As trainings start, a new name for new teacher evals: Advance

photo (2)Love it, hate it, or reserve judgment — just don’t call it “the city’s new teacher evaluation system.”

The Department of Education has a new name for the evaluation system that State Education Commissioner John King imposed on the city a month ago: Advance.

The name, which comes with a snazzy logo, got its first public airing today as the department launched a series of summer training sessions aimed at preparing schools to begin implementing the evaluation system this fall. The department held five training sessions across the city today and plans to hold 53 total before the end of next month.

At Brooklyn Law School, where administrators and teachers from 32 schools convened, department officials said they had decided to give the evaluation system a name to communicate the purpose of the changes. The new system will help teachers advance professionally, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, and it is also an advance from the system that was in place until now.

Officials said they looked at other districts that have adopted new teacher evaluation systems and found that educators in districts that rebranded their evaluation systems understood the system’s goals and details better. Washington, D.C., called the evaluation system it adopted in 2008 IMPACT, while Indiana is calling its new evaluation system RISE.

Educators participating in today’s training session had not yet assimilated the name into their vocabularies. Instead, looking at the Danielson Framework for Teaching, which will be used to assess teachers’ instructional practices, many focused on citing language in the rubric to assess teachers described in case studies that the department distributed. The case studies centered mostly on areas of the Danielson rubric that the city, hoping that its evaluation system could be constrained, had not asked schools to emphasize before.

Now, even educators who participated in the department’s Teacher Effectiveness Pilot are learning about how to assess the ways that teachers prepare for their classes and participate in professional responsibilities within the school.

Marcella Barros, a former principal who has served as a talent coach at the department for the last year, said she was heartened to see educators rate their knowledge of the Danielson Framework as their major area to work on, above building a positive culture at their school and ensuring that their staff is committed to changing their instructional practices.

“That’s good news,” she said. “We can totally help with that.”

In the afternoon, the educators turned their attention to “measures of student learning,” the assessments that schools will have to select and administer starting this fall in order to generate “growth scores” for teachers. They also got a primer on how the evaluation components will turn into a final score, a question that has been tricky even for the state officials who designed the evaluation system.

Some question marks remained when the training broke for lunch. For example, teachers said they wished the department had come up with a list of materials that teachers can provide as evidence of work that does not take place in the classroom. “We feel like we’re prepared,” said Carolyn Denizard, the UFT Chapter Leader at Brooklyn’s P.S. 38. “But artifacts — it’s hard to know what that is when they don’t even know themselves. How are we supposed to go back to our schools?”

“The only things we can’t address are the things we don’t know,” Barros said. “We’re really committed to not giving inaccurate information.”

The last page of the agenda that educators received acknowledged that a single day of training was not enough to master the complex new evaluation system.

“This training is not designed to cover everything you need to know,” the agenda said. “You will be provided with more support and resources this summer and throughout the year.”

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”