our schools need an accurate picture of how they’re doing if they hope to improve. This is what transparency is all about. This is what the Mayor and I promised our students and families.

Our city is engaged in transformational change.

This is a new era of support and collaboration.

We have heard—and loudly, I might add—that accountability does not begin with a DOE algorithm to measure schools. Rather, it begins with the people in the system: the teachers, students, parents, and principals who are in our schools every day. They are the ones who know what is working and what requires our attention.

This year, we will revamp our annual NYC School Survey to align with the six elements I have been describing: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust.

The Survey results will allow the system to focus on leading indicators rather than relying on the results of state tests that come well after the students have moved onto the next grade.

We will use these results to assist each school leader in delivering differentiated support so that each school will improve, with the six elements as the guiding factors.

We will also evaluate ourselves at the DOE to ensure that our efforts are driving higher student achievement.

The new NYC School Survey will launch in January 2015, and by the end of this spring we will have data to begin to bring real change to our system.

There will be people who ask why these changes are significant. Let me amplify that both the Snapshot and the framework will yield important information that will help us help schools.

The Mayor and I have promised a school system and city based on equity, transparency, and respect. Of course it all hinges on increasing student achievement. Therefore, let me reiterate our accomplishments.

In the nine months of our administration, we have made distinctive strides in launching and reintroducing practices we know will increase student achievement:

We launched a historic expansion of pre-kindergarten to over 50,000 students – more than double last year’s total. This initiative will give our youngest learners the opportunity to enter kindergarten knowing 1,000 additional vocabulary words, ready to learn to read and write, and prepared with social skills necessary for future school success.

We launched the largest-ever expansion of after-school seats for middle school students. These students are benefiting from an extended school day, with opportunities to participate in a variety of arts and sports programs, technology experiences, small-group instruction, and one-on-one tutoring. Many offer guidance and emotional support.

Our students learn their first lessons in the home. Developing strong family ties is a priority of my administration. The new contract with the United Federation of Teachers provides an additional 40 minutes each week for teachers to involve families in more creative ways – not just a phone call when things are bad.

Student-led parent-teacher conferences and all-day family conferences will further cement the home-school connection.

Holding Community Education Council and Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council meetings in community settings are helping to bring the conversation beyond what is often perceived as a “Tweed” experience.

We recognize that a school is the anchor of its neighborhood, and that one can’t prosper without the other. To strengthen that relationship, we are developing more than 40 new community schools that will welcome, value and incorporate families and community into the life of the schools; providing vitally important services, ranging from mental health support to homework help and family counseling.

Community Schools have a proven track record of helping at-risk children succeed in the classroom and beyond. Their families benefit as well.

We have established a new Office of Guidance and School Counseling to provide professional development for counselors and social workers to enable them to support all students to be effective learners and engaged citizens.

Our new, stand-alone Department of English Language Learners and Student Support will ensure that our ELLs have access to cutting-edge bilingual and dual-language programs and get necessary supports to ensure the high-quality education they deserve.

Likewise, through our Division of Specialized Instruction and Student Support, we will make sure that each school has a plan to welcome students with special needs and provide them the instruction they need to graduate college and career ready. We will train teachers in intervention strategies for specific competencies.

We are expanding arts education because when the arts are part of the DNA of a school, students achieve artistically and academically. We have an additional $23 million to ensure that all students have a high-quality arts education, including in our pre-k program.

We are enhancing our Career and Technical Education schools, which provide an opportunity for our students to prepare for the workforce while also getting college ready. This is a commitment that we entered into with the New York State Education Department and the Partnership for New York City. We need partners.

We are redoubling our efforts to support teachers through professional learning opportunities. A professional learning handbook and a new Social Studies Scope & Sequence ensure a Common Core Curriculum with substance added to strategies.

Educators now have an additional 80 minutes each week to devote to professional learning. Teachers, principals, and other educators have demonstrated their hunger for continued learning: more than 13,000 voluntarily attended our conferences and workshops this summer.

Through our Learning Partners program, more than 70 schools are collaborating to leverage the rich reservoir of expertise that resides in our school communities. We can find answers to the struggles we face when we share our knowledge and experience with each other. Visitations and collaborations are enhancing all of our schools. Our goal is to create a network of support among colleagues and allow the collective wisdom to go viral.

Our focus is on customized, inclusive, motivating instruction that meets the needs of all of our students — from new immigrants learning English to students with disabilities to students in gifted and talented classrooms.

While we care deeply about achievement in every grade level, we know that at certain grades, there are crucial benchmarks that students must reach to enable them to advance to higher levels of performance. Therefore, we are focusing our attention on 2nd, 7th, and 10th grades and providing additional support, including a renewed focus on STEM during summer school and additional mentoring and internships in 10th grade. It’s critical that our students meet certain academic, social, and emotional benchmarks in order to thrive in college and the workforce.

I’m proud to be a lifelong educator. Wherever I travel in New York City, I meet former students who are now writers, videographers, doctors, and even teachers, who remind me of the days they spent in my classroom and the lessons they still carry with them. These students and the ones in our classrooms today are at the heart of the work we do.

The power of being Chancellor is the opportunity to turn our hopes and dreams for our children into reality.

What I have found particularly important in this journey has been the chance to reflect on all that I’ve learned in my role as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and deputy chancellor—and employ the most effective strategies to move the City as a whole.

In every single job I always thought I had reached the pinnacle. What always motivated me to go to the next step was the power of making a difference in children’s lives.

Knowing that in New York City today there will be more children headed to college, more families engaged in fulltime work and, most importantly, more people who believe that anything is possible.

Even that a little girl who started kindergarten unable to speak English would one day become Schools Chancellor.

The challenge before all of you in this room today is to join our dream.

Whatever talent you have, whatever interest you have, whatever gift you have to give, I stand here today to invite you to join me and Mayor de Blasio in transforming our school system.

Todos sabemos que la Ciudad de Nueva York es una rayo de esperanza para el resto del mundo. Únanse a nosotros para hacer de esta la ciudad donde todos nuestros sueños se hacen realidad.

We know that New York City is a beacon to the rest of the world. Join me in making this the city where all of our dreams come true.

Overhaul Efforts

The entire staffs at two troubled New York City high schools must reapply for their jobs

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in 2015 with Automotive High School Principal Caterina Lafergola, who later left the school. Automotive is one of eight schools where teachers have had to reapply for their jobs in recent years.Now, teachers at two more schools will have to do the same. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

In a bid to jumpstart stalled turnaround efforts, the entire staffs at two troubled high schools will have to reapply for their jobs — an aggressive intervention that in the past has resulted in major staff shake-ups.

The teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals at Flushing High School in Queens and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx will have to re-interview for their positions beginning next spring, education department officials said Thursday, the same day that staffers learned of the plan. Meanwhile, Flushing Principal Tyee Chin, who has clashed bitterly with teachers there, has been ousted; his replacement will take over Friday, officials said. (DeWitt Clinton’s principal will stay on.)

Both schools are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature “Renewal” program for low-performing schools, but have struggled to hit their improvement targets. They are also under state pressure to make significant gains or face consequences, leading to speculation that the rehiring is meant partly to buy the city more time before the state intervenes. (Last year, Flushing was the only school out of two-dozen on a state list of low-achieving city schools not to meet its turnaround goals.)

“Having a strong leader and the right team of teachers is essential to a successful school,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, “and this re-staffing process is the necessary next step in the work to turnaround these schools.”

The staffing change stems from an agreement between the de Blasio administration and the city teachers union, who have agreed to the same process for eight other schools since 2014. Among the six schools that went through the process last year, nearly half of the staff members left — either because they were not rehired or they chose not to reapply.

As part of the deal, hiring decisions will be made by committees at each school comprised of the principals and an equal number of union and city appointees. Unlike when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to overhaul bottom-ranked schools by replacing their principals and at least half of their teachers, these committees can choose to hire as many or as few of the current teachers as they choose.

In the past, the city has placed teachers who were not retained through the rehiring process in other schools — a move that drew criticism for overriding principals’ authority to choose their own staffs. City officials would not provide details about the arrangement for Flushing or Clinton other than to say that the education department would help teachers who left the schools find new placements.

The education department “will work with each teacher to ensure they have a year-long position at a school next year,” spokesman Michael Aciman said in an email.

Both high schools have already endured a destabilizing amount of turnover: Since 2013, more than half the teachers at both schools have left, according to the teachers union. And Flushing’s incoming principal, Ignazio Accardi, an official in the department’s Renewal office, is the sixth in six years.

The school’s outgoing principal, Tyee Chin, had a brief and troubled tenure.

Last year — his first on the job — he wrote a letter to his staff describing a toxic environment that he called “the Hunger Games for principals,” where he said some teachers keep up a “war cry” for a new leader. Meanwhile, the teachers union lodged a discrimination complaint against Chin with a state board, alleging that he threatened to press “racism and harassment” charges against the school’s union representative simply for carrying out her duties, said United Federation of Teachers Vice President of High Schools Janella Hinds.

“Principal Chin came in with an attitude that wasn’t collaborative or supportive,” Hinds said. “We’re dealing with a school community that has had a long list of principals who were not collaborative.”

In an email, Chin disputed the union representative’s allegations and said many staffers did not want him to leave.

“Only a small number of teachers were unhappy with my leadership because they were held to a higher expectations [sic] and or were investigated for inappropriate actions,” he said. “I have received many emails from staff telling me they are very sorry and that it was a pleasure having me as their principal.”

Chin’s departure comes after DeWitt Clinton’s previous principal, Santiago Taveras, who also sparred with teachers, was removed last year after city investigators found he had changed student grades. He was replaced by Pierre Orbe, who will remain in his position.

The education department will host recruitment events during the spring and summer to bring in teacher applicants, who will be screened by the schools’ staffing committees, officials said.

However, it may be difficult to find seasoned teachers willing to take on such tough assignments.

When the teachers at Brooklyn’s long-struggling Automotive High School were forced to reapply for their jobs in 2015, the majority left. Many of their replacements were rookies, said then-principal Caterina Lafergola.

“Many of the schools that are going through the rehiring have a stigma attached to them,” she said last year. “It’s very hard to recruit strong candidates.”

Not long after, Lafergola left the school, too.

Update: This story has been updated to include a response from the outgoing principal of Flushing High School, Tyee Chin.

Future of Schools

For Indianapolis principals hoping to improve, one program says practice makes perfect

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
A kindergarten student reaches for crayons during a lesson at Global Prep Academy.

Mariama Carson has spent 20 years as an educator, first as a teacher and now as principal of Global Prep Academy. But in all that time, she never found training that prepared her as well as what she learned over two weeks last summer.

Carson, along with 23 other Indianapolis school leaders, was chosen to be a fellow in a principal training program through the Relay Graduate School of Education. Almost immediately, she noticed a big difference from previous coaching she’d had: They practiced everything.

How do you teach kids the right way to walk in the hallway? They practiced it. How do you let a teacher know she’s struggling? They practiced it. What are the precise words to use in an evaluation? More practice.

“The commitment to practice is what has been so different,” Carson said. “Whatever we learn in Relay … it’s not just something someone has told you about. You’ve practiced it. You’ve lived it.”

Relay, a six-year-old New York-based organization, was founded by a cadre of leaders from high-performing charter school networks. Practice, role-playing and applied learning are at the center of their work with educators, which for five years has included a year-long principal fellowship.

In the 2016-17 school year, Relay trained about 400 school leaders in the United States. Fellows from Indianapolis were chosen and sponsored by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit. Joe White, who directs The Mind Trust’s school support initiatives, said he was happy with the response during the last round of applications. The next cohort, whose members will be announced this month, will be larger and contain more Indianapolis Public School educators, as well as charter school principals, he said.

The Mind Trust wants to make the training “available to as many new operators as possible to continue expanding this work across the city,” White said. “We think that this is the way that we create sustainable schools that will provide high-quality results and outcomes for kids for a very long time.”

Two principals in the midst of the program told Chalkbeat that the fellowship is already changing the culture and efficiency of their schools. The principals spent the fellowship’s two-week summer training session in Denver learning how to best collect and analyze student data, give feedback to teachers and create a school building that runs smoothly.

“The practice and critical feedback we got was unlike anything I’d ever experienced,” said Mariama Carson, a principal at Global Prep Academy, which is housed in the IPS Riverside 44 building. “Usually as a principal, you don’t get that kind of feedback.”

But Relay, which also has teacher training programs, has its share of critics. Kenneth Zeichner, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington, analyzed non-university-affiliated teacher training programs, including Relay’s. Although he hasn’t looked into the principal program specifically, he said he is troubled that the teacher training curriculum emphasizes using test scores to gauge results at the expense of a more well-rounded assessment of students, who many times are coming from families living in poverty.

He also worries Relay as a whole is too focused on fast growth, rather than on proving its methods work. There have been no independent studies done on whether Relay produces better teachers than other alternative or university programs, Zeichner said, although one is underway.

“My concern about Relay is not that they exist,” Zeichner said. “If you’re going to measure the quality of a teacher education program — of any program — the independent vetting, or review, of claims about evidence (is) a baseline minimum condition.”

Chalkbeat spoke with Carson and Bakari Posey, principal at IPS School 43. The two just completed their second of several training sessions, which will continue through the rest of the school year.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What made you want to be part of the fellowship?

Carson: The job of a principal is so lonely. To have the opportunity to work with high-quality, hard-working principals across the country is always inviting.

Posey: I wanted to make sure that I was able to appropriately and efficiently and effectively develop the people on our team. That’s what really drew me in. It’s shaped my thinking and sharpened my lens as a leader and what I’m looking for in classrooms.

What have you learned so far that you’re implementing in your school?

Carson: It’s been transformative in how our building is run just on the cultural side. Relay has really helped us understand that especially with adult learners, you have to start with the “why.” And then we model, and the teachers (in my school) play the position as students. We go into full acting mode, and then the teachers execute that practice. For two weeks before the kids even showed up, that’s what our teachers were doing. Normally, I’d hand my teachers a packet of procedures and expectations, but we never practiced.

Posey: We’ve started to implement already … around coaching teachers — how we give that feedback and give teachers bite-sized action steps to work on instead of making a list of 12 things to do at once. If you do one thing better every single day, then you get better overall. Something else that’s big for me is student work exemplars — actually having an example of excellence for student work that the teacher creates and uses to guide feedback. Overall it’s just kind of helped to organize my thinking as a school leader and really kind of give you a little bit of a road map towards student growth and overall school success. It’s the best professional development I’ve ever been a part of.

How have teachers back in your schools responded to the changes you have introduced, including suggestions on improving instruction, evaluations, etc.?

Carson: Teachers have been responding well, and they’re getting used to this culture, a culture of practice. Even in our feedback sessions where we’re coaching teachers, it’s “OK, execute the lesson — I’ll be the student, you be the teacher.”

Posey: They’ve been receptive. It’s not coming from a place of “gotcha” or I’m trying to make you look really bad. It’s really coming from a place of really getting better for our students to really give them the best, which is what they deserve.