the ticker

Dispatches from the first day of school: Carranza hits bus depot and schools across the city

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza high-fives students at P.S. 78 on Staten Island as they leave after the first day of the 2018-2019 school year.

More than a million students headed back to school on Wednesday in New York City, marking the first first day of classes during Chancellor Richard Carranza’s tenure.

His day started well before sunrise, with a 5 a.m. visit to a Queens bus depot where the new schools chief snapped a selfie with drivers. He hopped on a yellow bus with two first graders to P.S. 377 in Ozone Park, Queens, to kick off a bustling five-borough first-day tour, a tradition among New York City chancellors to highlight the diversity of the city and their policy priorities.

Over nine hours, Carranza plans to visit a prekindergarten class in Queens, sit in on an Advanced Placement class in the Bronx, eat lunch in Harlem, stop by a charter high school in the far reaches of Brooklyn, and dismiss students on Staten Island. Mayor Bill de Blasio will join him this morning at a class for 3-year-olds that’s part of his administration’s early childhood push.

Our Christina Veiga is along for the ride and will file dispatches all day. Share your first-day-of-school pictures and observations and we’ll include them!

A QUICK BUS RIDE The chancellor usually travels by SUV but took a yellow bus to his first school on Wednesday, a 15-minute ride with first graders Miabella Salas, 6, of Ozone Park, and Salvatore McGrane, 5, of Howard Beach.

According to a pool report of the trip, Salas told Carranza her first priority for the day was to reconnect with friend she missed over summer break.  “I want to play with my friends,” she said. “And be nice to them.”

Carranza was on board with that approach, as well as Salas’s goal of working on her math skills. “Her advice is to be nice to kids today, she agrees that she should have lunch, she’s going to help her friends and she has a backpack full of school supplies,” Carranza observed. “She’s prepared and ready to go.”

The chancellor then sat next to Salvatore. It took a bit for the two to warm up to each other, as Sal was distracted by train tracks and other scenery out the window. “Sal is so over me,” Carranza joked. But they picked up steam as Sal outlined his career plans—becoming a train conductor—and spoke about how much he loved the school bus.

After dropping off his passengers, bus driver Luis Torrero looked relieved and said he appreciated Carranza’s choice to ride a bus on the first day of school.

“That was pretty cool,” he said, according to the pool report. “This is my career, this is my life, being a bus driver. So it’s definitely a good way to start the year.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza walk a 3-year-old to his first day of class in Queens.

FIRST SCHOOL STOP At P.S. 377, Carranza and de Blasio walked hand-in-hand with a preschool student, who was wearing a toy firefighter helmet, into the brick school.

In the courtyard outside, Tiffany Anastasia snapped pictures of her 2-year-old son, Luke Acevedo, who was starting preschool.

After making pre-K free and universal for 4-year-olds, de Blasio has pushed to start his signature education policy even earlier — for 3-year-olds. The mayor plans to offer “3–K” in 12 school districts by 2020 — four more than he originally planned. A full expansion will require a substantial influx of state and federal dollars.

The political fight ahead was far from Anastasia’s mind as she posed Luke with a cartoon backpack and snapped photos. She said she heard on TV news that 3-K was available in her neighborhood and signed Luke up, even though the timing of his birthday meant he’d start at only 2.

“He needs friends,” Anastasia said, adding that “it’s a given” that she’d cry after sending Luke off.

Inside, parents eased their children into what for many will be their first classroom experiences. One scene that Christina captured:

AROUND THE CITY Carranza wasn’t the only one taking selfies and grinning for the iPhone camera Wednesday. Parents, students, and teachers around the five boroughs marked the first day of classes on social media.

SECOND SCHOOL AND PRESSER In a wide-ranging press conference, elected officials and educators sung the praises of expanding early childhood education, the mayor projected optimism for scoring admissions changes at specialized high schools, and Carranza laid out some broad goals for the year.

The city’s 3-K program is available in six districts across Brooklyn, the Bronx, and for the first time this year, Queens. About 5,000 students are enrolled in more than 180 schools. The mayor estimated the program saves families about $10,000 a year.

“This was a basic matter of equity and fairness,” de Blasio said. “When kids are 3 years old and 4 years old, they can learn in a way they literally can’t learn later in life. This is this irreplaceable moment.”

Carranza called the first day of school “a momentous occasion.”

“This is our Super Bowl. This is our World Series. This is our U.S. Open, all rolled into one,” he said.

Carranza said he wants to focus on “learning and instruction” this year, calling it the “cornerstone” of the system. He also pledged to “empower and partner” with school communities; foster a learning culture in schools; and shift away from tough accountability to focus on building “capacity” among educators.

Asked about the specialized high schools debate, de Blasio said “I like our chances” when it comes to getting the legislature to approve admissions changes.

DEBATE CLASS AT A THIRD SCHOOL In the Bronx, Carranza stopped by AP classes in two schools that share the same campus to highlight the city’s efforts to bring advanced, college-level courses to more students.

In a U.S. history class at the Cinema School, the chancellor listened as students debated whether schools should arm teachers.

Just a few flights up the stairs, students in an AP psychology class had written what they wanted to learn in the next year on sticky notes. As they debated the question “What is psychology,” the chancellor jumped in to moderate another conversation about guns in schools.

“That’s only going to incite more shootings and more conflicts,” one student said.

Carranza offered his own thoughts, saying he was proud of students who walked out of class last year to protest gun violence. He asked how first responders would distinguish a school shooter from an armed teacher.

“Would that be dangerous?” he asked. “Super dangerous.”

LUNCH BREAK Next stop: P.S./M.S. 180 in Harlem, where Carranza tied a green apron around his waist and served lunch to students. The city has made lunch free for all students after years of lobbying by advocates.

Carranza grabbed a tray for himself and sat with middle schoolers, chowing down on grilled cheese, chick peas, green beans, and an apple as they chatted.

Asked what the education department could do better, the students petitioned Carranza for work and internship opportunities, and more activities that align with their interests. Then it was time for the students to pose questions. One asked Carranza about his goals.

The chancellor answered: “I want one day for people to talk about New York City public schools and never, ever mention that they’re segregated.”

LAST STOPS After lunchtime, Carranza headed to Brooklyn for a quick visit. The chancellor can’t help but linger at each stop, snapping selfies and shaking hands. That left him with little time to spend at Origins High School in Sheepshead Bay, where the “mariachi chancellor” strummed a guitar and sung in Spanish. He told the students to keep practicing and then headed to New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Mathematics and Science III, located on the same campus. Carranza visited an AP computer science class to showcase the Computer Science for All program. On the way out, Carranza shouted his thanks to the school safety agents manning a front desk.

The last stop of the day brought Carranza to Staten Island, where he high-fived first graders as classes let out. School staffers stopped him to take selfies. Carranza happily posed for photos, declared himself just as energized as when he started the day before dawn, and slipped out a side door into a waiting car.

Assessing assessments

New York legislators overhaul teacher evaluations, removing mandatory link to state test

PHOTO: Chalkbeat file photo
A New York City principal takes notes on her computer during classroom observation for new teacher evaluations.

State lawmakers easily passed a bill Wednesday that scraps the use of state tests when evaluating New York teachers, but even supportive lawmakers raised concerns about potential loopholes that could subject students to more high-stakes testing.

The union-backed bill is a reversal of a 2015 deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached with lawmakers, which tied teacher evaluations to performance on state testing, seen by many as a political move not rooted in education policy. Strong backlash over that deal led many families to opt out of state tests, and eventually led to a state moratorium on using certain state assessments for teacher evaluations.

The bill allows local districts and their teachers unions to decide what kind of assessments should be used to evaluate teachers and requires State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to decide on a “menu” of alternative assessments for local districts.

The proposal, which now goes to Cuomo’s office for approval, jumps ahead of work the Board of Regents is attempting. Before the session started, the Board of Regents planned to extend the state-assessment moratorium by one year and created work groups to hash out the best policies for assessments and evaluations. Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Westchester Democrat and chair of the Senate education committee, said Wednesday she recognizes the Regents’ work, but “as legislators, we are doing what we are charged to do in making necessary changes in state law.”

“Since 2015, when these provisions were initially adopted, parents, teachers, and the legislature have — in a bipartisan way — have all recognized a flaw in this law,” Mayer said.

In a statement, Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie called the bill’s changes “common sense reforms” that will help teachers “prioritize the needs of their students.”

State Department of Education officials will “work to implement the new law” and will “continue to engage stakeholders in the process,” Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state education department said in an email.

The bill is not likely to have a drastic effect on New York City schools, since the district already chooses from a menu of local measures to evaluate teachers. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who praised the legislation dismissed concerns about the bill leading to more testing, at least in New York City, because of how it already uses alternative local options.

“You should be active in making sure your school district is using performance indicators that are not tests, if you believe in that,” Mulgrew said.

Despite the bill’s passage — unanimously in the Senate — even supporters expressed concerns about allowing local districts to select their methods for evaluating teachers. What if another type of standardized test shows up on the “menu” that the state commissioner creates? Or, what if local districts decide they want to use more standardized tests?

“There are serious concerns that this bill will actually double the amount of testing (one tests for student achievement, the other teachers), while making it harder to compare across districts,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesman for teacher group Educators for Excellence, in a tweet.

When a similar question was raised on the Assembly floor, bill sponsor Assemblyman Michael Benedetto doubted the chances that local districts would agree to more testing.

Wary lawmakers also raised concerns about the bill not going far enough to decouple state assessments from teacher evaluations, formally called Annual Professional Performance Reviews or APPR.

The New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of parents and teachers who oppose standardized testing, believes that this law would subject students to more tests, a view shared by Sen. Robert Jackson, a Harlem Democrat. Jackson and Queens Democrat Sen. Jessica Ramos both voted to support the bill nonetheless, but cautioned that it “does not go far enough” to eliminate the use of assessments completely.

“We have an opportunity to take a couple more weeks before budget season  begins in earnest to really workshop these ideas,” Jackson said. “With so much riding on reforming APPR, we owe it to students, teachers, parents, and other  advocates to get this one right.”

measuring up

Gateway is only Memphis charter school flagged as low-achieving on district scorecard. How did your school do?

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman/Chalkbeat
Gateway University is already at risk of closure after a Shelby County Schools investigation found a slew of misconduct at the high school.

Most Memphis schools improved in academic achievement and student growth in the second edition of Shelby County Schools “scorecard.”

About two-thirds of 186 district and charter schools improved their score on the district’s tool that helps parents examine school-level data and compare it with other Memphis-area schools in Tennessee’s largest district.

The district grades each school on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the most favorable. The tool relies on state data on test scores, academic growth, graduation rates, ACT scores, and other factors like attendance and suspension rates. But the district’s scorecard differs from the state’s report card in that it only compares Memphis-area schools with each other. The state compares the district’s schools with others across Tennessee.

The scorecard is also the district’s main measurement of charter schools, which are managed by nonprofits using public funds. Only one charter school, Gateway University, fell below a 2, the district’s threshold for charter schools to remain in good standing. The school scored 1.64.

None of the high school’s students performed on grade level in math on the state’s test TNReady. Less than 2 percent scored proficient in English, making it the worst performing of 54 charter schools in the district.

Gateway University, now in its second year, is already under investigation for a slew of accusations including awarding students grades for a nonexistent class, hiring an employee who did not clear a background check, and having an inactive governing board. Shelby County Schools administrators have recommended the school board close the charter school. The board will likely hold a hearing Tuesday afternoon and vote that evening.

Last year, the district flagged seven low-performing charter schools at risk of closure, but all have improved academics and other measures enough this year to escape the district’s watchlist.

However, the state uses a different yardstick and has placed four of those charter school on its list of lowest performing schools. The school board delayed a vote in October to close those schools and has not released a new date for a decision. (The other three schools either closed, converted to a different governing model, or are still in operation.)

Even if those charter schools didn’t improve, the district could not have used last year’s state test scores as a factor in closing them. A series of technical failures of the online test led state lawmakers to ban use of the scores in judging schools.

To view individual school report cards, search here.