teacher u evolves

A new graduate school of education, Relay, to open next fall

The logo of Teacher U, whose founders will create a stand-alone graduate school of education called Relay.

The founders of Teacher U, the nonprofit organization that developed a novel way of preparing teachers for low-income schools, will create their own graduate school of education, following a vote by the Board of Regents last week.

The new Relay School of Education will be the first stand-alone graduate school of education to open in New York since 1916, when Bank Street College of Education was founded, and the first in memory to prepare teachers while they are serving full-time in classrooms. The new institution will open its doors next fall; current Teacher U students will remain enrolled at their partner school of education, the City University of New York’s Hunter College.

The Regents’ decision inserts a new model for preparing K-12 teachers into New York’s education landscape. Unlike alternative certification programs such as Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows, Relay will not rely on existing colleges to provide its teachers with coursework required for certification; the new graduate school of education will design and deliver all of those courses itself. And Relay will likely take teachers who come into the school system through alternative programs like TFA.

Meanwhile, unlike most traditional schools of education, Relay will make training teachers its sole priority and will make proven student learning gains a requirement of receiving a Master’s degree.

The new school has already generated opposition from several existing schools of education, including from a top official at CUNY. In formal responses to the Teacher U group’s proposal, leaders of existing schools cited concerns about quality and the fact that, as officials at Fordham University put it, a new graduate school of education would be “duplicative in a market with sufficient program offerings,” according to a summary of concerns(PDF) made public by the Regents.

The Board of Regents approved the proposal with a unanimous vote and one abstention last week nevertheless, said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state education department. He added that State Education Commissioner David Steiner, who helped form Teacher U in his last job as dean of the school of education at Hunter College, recused himself from discussions about the application.

During recent visits to Teacher U’s current program, instruction topics ranged from how to tailor reading discussions to the racial and class backgrounds of students to how to write on a white board without covering your face with your writing arm. Much of Teacher U’s curriculum is devoted to passing on lessons learned by teachers at the charter schools that founded Teacher U, such as those collected by Uncommon Schools managing director Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion.

Teacher U also breaks students into groups arranged by subject matter and grade level to study what Atkins termed “pedagogical content knowledge” — the specific kind of knowledge needed to teach particular academic subjects. The term draws from the traditional academy; Stanford professor Lee Shulman coined it.

The new Relay model is in line with a push by Steiner and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to rethink university-based preparation programs. In 2009, Steiner announced that the state would consider giving alternative preparation programs the authority to certify teachers.

Teacher U CEO Norman Atkins, who will be the president of the new graduate school, said that Relay students will have to prove that their own students have made at least a year’s worth of improvement on standardized assessments in order to graduate. To do this now, Teacher U students use a mix of New York state assessments and, for grade levels and courses that are not tested by the state, select outside assessments to prove their effectiveness, Atkins said.

Response to the Teacher U program and the new graduate school reflects divided views about how to improve teacher education programs — and, in some quarters, about how much change is actually needed. Reaction also reflects contentious opinions about the founders of Teacher U, three charter school networks with impressive student achievement records but which operate outside traditional school districts: KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools.

Locally, the new graduate school’s entrance has already generated resistance from traditional colleges and schools of education, including Teacher U’s current host, CUNY.

“We welcome alternative approaches to teacher preparation,” CUNY’s executive vice chancellor and provost, Alexandra Logue, wrote in a letter to state officials last December. “However, New York City already offers a rich set of alternative approach programs, and so adding another player right now seems unnecessary given what is already a highly crowded field.”

Atkins said the program needed to become independent in order to innovate and achieve financial sustainability. As a certified graduate school, Relay can charge tuition and its students can receive federal student loans; neither is possible as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

The Teacher U team did address one concern before receiving Regents approval. The team had wanted to call its new school the Teacher U Graduate School of Education, but existing education schools complained that the letter “U” might cause the mistaken idea that the school is a university. It will actually be only a graduate school.

The founders — led by Atkins, board chairman Larry Robbins, and KIPP co-founder David Levin — selected Relay School of Education.

“In this race to close the achievement gap, we believe the baton of learning must be passed from master teachers to as many other teachers as possible,” Levin said in a statement. “Relay is designed to ensure that every teacher has the opportunity to be that excellent teacher.”

Steiner played a role in creating the program as dean of Hunter’s education school, and Hunter has continued to adopt some innovations led by Teacher U into its own separate program. One of these is the practice of giving teachers portable video cameras to use to record their teaching — and then have faculty members study the video results and respond with feedback.

CUNY raised concerns about the program nevertheless, urging the Regents to take “extreme caution” in considering the Teacher U group’s application.

“What TUGSE is proposing is essentially a similar educational model as the existing Teacher U/Hunter College partnership program, except that TUGSE would lack the depth of intellectual and other resources that a university brings to a partnership,” Logue wrote in the December letter.

Atkins described his organization’s relationship with CUNY’s Hunter College as solid. “We’ve loved working with Hunter College and continue to feel that Teacher U can continue to do terrific work in partnership with Hunter,” Atkins said. “At the same time, the founders were eager to develop an independent institution of higher education that could push on innovation and become financially sustainable.”

Logue’s letter went on to criticize Teacher U for having “no track record of successful teacher preparation as an independent entity” and for basing its program on “the presumed superiority of charter schools in securing great pupil learning and achievement gains.” But, she wrote, “data on charter school successes are mixed.”

As evidence of Teacher U’s effectiveness, Atkins cited the student achievement reports that Teacher U’s first class at Hunter College compiled in order to graduate. Seven out of 110 teachers did not receive Master’s degrees because they could not show that their students had made at least a year’s worth of academic progress. Of the 103 who graduated, 52 percent demonstrated that their students made at least one-and-a-half years of growth, Atkins said.

Teacher U has received praise at the national level, including from a group that has defended traditional schools of education in the past: the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. James Cibulka, the president of NCATE, submitted a letter to the Regents endorsing the Teacher U team’s application, citing a recent report by NCATE that cited Teacher U as an “exemplar” of needed efforts to “turn teacher education in the United States ‘upside down.'”

A partnership of three local charter school networks — KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First — produced Teacher U three years ago. The groups’ decision to create a teacher training program represented the next step in a learning curve that traces its roots to the founding of Teach For America 20 years ago. Whereas Teach For America, which trained many of the charter schools’ founders, began by offering vague summer training to its corps members, the program has concluded that more support is necessary.

Teach For America teachers are now among the students at Teacher U, which builds in more than 300 hours of classes taught by experienced teachers, many of whom still work full-time in the classroom.

Relay faculty include Levin and both charter and district school educators, such as Julie Jackson, the principal of the North Star Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey, and Jodi Freidman, a teacher at P.S. 63 in Chinatown.

The Relay School of Education intends to prepare teachers to teach in both charter and district schools, Atkins said. While most of the program’s first class of graduates taught in charter schools, 18% taught in New York City public schools.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”