New York

Many open questions in state's "Growth for All" accountability plan

Not only is New York State proposing a "proficiency plus" accountability model that will take both absolute proficiency and student growth towards proficiency on state reading and math tests into consideration, it is also looking at creating a "growth for all" system to reward schools who move already proficient students to even higher levels of proficiency, and, perhaps, penalize schools where proficient students do not make additional gains. This part of the accountability system would not require federal approval, presenters stressed at last week's public forum on the model. According to the presentation by Ira Schwartz of the state education department, many ideas are still on the table for where to set the bar for growth, how to compare students and schools, and what positive or negative incentives schools could expect under the new system. First, the state must determine what schools should strive for in educating students who already test proficient. Is it enough that students continue to test above the proficiency cutoff, or must they show one year's growth or more when scale scores are compared? The question echoes this summer's debate over whether to emphasize the "proficiency gap" or the "achievement gap" in looking at student performance. Asked whether some parents and educators might choose to improve the teaching of non-tested subjects such as art, music, and physical education rather than devoting more resources to helping proficient students score even higher, Schwartz responded that the Regents had specifically asked for a way to hold schools accountable for the growth of all students. Next, the state must decide how to compare schools. New York City's Progress Reports got a nod for their peer group comparison,
New York

What would a third Bloomberg term mean for the city's schools?

Three years ago, Mayor Bloomberg said his 20-point margin of victory in his reelection campaign showed that New Yorkers were happy with his schools leadership. Next year, voters could have a chance to reaffirm that choice — or reverse it. Tomorrow, Bloomberg will announce plans to run for a third term, despite the two-term limit imposed by voters 15 years ago. Although polls indicate that the public isn't happy about the mayor's bid to use the City Council to overturn democratically imposed term limits, they also show that he is popular enough to coast into office for a third term. What would a third Bloomberg term mean for the city's schools? Judging from Bloomberg's attitude when he was reelected in 2005, he will interpret a win at the polls as voter approval of his education initiatives, regardless of what issues New Yorkers actually consider when casting their ballots. His reelection would be a disappointment to his critics, some of whom have already started counting down the days until the end of his term. But it would provide stability for principals and students in schools that have only recently found their feet after the most recent round of disruptive reorganizations. Consistency in the DOE could also generate data that's desperately needed to evaluate the city's recent school reforms. Four more years of Bloomberg would mean four more years of Children First initiatives and four more years of Chancellor Klein, who has long said that he will continue to lead the city's schools as long as the mayor asks him to. A third Bloomberg term would likely herald four more years of business-style, accountability-driven reforms and ambitious experiments, such as the pay-for-performance incentives program organized by Harvard professor Roland Fryer. And, unless the State Assembly mandates parent involvement or checks and balances on the mayor's power in June when it must consider the 2002 law that gave control over the city's schools to the mayor, we're likely to see four more years of top-down education reform that doesn't include parents, teachers, or students in the decision-making process. Solidifying assembly support for mayoral control is one of Bloomberg's major goals for his third term, the Post reports today.
New York

Political campaign buttons banned in schools?

Educators, take note: Chancellor's Regulation D-130, issued in 2004, requires that you "while on duty or in contact with students... maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates." And New York is not the only place where schools and universities are limiting how teachers can express their political views, according to PREA Prez Fred Klonsky. But the United Federation of Teachers objects to some of the limits on teachers' freedom of speech, according to an email Jonathan received from UFT Director of Staff LeRoy Barr: The DOE is disputing the right of our members to wear political buttons in schools. Our view is that there is a long line of First Amendment cases that hold that as long as individuals (including public employees) are not causing disruption or engaged in active electioneering or proselytizing, they have a right to exercise their freedom of speech at work, which includes wearing political buttons. Wearing an Obama or McCain button in class certainly wouldn't convey a neutral posture, but what about a button on one's jacket, worn only outside of school, if a student happened to ride the same bus? And is the Chancellor's Regulation legal, or, as the UFT asserts, would case law support a teacher's right to freedom of speech in the workplace, as long as it doesn't disrupt teaching and learning? The Washington State ACLU doesn't provide a clear answer in an overview of teachers' free speech rights: A court ruled that a New York teacher could not be fired for wearing a black armband in protest of the Vietnam War because the armband had caused no classroom disruption, was not perceived as an official statement of the school, did not interfere with instruction, and did not coerce or "arbitrarily inculcate doctrinaire views in the minds of the students." On the other hand, in another case a court upheld a dress code that prevented teachers from wearing political buttons in the classroom because school districts have legitimate authority to "dissociate themselves from matters of political controversy."
New York

Debating bilingual education, English immersion, and the election

At the New York Times blog Campaign Stops this week, two education scholars are debating the best policies for English Language Learners. Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, argues that research backs up bilingual programs, which provide instruction in both English and the child's native language: Even a Bush administration review of controlled classroom experiments — seeking to identify what works in language teaching — found stronger achievement gains for students enrolled in quality bilingual programs, compared with English-immersion classrooms. Yet a skilled bilingual teacher is crucial, one who understands the knowledge and social norms that children acquire at home, and how to build from the first language to advance rich oral language and then written literacy. It’s a no-brainer for students attending schools in Europe and East Asia. Fuller notes that Barack Obama favors transitional bilingual programs, which aim to move children to English-only instruction as quickly as possible, but provide support in the native language along the way. This is different from dual language programs, which promote written and oral fluency in both languages. Of course, as commenters at the Campaign Stops blog point out, the quality and language background of the teacher matters immensely if either type of bilingual program is to work, and in schools with a wide range of native languages spoken, bilingual instruction may not be realistic. Fuller adds that other Obama proposals, like quality preschool programs and recruitment of excellent teachers, can also help close the achievement gap for these students. He emphasizes the importance of education for Hispanic voters in a number of swing states, and writes that John McCain has had "little to say to Hispanic parents" about education. In response, Lance T. Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, uses Sixth Street Prep, a high-achieving southern California charter school, as anecdotal evidence that English immersion is better for students: