Last night's election results are a wake-up call. First, what to make of the resounding message sent by the major defeat of Prop 103? If it were a 10- or 12-point loss rather than a 28-point loss, I think you could chalk up the result to a low budget and a weak coalition of support, or to off-year levels of political interest.
But something bigger is at work, across party lines and regions of the state, that cannot be ignored. While the political middle, uninformed as it often is, may be inclined in good times to pay more taxes to K-12 organizations, a real hurt from the economy is amplified by Colorado voters' general skepticism of tax increases.
Here I think there is a clear gap between those "inside the education bubble" and most people living and working (or just looking for work) outside of it. Even someone like me, an advocate of some bold changes much less inclined to champion the K-12 establishment, but heavily immersed in the educational and political dialogue surrounding school systems, didn't foresee the size of the anti-103 wave. I don't have any evidence in front of me to support a claim either way, but it seems worthwhile to consider whether the gap has been growing in the past couple years.
So where does Colorado K-12 education go following the demise of Senator Heath's tax hike initiative? A couple weeks ago I wrote in a comment on another post on this site:
Parents in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood say they're happy with their children's schools but wouldn't mind seeing a charter school move in.
Charter school operator Eva Moskowitz yesterday announced plans to open a new school in the Success Charter Network in Cobble Hill, an affluent, tree-lined neighborhood whose public schools are flush with parent involvement and, in some cases, parent donations. It would be Moskowitz's second foray into a middle-class neighborhood after pushing through a contentious plan to open a school on the Upper West Side this year.
In District 15, Cobble Hill's district, 1,500 parents signed a petition supporting the charter school's bid to open, according to a press release from Success Charter Network.
But parents I spoke to today at a coffee shop and housing project in the neighborhood said they hadn't heard of Moskowitz and weren't aware that space-sharing was a likely scenario — or that co-location fights can turn ugly.
Still, they said that the neighborhood could use more school options, no matter what they are.
"If there's a good school set up in the neighborhood and has a program my kid would like, I'd consider it," said Madely Rodriguez, a P.S. 29 parent who was sipping coffee outside Cafe Pedlar, a magnet for neighborhood parents after morning drop-off.
Long before there were federally funded "turnaround" schools, Nyree Dixon was turning around Brooklyn's P.S. 12. When she became the Brownsville school's principal in 2006, barely a fifth of the elementary school’s students were passing state exams and the school was being considered for closure.
Since then, P.S. 12 has seen a jump in test scores and has stayed off the city's list of schools on the chopping block. Dixon attributes the improvement to changes in the school’s culture and instructional practices.
She joined Deidre DeAngelis, principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island, on a panel during the conference on alternatives to school closures that several advocacy groups organized Saturday. The pair discussed the strategies they used to help their once-failing schools stay open and, in New Dorp's case, turn into a model of successful school improvement for the city and federal education departments.
Those strategies — adding tutoring, offering more teacher training, connecting students and teachers, and engaging families — predate the structural and human capital changes the Obama administration has mandated for failing schools. They suggest that strong leadership is enough to change a school's course — a view that a top Department of Education deputy shared at Saturday's conference.
“Nothing that happens in Tweed is going to move student achievement as much as 95 percent of things that happen in a school building,” said Marc Sternberg, the deputy chancellor in charge of closing and opening schools.
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."
School for Global Studies "master" teacher, Natasha Blakley, prepares for the start of school in the Brooklyn school's new computer lab, purchased with federal funds.
To Joseph O’Brien, principal of Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, there is no clearer indication of how new federal funds have led to higher achievement than Room 326.
The classroom-turned-computer lab, outfitted with 35 Apple computers purchased last winter, is being used by students to recover credits toward graduation and study languages online, and by parents who lack Internet access at home. In addition to two laptop carts and new smartboards for a dozen classrooms, the lab replaces the school’s once-meager technology offerings, which included aging classroom computers hampered by viruses and two broken smartboards.
“For the first time, our students were able to have a dedicated room where they could use the computer on their own time, whether after school or on their lunch hour, with staffed personnel,” he said.
Tasked with raising the school’s graduation rate when the Department of Education appointed him to run Global Studies last year, O’Brien sees the new lab as a main tool. He paid for the lab with $170,000 of the $890,000 in federal School Improvement Grants awarded to Global Studies because it landed on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools last year—requiring the city to overhaul it.
For Global Studies and 10 other schools on the list, the city chose “transformation,” meaning they would receive new principals and nearly $2 million in School Improvement Grants over three years to buy extra supplies and support. The city is starting to overhaul another 33 schools this year under three improvement models.
As the 6th through 12th-grade school enters its second year of transformation — bringing it a second infusion of cash — O’Brien said change is already being felt.
“We are no longer the school that we once were,” he said. “This school is really becoming an oasis of learning.”
Now he just has to convince families that that’s true.
The city is getting a total of just under $60 million in federal grants to help dozens of struggling schools.
The grants, which the State Education Department formally announced today, are hardly unexpected. In July, the city and teachers union hashed out an eleventh-hour deal on teacher evaluations to clear the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive them.
The surprise is that 11 school closures — many of which the city had planned since 2009 — are being chalked up to "turnaround," an overhaul model that the city said it was dropping.
Turnaround requires a new principal, most teachers replaced, and organizational changes — all hallmarks of the city's longstanding closure program, in which low-performing schools phase out and new schools open in their place. But for months, the city had not mentioned turnaround as an option.
In fact, back in May, when it looked like the city would have to filed its grant application without the UFT's support, the city said it was abandoning its plan to use the turnaround model and would instead adopt the less-invasive "restart" approach.
Today, we are introducing some enhancements to the Education News Colorado website.
As time goes by, we learn more about gaps in information that a site like ours can fill. We also study data from Google Analytics and elsewhere to see which of our offerings are most popular with readers. We’re committed to being responsive to what our readers want and need.
Here is a list of what’s new on the site, all of it easily found through our new, secondary menu bar, which sits under the main menu bar, just below the EdNews logo:
Easy access to databases. Our searchable databases of information on subjects including test scores, remediation rates, state ratings and drug offenses by schools are now grouped conveniently under a new heading on the secondary menu bar. Click on the EdNews’ databases item under the Data Center heading to find the list of databases.
In-depth issues. Another new secondary menu bar item highlights a current education issue to which we’ve dedicated extensive coverage. This item debuts with a link to all EdNews stories on the Lobato funding adequacy trial.
Timely topics. Here is the place to go if you want to sound like an education wonk. Read our CliffsNotes-like summaries and descriptions of complex education topics and you’ll be able to spout off on issues like those on the site today -- state testing, school funding and vouchers. Over time we will add additional topics pages. Do you have a topic in mind you’d like to see summarized in an accurate, objective fashion? Drop us a line.
Easier access to education law and bill tracker features. The secondary menu bar now provides easy, one-click access to this popular and useful feature. The tracker allows you to read new education law and, during the legislative session, bills that are working their way through the system.
Having stayed out of the fray for several months working on the business end of EdNews, I’ve gained some distance and perspective on the flashpoints that have been dominating the education reform debate. From a freshly detached point of view, a few things seem clear to me. In no particular order:
*** Granted, it makes no sense to evaluate educators solely on how students perform on standardized tests, imperfect instruments at best. It makes even less sense, though, to escalate this to a generalized anti-testing frenzy, as some have done. Measuring progress and achievement is essential to improvement. So by all means, find some others measures to augment testing, and throttle way back on the test-prep and test-score obsession. But keep testing.
*** Both “sides” in the reform debate like to use Finland as an example of a country that has solved the public education puzzle. On one side, advocates point out that Finnish teachers are unionized, effective and well prepared. They are a respected and admired pillar of Finnish society. Advocates on the other side point out that the teachers in Finland have had to clear some high bars to get into the profession. It takes more than a pulse and an inflated grade point average to get a Finnish teaching license. Until we can figure out how to make teaching a true profession in this country, and attract a larger number of highest caliber applicants, our education system will not match Finland’s results. What can we do to make teachers feel efficacious? How do we make teaching a career as appealing as engineering, law or medicine? And then what do we do about current teachers who wouldn’t be able to clear the Finnish bar?
The radical "restart" plans for 14 struggling schools seem likely to get off to a slow start.
In exchange for millions of dollars in federal School Improvement Grants, the city announced this week that it would turn over the reins of 14 schools to nonprofit Education Partnership Organizations. But with the start of the school year just weeks away, those groups say that much of their first year will be spent assessing needs and adding support, not making drastic changes.
“Whenever you’re in a position of partnering, you’re always balancing the need of that sense of urgency with the idea that there is a certain risk or downside to, say, overhauling the master schedule two weeks before school starts,” said Doug Elmer, the director of Diplomas Now, which will manage Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn and Newtown High School in Queens.
The nonprofits put in their bids to take over schools — where they'll control everything from curriculum to hiring to budgeting — in May. But after a delay while the city and teachers union hammered out a deal over teacher evaluations in the struggling schools, the groups learned only in the last two weeks that the city wanted them to become EPOs. And they found only just this week which schools they would take over. The city had asked the schools and organizations to rank each other, then paired them off.
"It was a little bit of a flurry," said Sheepshead Bay Principal Reesa Levy of the matching process. But she said she was excited to work with Diplomas Now. "We're actually thrilled. I think maybe this will give us that extra push."
The federal government has promised up to $2 million a year for three years for the restart schools.
With just weeks to go before Labor Day, the city has announced the nonprofit groups that will help 14 struggling schools get a fresh start this fall.
A deal between the city and teachers union last month cleared the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive federal School Improvement Grants starting this fall. In exchange, the city must overhaul the schools in accordance with one of four federally sanctioned processes, and one of them, "restart," requires schools to turn over the reins to an approved nonprofit organization.
Six nonprofits, several with existing ties to the city Department of Education, will take over the management of two to three schools each. The groups, known as Educational Partnership Organizations, will control budgeting, personnel decisions, curriculum, student discipline, and other issues, and the principals of those schools will report directly to their EPO rather than a DOE superintendent.
A matching process linked 11 of the schools with their first-choice EPO, and the other three were matched with one of their top picks, according to a DOE spokesman, Frank Thomas. The schools and nonprofits will begin working together as soon as the state approves the pairings, he said.
The remaining schools set to receive the new federal funds will undergo "transformation." Transformation relies on replacing longtime principals and promising additional resources.
In a statement, principals union president Ernie Logan said he had "intense discussions" with the DOE to make sure the 33 schools would receive adequate support but remained unconvinced.
It got our attention: Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan “Announces $3.5 Billion in Title I School Improvement Grants to Fund Transformational Changes Where Children Have Long Been Undeserved” (August, 2009). When we learned a year ago that over $37 million of that would come to 16 of Colorado’s lowest-achieving schools, over three years, to help raise student achievement, we again took note. Another year has now passed. How’s that going? Any positive news for those “underserved” kids?
One assumes the federal government is interested in seeing that the grants to Colorado, especially to Denver Public Schools and Pueblo City Schools, the two districts receiving most of these funds, ($14.8 and $12.9 million respectively over three years to turnaround six schools in each city) will be well used.
One assumes the Colorado Department of Education is taking a careful look at how well year one funds, totaling over $10 million to our 16 struggling schools, have been used.
One assumes DPS (about $4.6 million this first year) and Pueblo 60 (over $4.2 million), especially, are taking a close look at how these funds have been spent and how well improvement efforts are going.
One assumes they are looking at a variety of measurements to gauge effectiveness and success. For we all agree that in the complex effort to turn around or transform a low-performing school into a good place for students to learn and grow, there are many factors and variables to consider.
However, one also assumes that CSAP data, while just one of the many measurements, is considered an important piece of the puzzle. So here are the 2011 CSAP achievement results—the percentage proficient and advanced—compared to the previous two years, and compared to the goals set by the schools (and/or districts) when they applied for the turnaround or transformation funds (these goals are found here).
Most folks will want to see growth scores too, and I am sure the state and districts will examine those. But as I have written previously, let’s be careful not to exaggerate those 55 percent growth scores as great news. The goal—yes?—is still proficiency.