News and views
Urban Academy Principal Ann Cook collects signatures to a Time Out From Testing petition opposing the progress reports during the UFT's candlelight vigil against the Teacher Performance Unit. (Philissa Cramer/Insideschools)
Hundreds of teachers lined Chambers Street in front of Tweed earlier tonight to protest the creation of a "Teacher Performance Unit" to root out and fire incompetent teachers. Speakers included City Council members Robert Jackson and John Liu, UFT President Randi Weingarten, and a UFT chapter leader who has experienced reprisals for speaking out for teachers and students in her school.
Unfortunately for critics of the union, no one defended truly terrible teachers or said they should be retained even if remediation fails; instead, the speakers repeatedly decried the culture of fear and potential for abuse the TPU creates.Inside Tweed, the Panel for Educational Policy voted 8-1 to approve a slightly modified Gifted & Talented proposal. The revised policy builds in a sibling preference policy, eliminates on-site assessments for the three citywide programs, and adds summer testing dates for children whose families are new to the city. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative to the PEP, voted against the proposal to honor the wishes of District 3's CEC, which passed a motion expressing concern about the potential closure of successful G&T programs on the Upper West Side.
It's a big night down at Tweed -- the UFT is holding a candlelight vigil at 5:30 p.m. to oppose the Teacher Performance Unit announced last week. Some are saying the vigil is a symbolic event designed to prevent more substantive action, but Chancellor Klein is nervous enough that he sent out a fawning letter explaining the TPU to teachers this afternoon, saying, "Our teachers are heroes, one and all, and I am deeply grateful to them."
Buried in a Downtown Express article about the changes to the middle school admission timeline -- Did you hear? The calendar will be standardized across districts and applications will be due in February -- was this gem about Insideschools:
The problems with notification â€” [parent Linda] Levy found out about the timeline change not from the school system but from the Web site insideschools.org â€” are quintessential Department of Education issues, she said.
So that makes me curious. I'd like to think Insideschools always has the most timely and accurate information about schools. But schools, other parents, and yes, even the DOE often beat us to the punch. Which source do you think is the best? Answer in our poll (at the top right side of the blog). Explain your answer in the comments.
I bet Joel Klein was thankful for the Thanksgiving-induced reprieve from criticism. When the NAEP scores came out last week, the DOE touted them as proof of success. But more reality-driven commentators were quick to note that in all but one category -- 4th grade math -- scores were flat and that even in that category, the gains are only there if one makes the comparison using numbers that predate the Bloomberg-Klein reforms. The Queens Chronicle even called the NAEP scores "a damning blow to the Bloomberg administration."
Then came the news, broken by the Sun's Elizabeth Green, that New York gave more students testing accommodations than any other city in the country. With a quarter of students taking the 4th grade math test and about 20 percent of students taking the other tests receiving special accommodations, some testing experts think the results aren't worth much. "When you change the statistics for 25% of the people who are guaranteed to be at the lower end, that's going to have a tremendous impact," an NYU professor told the Sun.
A couple of weeks ago, NYC Public School Parents wondered whether the report card fiasco would prove to be an "emperor's new clothes moment" for Klein and Bloomberg. The NAEP scores have done much more to show that the DOE's reforms unfortunately have not produced the improvements the DOE says they have. And the more Joel Klein insists that everyone else is wrong and he is right about how to interpret test scores -- as he did in an email, sent last week to all DOE employees, decrying the unfavorable press coverage -- the sillier the DOE looks.
Happy Thanksgiving from Insideschools. We'll be taking the next couple of days off and hope you will be, too. But if you absolutely need something to do, here are some options:
- Help an 8th grader finalize his high school choices. Applications are due next week.
- Consider signing Time Out From Testing's online petition opposing the report cards.
- Play FreeRice.com. Help feed the hungry while boosting your vocabulary.
See you next week and have a great holiday!
Middle school tours can be tough on kids and parents, in part because change is hard. Visiting schools feels like an abrupt and painful reminder that elementary school â€“ and childhood â€“ isnâ€™t forever. We donâ€™t always know how to make informed judgments.Lately, Iâ€™ve been thinking about how much tours ask of educators â€“ and how much I appreciate the chance to watch them in action.
Teachers are always on. In the District Two classrooms weâ€™ve been visiting, theyâ€™re attempting to keep as many as 30 or more students engaged as tours march in and out. Parents peer intently, hoping for a teachable moment or a clarifying detail about the lesson before shuffling out. Kids wave at their friends from elementary schools.
In those brief moments, itâ€™s difficult to capture much about the quality of teaching.
In the talks that follow, principals are measured by their ability to articulate a vision for their middle school. They patiently field what might seem like endless questions. Parents take and compare snapshot notes.
I donâ€™t find those grades realistic or telling, so Iâ€™d like to make the argument that tours â€” and choice â€” force a different kind of accountability. Itâ€™s one that as a parent, I am especially grateful for.
In the three very different but equally impressive middle schools weâ€™ve toured so far â€“ Clinton, MAT, and School of the Future â€“ teachers have willingly opened their classrooms, even as they are pressured constantly to raise test scores, prepare better lesson plans and get ready for 100 or more parent teacher conferences. Many have taken the time to explain what they are teaching and why. Principals are on display as well, taking time from the unrelenting demands of their day.
If we didnâ€™t have choice in our district, my children would simply move on to their zoned middle school or junior high, like I did during my suburban childhood. My parents werenâ€™t probing into classrooms and weighing schools like Salk that emphasize science vs. schools that stress art or â€œhabits of mind,'' a concept I learned about while visiting the intriguing School of the Future. At the age of 10, I most certainly was not asking myself what kind of a school environment I might thrive in, as my sons have had to.
Those of us lucky enough to be zoned for districts that offer choice have an opportunity to question authority and think deeply about education.
We wouldnâ€™t have this chance if the educators werenâ€™t willing to educate us.
A new poll out of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute shows that the majority of New York City voters â€” 61 percent â€” thought the school grades released earlier this month were fair. An even higher percentage of the public school parents polled â€” 75 percent â€” said their own school's grade was fair. Just over a quarter of those polled said they are satisfied with the city's schools â€” the highest approval rate in years of polls. And voters are pretty split on whether Chancellor Klein is doing a good job â€” but voters in the Bronx are happiest with his tenure.
These poll results suggest that Insideschools readers are more critical than the typical New Yorker â€” in our recent poll, almost 60 percent of readers gave the grades either a "D" or an "F."
What does this mean? In contrast with national trends that show people approving of their own schools even while being dissatisfied with schools in general, a whole lot of New Yorkers must think their school truly deserves a middling grade. And if the chancellor and mayor wants to bolster their approval ratings, they ought to rethink the plan to yank principals of failing schools â€” only 29 percent of voters think that's an appropriate consequence.
Check out what's new -- and then tell Insideschools in the comments what we got right, what we missed, and what questions our correspondents should answer next.
"High school applications due Nov. 30; Here's how to rank your choices": Our advice: Be very careful drawing up your list of high school choices. You will be assigned to a high school based on how you rank the schools -- and how the schools rank you."Poll results: Parents skeptical of school grades, undecided about G&T": Insideschools readers gave failing marks to the progress reports issued by the DOE this month. Reaction was more mixed to the proposed changes to G&T admissions.
And, of course, new reviews, including nine high school reviews to help you choose
The UFT says more teachers are resigning every year. Since 2001, the number of certified teachers resigning has increased by more than two-thirds, from 2,544 to 4,273 last year, the UFT's data show. The DOE says that these numbers are wrong. But does the DOE really care? After all, it wants to see more teachers get fired. But with all this resigning and firing, where will the 1,300 new teachers come from to staff the smaller classes the state has funded?
After a long delay, news about the Contracts for Excellence has finally come down from Albany â€” and the verdict is good for advocates who pushed the state to maintain attention on small claze size and other goals of the original court case behind the new money. In the revised plan, the state required the DOE to shift $45 million to the highest-need schools, increase the funds aimed at class size reduction, and cut out the plan to spend $13 million in state aid on standardized testing. The new spending begins now, with the Post reporting that the DOE will hire 1,300 more teachers to reduce class size.
The chancellor said in a press conference yesterday that the new plan is "stronger and better," but he probably isn't thrilled about the Times headline above his quote: "City Bows to State on a School Improvement Plan." Still, as the Sun notes, the revisions are unlikely to change the main thrusts of the DOE's reforms, but at least the state has signaled that it's paying attention to what the DOE is doing and won't rubber stamp just any policy the DOE devises.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education, which brought the original case to court, released a positive statement yesterday, with CFE Executive Director Geri Palast saying, "â€œAfter 13 years of CFE litigation, Governor Spitzer broke the Albany gridlock on school finance reform with the Contract for Excellence (also CFE) initiative that drives school aid to districts based on need, not politics, and makes clear that new money must be spent on high-needs students in low-performing school and on strategies proven to boost student achievement."