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October 1, 2012
New progress reports shift some weight from scores to grades
For the first time since introducing school progress reports in 2007, the Department of Education has reduced the weight of state test scores in determining middle schools' scores on their state test scores. The change is slight, allocating just 5 percent of the calculation toward the grades schools hand out, but it reflects a significant shift within the Department of Education. After years of saying that the state's current tests are not the ideal measure of students' abilities, the department is — to a limited extent — putting its metrics where its mouth is. Until now, 85 percent of elementary and middle schools' scores have come from crunching the scores in different ways. But on the 2011-2012 progress reports, which are coming out today, that proportion has dropped slightly for middle schools, to 80 percent. The difference will be made up by schools' course passage rates in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. The change, which the department promised a year ago, makes year-to-year progress report score comparisons hard to make yet is unlikely to dramatically alter schools' scores on its own. Still, it signals that the city is projecting onto middle schools growing concerns about the mismatch between how city students perform on some high-stakes accountability metrics and how well prepared they are to take on more challenging work.
September 19, 2012
Mixed progress in city's latest plans to open, overhaul schools
Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by Chancellor Walcott and principals, discussed the city's school creation efforts during a press conference in April about the opening of 54 new schools. If the Bloomberg administration has executed any education policy promises with fidelity, it has been around opening new schools. But its record on the trickier task of improving existing schools has been more mixed. That trend continued last year, according to our analysis of the city's progress toward fulfilling the education commitments it made during between September 2011 and August 2012. We found that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott are on track to meet most of their school creation goals, but when it comes to improving ones that already exist, their success is less clear. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.) The city did better at fulfilling its school creation and improvement goals than it did at keeping its promises about boosting teacher quality, which we examined earlier this week. In the final part of this series, we will look at whether city officials have kept their word about taking new approaches to handling high-need students and engaging parents. On creating new schools: The city will open 100 new schools before the end of 2013, including 50 charter schools. (Bloomberg's State of the City address, January 2012) The city is so far on track to hit this goal. Fifty-four new schools are opening this fall, bringing the total number of schools that have opened under the Bloomberg administration to 589. Of the newest crop of schools, 24 are charter schools. Fifty new middle schools will open by 2013, of which 25 will be charter schools. (Walcott's middle schools speech, September 2011) The city also chipped away mightily at this number, and depending on the method of counting might be more than on track to hit the total. This year, 18 of the 54 new schools opened with middle school grades, including seven charter schools. Another eight of the new schools, all charter schools, opened with elementary grades but plan to serve middle school students once they are at full enrollment in several years. The city will help high-performing charter networks grow faster. (State of the City) When Bloomberg made this promise, he specifically name-checked Success Academies and KIPP as two networks whose strong performance he would like to see replicated. This year, three new Success Academy charter schools and one new KIPP school opened in the city. All of them had sought to open since long before Bloomberg made the commitment. At least five other local charter schools also replicated this year. The city will bring in charter school operators that run successful schools elsewhere. (State of the City) The city has so far struck out here: Except for KIPP, which has long run New York City schools, none of this year's new charter schools are part of national networks. One operator that Bloomberg specifically mentioned, Rocketship Education, opened two new charter schools in its native California but so far has not opened or even proposed a school for New York. Its CEO has said dozens of districts have recruited the network but he is wary of operating under different regulations in different places.
September 13, 2012
State releases roadmap for Common Core-aligned social studies
Social studies teachers who want to align their instruction to the Common Core have so far gotten only limited guidance: The new curriculum standards exist only for literacy and math, and a search of the city's resource library comes up bare. Now, they are getting a helping hand from the State Education Department, which today released a proposal for revising what is taught in social studies and when.
July 18, 2012
Seven takeaways from a closer look at the state test scores
The state released the results of this year's third through eighth grade tests yesterday, and officials from City Hall to the charter sector lept to celebrate students' gains. Some changes were the focal point of the Department of Education's Tuesday afternoon press conference—like the drop among English Language Learners and the boosts charter schools saw. But they avoided nuances in the results for the city's new schools, which have been at the center of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education reform policies. Beyond first impressions, here are seven interesting takeaways we parsed from the trove of data: Like last year, English Language Learners took a step back. Students who are identified as English Language Learners improved slightly in math, but took another step back from the statistical gains they made on the literacy test (ELA) earlier in the decade, before the state made the exams tougher in 2010. While just under half of the city’s non-ELL students met the state’s ELA standards, just 11.6 percent of ELL students did so. But in math, the percentage of ELL students scoring proficient rose by 2.5 points, to 37 percent. But students in other categories that typically struggle showed improvements. The percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient in math and literacy went up again this year, to 30.2 percent in math and 15.8 percent in English. And although Black and Hispanic students are still lagging behind their white peers by close to thirty percentage points in literacy and math, they also saw small bumps in both subjects. Officials said that new initiatives targeting struggling students, particularly students of color, contributed to the gains.
May 22, 2012
For math teachers, conversion to new standards may be tough
This year, Jackie Xuereb is teaching her sixth grade math students how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators. But next year, new standards will call for students to know that information before they enter her class. Xuereb, a sixth grade math teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, is among the city math teachers preparing to swap the state's learning standards for the Common Core this fall. And like many, she is struggling to keep the two sets of standards straight as the new standards move some topics an entire grade-level earlier than in the past. "A lot of what used to be sixth grade standards are now taught in fifth grade," Xuereb said. "I feel that I'm going to have to be really mindful and cognizant of this in my planning for next year. The kids are going to have these huge gaps." New York City piloted the Common Core standards in 100 schools last year and asked all teachers to practice working with them this year. Next year, every teacher in every elementary and middle school will be expected to teach to the new standards, and state tests will be based on them. Department of Education officials have argued that a full-steam-ahead approach is required because moving slowly would deprive students of the Common Core's long-overdue rigor. But some say that this approach will pose a special challenge for math teachers, particularly in the middle school years, as students begin learning advanced concepts that build on each other sequentially. William Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University who has researched the effect of the Common Core on learning, said students who miss a lesson the first time around are at risk of missing the concept entirely. "If it's done really carefully it might work, but that would be my worry, that this would require fairly careful thought about how to do that across the grades so that what's happening in one grade will line up with the next," he said. "If they're not ramping this up from first grade on in a logical fashion ... then the transition to more advanced math will be horrendous, too."
April 3, 2012
A year in office, Walcott trumpets his middle schools initiative
Efforts to improve the city's middle schools have come a long way since they were announced six months ago, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today in a policy speech delivered days before his one-year anniversary of his sudden appointment. Walcott returned to the same venue where he first announced the middle school reforms — New York University’s Kimmel Center – to deliver the keynote speech at a middle school colloquium hosted by NYU Steinhardt’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools. In his speech, Walcott said the city was in the process of rolling out a host of initiatives that the the Department of Education had either created or expanded since September, all in the interest of improving middle schools, which he said had become his main priority during his tenure. “If we truly care about preparing our students for success in college and careers, middle school needs to be a central focus of our policies,” Walcott said. Walcott announced that the DOE had allocated about $500,000 to develop new training programs for 150 teachers and 10 principals who he hoped would work specifically in middle schools. And he said the city would exceed his goal of creating 50 new middle schools in the next two years. Twenty-six new middle schools, including 14 charter schools, will open next fall and 28 more schools — including another 14 charters — are set to open in 2013.
April 3, 2012
Walcott: "I've never been more hopeful" about middle schools
Revisiting the topic of his first policy speech, delivered in September, Chancellor Dennis Walcott today said efforts to reform the city’s middle schools…
February 3, 2012
This week's teaching & learning tidbits
iPads changing learning culture in Colo. schools - Arvada elementary school was receives $100,000 grant from Target - Advocates fighting to keep music playing in Colorado schools - Under school reform, principals swamped by teacher evals - In Jeffco, pleas to keep cuts at bay - DPS mulls longer day for middle schools.
December 8, 2011
In District 2, push to create more schools trumps closure news
Chancellor Dennis Walcott responds to District 2 Community Education Council member Tamara Rowe's questions at a town hall meeting. Parents in Manhattan's District 2 came to a town hall meeting Wednesday night with Chancellor Dennis Walcott with one item at the top of their agendas: plans to manage school crowding. But Walcott wanted to talk about other things. He opened his remarks by talking about the city's scores on a national exam, then segued into announcing that the Department of Education would soon name the schools it wants to close. No District 2 schools are on the city's shortlist for closure. Three high schools located in the district, but not administered by it, are on the list. Walcott was tight-lipped about which schools would receive closure notices over the next two days. But he said department officials had been considering whether the shortlisted schools "have the capacity to improve." And he told reporters that the decisions would support the middle school reform initiative he announced earlier this year. "I made a commitment around middle schools and I intend to adhere to that commitment," Walcott said. "I want 21st-century middle schools that are meeting the needs of our students." Most of the roughly three dozen parents who braved heavy rain to attend the meeting wanted to talk about the demand for new neighborhood elementary schools and the city's recent rezoning proposals.
November 28, 2011
This week's teaching & learning tidbits
Denver middle schools recruiting and captivating students - Rice makes plea for education in America - Colo. school incentive program awaits more funds - Principals protest role of testing in evaluations - Colorado in running for $17.9 million - DPS SchoolChoice plan set to go - Boulder, St. Vrain schools see spike in 'homeless' students - Garfield Re-2 revs up its teacher mentoring program.
November 4, 2011
Study: High teacher turnover could trouble middle school reform
More than half of teachers in city middle schools left their schools within three years, and most left teaching altogether, according to a new study that offers little insight about how to stem the exodus. The study was presented yesterday at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management's fall meeting, as part of a panel on teacher turnover. Will Marinell, a member of the Research Alliance, the independent body of researchers given access to city Department of Education data, and Teachers College professor Aaron Pallas conducted the analysis. Mining data about teachers and their paths within the school system, the researchers found that 55 percent of middle school teachers leave their school within three years, higher than in elementary and high schools. They also found that their decision to leave was likely influenced more by their individual characteristics, such as their commute time and race, than by anything about their school. According to the analysis, teachers are more likely to stay in their schools when students disproportionately share their race. In Manhattan, two-thirds of middle school teachers left within three years, the highest exit rate of any borough. Middle school teachers are more likely to consider leaving their school when they have a long commute or are required to teach a new subject. And teachers in schools that suspend many students are more likely to consider finding a new job. "These rates of turnover are likely to make it challenging for middle school principals, and the teachers who remain in their schools, to establish organizational norms and a shared vision for their schools' teaching and learning environment," the study concludes.
October 7, 2011
This week's teaching & learning tidbits
Middle school changes credited for DPS enrollment growth - Colorado schools fall behind on yearly progress target - Enrollment window opens in Dougco - Study: Most U.S. states score an 'F' on civil rights education - Lack of math emphasis in schools doesn't add up - U.S. surpassed in education ratings
September 21, 2011
Ask an Expert: We just moved, and my son is being bullied
A family moves to a small town on Colorado's western slope only to confront a lunchroom bullying situation. An expert provides tips to the middle schooler's distraught mom.
September 20, 2011
Walcott's middle school plan puts new spin on old approaches
In his first major policy speech, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called for major changes to the ctiy's worst middle schools. To shake middle schools from mediocrity, the city is turning to school reform strategies it considers tried and true. In the next two years, the Department of Education will close low-performing middle schools, open brand-new ones, add more charter schools, and push more teachers and principals through in-house leadership programs, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today in a 30-minute policy speech, the first of his six-month tenure. For 10 schools, the city will ask for $30 million in federal funds to try a new reform strategy set out by the federal government, “turnaround,” in which at least half of staff members are replaced, Walcott said. The efforts — which the city plans to pay for with a mixture of state and federal funds — are meant to boost middle school scores that are low and, in the case of reading, actually falling. "People have tried and struggled with the complicated nature of middle schools for decades," he said. "But the plan I've laid out is bolder and more focused than anything we've tried here in New York City before." Experts and advocates who helped engineer the last major effort to overhaul middle schools, a City Council task force that produced recommendations but short-lived changes at the DOE in 2007, disputed Walcott's characterization. They said Walcott's announcement reflects a change in style but not substance. "Much of what he said is not new," said Carol Boyd, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has long urged more attention for middle schools. "There is a definite party line, except Joel [Klein] wasn’t able to deliver it with the same believability that Chancellor Walcott does," she said. Boyd sat on the task force. “There’s nothing new [or] interesting about this plan," said Pedro Noguera, the New York University professor who chaired the council's task force and has spoken out against school closures. "It sounds like more of what they’ve been doing, shutting down failing schools."
September 20, 2011
Walcott: 'Bolder & more focused' middle school efforts start now
In his first policy address since becoming chancellor in April, Dennis Walcott vowed today to close some failing middle schools while opening at least 50…
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