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Parent-teacher conferences, being held at most high schools tonight and tomorrow, offer families the opportunity to meet teachers and learn how their children are doing in class. But it's hard for harried high school parents, who must rush around large buildings in an attempt to meet every teacher, to do that in the three minutes allotted for each meeting.
Our High School Hustle blogger Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way. Apparently, Chancellor Walcott agrees. He acknowledged as much in his Oct. 27 speech about parent engagement, likening the school conferences to "speed dating." The department is working on strengthening the conferences, he said, and has developed a tool-kit with sample questions to ask teachers as well as tips for how to prepare. Check out 10 questions on the DOE's website and let us know what you think.
Parents who don't speak English can get free over-the-phone interpretation services at evening parent-teacher conferences. Normally translation is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling the Department of Education at 718-752-7373, ext. 4.
A special education teacher, Marisa Kaplan, has launched a new blog to help parent and teachers learn about how technology can help kids learn. The blog, EdGeeks.com, also provides place for parents to ask advice--including the questions you may not have time for in your parent-teacher conferences.
“I hear that some kids in your 1st-grade class have special needs,” my sister (a retired teacher) told my daughter. My daughter stared back in confusion. When you’re in 1st grade, a “special need” isn’t autism or attention-deficit disorder. A “special need” means you have to go to the bathroom really bad.
In fact, as many as 40 percent of the kids in my daughter’s class do have special needs, meaning they have a learning problem that demands extra attention. But my daughter is unaware of such things. Judging from the “How was your day?” feedback I get, her 1st-grade class is rather typical, except now and then a kid throws a crayon at the teacher.
The city will lay off nearly 800 low-paid school support staff on Friday to help close a $35 million budget gap. School aides, parent coordinators and other workers got their pink slips on Sept. 22. Pending negotiations this week between their union, District Council 37, and the Department of Education, Oct. 7 will be their last day.
A DC 37 representative said 701 school aides, health aides, family workers in shelters and 87 high school parent coordinators will lose their jobs. These workers monitor the cafeteria and hallways, help kids on and off the bus, and take sick kids to the nurse, and generally "alleviate the daily needs of teachers so they can focus on teaching," a DC 37 rep told us.
New York State is changing the way it evaluates teachers and principals. Starting in the 2011-2012 school year, the state will use a new system to evaluate teacher effectiveness based on factors like classroom performance and student achievement on standardized tests. The new system will affect how teachers and principals progress in their careers. Depending on ratings, teachers and principals may be given extra professional development, granted tenure or fired. Principals will also be judged on the school's performance.
This coming school year, teachers of grades 4-8 ELA and math and their principals will be evaluated under the new system. In 2012-13 all teachers and principals are scheduled for evaluation under the system.
Under the new system, each teacher and principal will receive an annual professional performance review (APPR) resulting in a single effectiveness score on a four-point rating system of "highly effective," "effective," "developing," or "ineffective." Under the current, less nuanced system, teachers either received satisfactory or unsatisfactory scores.
This year, still being rated with the old ratings system, about 97% of all New York City teachers received "satisfactory" ratings. These numbers correlate with the amount of NYC teachers denied tenure this year, which was also around 3%, and are likely a result of "the city's sustained push to usher more weak teachers out of the system," according to Gothamschools.org. In 2010, the city introduced a four-point rating system for awarding tenure similar to the system the state will put into effect next year, and the number of teachers who recently received tenure dropped dramatically compared to past years.
According to the state Board of Regents, the following factors will determine "teacher effectiveness" ratings:
- Student growth on state assessments or a comparable measure of student achievement growth (20%)
- Locally-selected measures of student achievement that are determined to be rigorous and comparable across classrooms (20%)
- other measures of teacher/principal effectiveness (60%) including multiple classroom observations for teachers and broad assessment of leadership and management actions for principals.
You can read more details on the New York State Education Department website. Advocates for Children posted fact sheets in English and Spanish to help parents understand the system and to monitor it for fairness.
Mayor Bloomberg declared an end to tenure as an "automatic right" for New York City teachers, when he announced last week that only 58% of over 5,000 eligible teachers were approved for tenure this year. This number represents a sharp departure from just five years ago, when 99% of eligible teachers earned tenure. The mayor attributed the significantly lower number to a tougher teacher rating policy that went into effect in 2010.
Of the teachers who were not granted tenure, 39% will have their probationary period extended through the coming year, and the remaining 3% were denied tenure, excluding them from working for city schools. According to The New York Times, a similar amount of all New York City teachers received unsatisfactory or "U" ratings this year, "suggesting the percentage of truly bad teachers in the school system may be similar across experience levels."
State law mandates that teachers are eligible for tenure after completing a three year probation and allows districts to determine how tenure will be awarded. In December, the city announced a new four-point rating scale for earning tenure--highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective. Teachers must rank in one of the top two categories two years in a row to earn tenure. If principals rate teachers still-developing or ineffective, they must give written feedback to teachers on how they may improve. Principals and their supervisors are supposed to weigh test scores, parent feedback, classroom observations and other factors to determine the ratings. (Gothamschools.org has a copy of the "effectiveness framework" rating scale.)
Bloomberg and schools' Chancellor Dennis Walcott say the new system enforces higher standards for teachers and gives teachers clearer guidelines on how to improve. The pair went a step further on Bloomberg's weekly radio show, when the mayor questioned the need for tenure and suggested it's an unnecessary throwback from the McCarthy era. Walcott predicted that the number of teachers denied tenure, or put on probation, will increase next year.
Critics charge that the four-point teacher-effectiveness rating scale is not clear enough and fear that principals may give poor ratings for personal reasons that have little to do with teacher performance. Two teachers writing on GothamSchools.org say school administrators discriminated against them because of union activity.
What do you think? Do you agree with the stricter requirements for teacher tenure? Take our poll!
Elementary and high school parent-teacher conferences are taking place this week. District 75 conferences are coming up next week.
Parents of younger students may find the system easier to navigate with just one teacher (and classroom) to visit, and enough time to actually look at their child's work and talk at some length to the teacher.
By high school it can be a different story. Although some schools actually invite you to sit in on classes during Open School Week, at most large high schools the conferences are limited to a scant three minutes (egg timer and all). Parents may feel they need to put on track shoes to navigate the stairways, get from one classroom to another, and actually sit down for very short "conferences." In High School Hustle, Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way.
We'd like to know what you think. How did your parent-teacher conference go? Take our poll (on the right column) and let us know.
Jon Stewart this week blasted conservative media and politicians for protecting Wall Street while calling teachers “greedy.” Last night Stewart’s guest was education historian and NYU Professor Diane Ravitch, discussing her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I watched the show with Diane herself in a room full of education activists who shared the views that have made Ravitch a major voice in education in this country.
Stewart’s mother was a teacher, and the personal offense he takes from the recent fad of teacher bashing comes across. "So what reforms do we need to change the conversation?" Stewart asked. Ravitch said that teachers all over country are demoralized, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as corporate philanthropists Eli Broad and Bill Gates, are on the wrong track. Rather than focusing on which teachers to punish or lay off, we should be looking at making sure children have adequate health care and pre-K education. Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Diane Ravitch and see what you think.
"Struggling Schools, Hard Times: Teachers, communities and school improvement in a time of fiscal uncertainty," a conversation with Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers will be presented by the Center for New York City Affairs on Wednesday from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Theresa Lang Community & Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), 2nd Floor at the New School.
The conversation will center on turning around struggling public schools and boosting community collaboration. How will educators, parents and the city respond to the state fiscal crisis? And what is the future of school accountability in New York City?
Admission is free but you must reserve a seat. Please email email@example.com or call 212-229-5418.
Can't attend the event? Please send us questions in comments below and we'll be certain to share them! And watch for our video on Insideschools during the event.
On Wednesday night, there will be another opportunity to hear Mulgrew. Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan is hosting a Town Hall with him from 6-8 p.m. at The Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place.
The new chancellor-designate, Cathie Black has emerged from seclusion to offer clues of what the priorities of her administration might be: taking aim at teacher tenure, and getting teachers off the city payroll who don't have regular classroom assignments.
After keeping quiet for a few weeks after Mayor Mike Bloomberg nominated her, Black gave a long interview with WABC news and met with the New York Daily News editorial board. She told WABC news: "I cannot imagine at age 25, 24 saying to someone you have a lifetime guarantee to this position, all you have to do is show up every day." Of course, no teacher has a lifetime guarantee of employment--they can be laid off in times of budget cuts--but it is also true that it's difficult to fire unionized teachers who have tenure. It seems clear that modifying the teachers' contract with regard to tenure is one of her goals.
Black told the Daily News she wants to scrap the requirements that she make layoffs based on seniority. She also wants to be able to get rid of teachers in the so-called "absent teacher reserve" or ATR pool. The ATR pool is made up of teachers who lost their jobs when their schools were closed. These teachers are still on the city payroll, even though they haven't found new positions. They are mostly assigned to work as substitutes when regular teachers are sick. "The idea that a large number of people are getting full employment and benefits for sitting around not doing a whole lot...we can't afford it," she told the Daily News.
And she'd like to make public teachers' ratings, a controversial issue that is being raised in court today.
Black's inexperience with the schools and lack of knowledge of the city's geography is apparent -- the Daily News said she thought she had visited a school in Bayside, Queens, when in fact she had been to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. There will undoubtedly be more such stumbles as she learns her way around the city schools. But she appears to be finding a voice for what she thinks is wrong with teacher tenure and other rules affecting the city's educators.