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.

'rigorous and realistic'

Some struggling New York City schools can lose ground and still hit performance targets

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Mayor Bill de Blasio at Brooklyn Generation School — part of the Renewal program

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious promise to transform struggling schools, some of New York City’s bottom-ranked schools can backslide this year and still hit new goals that the city has set for them.

For the first time, the city has told schools in its $582 million “Renewal” program to aim for test scores, graduation rates, or attendance rates that fall within a certain range, rather than hit a specific target. But some ranges include goals that are below the schools’ current levels.

For instance, Bronx Collegiate Academy posted a 67 percent graduation rate last year. This year, its city-issued goal is to land between 63.6 and 81.9 percent — meaning its graduation rate can go down and still fall within its target range.

At the Bronx’s J.H.S. 123, the goal is for students to earn an average score on the state English tests of between 2.3 and 2.45 — despite already achieving a 2.42 average last year. (Students must earn a 3 or higher on the 4-point scale to be considered proficient.)

The latest round of goals continues a pattern of modest targets for schools in de Blasio’s signature school-turnaround program, even as the city loads them with extra social services, extended hours, and bigger budgets. Some experts say the goals are appropriate for schools that started so far behind, and note that school turnaround can take years. But others say the goals set a low bar, and question whether they are designed to make it easier for the de Blasio administration to claim its pricey program was a success.

What’s more, the new goal ranges have created some confusion among school leaders about what they are expected to achieve and what will happen if they don’t.

“If [the goals] really are supposed to be guiding stars and shaping what schools are doing on a day-to-day basis,” said Teachers College professor Aaron Pallas, “fuzzy ranges with unclear accountability consequences is not the way to do it.”

The goals are one of the factors officials consider when deciding whether schools in the Renewal program have made sufficient progress or should instead be closed or merged with other schools.

But if they are meant to provide low-performing schools with clear targets and a sense of urgency, the new ranges have instead created some confusion. The city offered online trainings on the goals, but some school leaders remain unsure of what’s expected of them.

“What we’ve been told is: ‘You need to reach for the upper range of your benchmark,’ said an administrator at a Brooklyn Renewal school, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not a fixed number, so what’s good enough and what isn’t?”

Eric Ashton, the education department’s executive director for accountability, acknowledged that the new goal ranges had left some people confused.

Still, he defended them as “rigorous and realistic,” and said schools are expected to aim for the upper end of the range. The ranges are meant to encourage schools to focus on making progress rather than fixating on a single number, he added

“If you just have one number as a target then it’s all or nothing,” Ashton said. “We don’t want it to be all or nothing.”

The tweaks partially reflect the political dilemma the education department faces when assigning goals to the city’s lowest-performing schools: Overly modest goals could invite criticism that such small gains do not justify the program’s hefty price tag, while overly ambitious goals could set the program up for failure.

Yet despite their caution, officials have fallen into both traps.

Early goals they set for Renewal schools required such slight improvements that a top state official called them “ridiculous.” Still, many schools have failed to meet those goals, providing ammunition to some critics who say the program has been a costly disappointment.

Some schools have made strides, including a group of 21 “Rise” schools that officials say have made enough progress to begin transitioning out of the Renewal program. Pallas, the Teachers College professor, said that officials may have assigned achievable goals to the program’s remaining schools as a way to ease even more out — raising questions about the city’s long-term plans for the program.

“Setting low targets could allow the department to shift more of the schools to the Rise category, which is the declaring-victory category,” he said. “I think we’re all still wondering what the future of this program is going to be.”

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.