the road to albany

Union chief says de Blasio’s plan to scrap the SHSAT is going nowhere in Albany

PHOTO: Monica Disare
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew endorses Mayor Bill de Blasio for re-election.

The head of New York City’s teachers union offered a bleak assessment of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to integrate the city’s specialized high schools Thursday, saying it likely won’t come to fruition any time soon and the plan’s rollout was “fraught with mistakes.”

“I don’t believe at this point in time it can pass in the next legislative session because it has been so highly politicized,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said during a panel discussion hosted by City & State and moderated by Chalkbeat.

Mulgrew’s comments underscore the challenge ahead for de Blasio’s plan, which calls for eliminating the single test that determines admission at eight of the city’s top high schools and instead admitting the top 7 percent of students at every middle school across the city. At three of those high schools — Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science — state law mandates the use of a single exam for admission. (The legislative session begins in January.)

New York’s schools are among the most segregated, and de Blasio has elevated specialized schools as a key symbol of that problem. Although nearly 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black or Hispanic, just 10 percent of offers to specialized schools go to those students.

Mulgrew’s comments are particularly striking because the union has previously advocated for minimizing the role of the Specialized High School Admissions Test in favor of other admissions methods — and the union chief has rarely clashed publicly with de Blasio. (Mulgrew noted that he will still push state lawmakers to deemphasize the SHSAT in admissions.)

Meanwhile, Mark Treyger, chairman of city council’s education committee who was also part of the panel discussion, said that he was not informed of the plan before it was announced and said he does not support it because it would only promote racial diversity in a tiny fraction of the city’s schools.

“I’m still waiting for the bigger vision and the bigger plan,” Treyger said.

Here are three other highlights from the discussion, which also included State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

A Richard Carranza report card

All three leaders gave schools Chancellor Richard Carranza high marks. Elia, who referred to Carranza as a “soul mate” with the state on equity issues, said she admired his commitment to using data to inform policy decisions.

“If you noticed, he kept saying ‘look at the data’ and I think that’s what we need to be driven to do,” Elia said. That’s in stark contrast with Carranza’s predecessor, Carmen Fariña, who famously said that she valued stories, not statistics, as measures of the school system’s health.

Yeshivas on the state’s ‘agenda’

State officials plan to offer guidance to the city’s education department about its three-year investigation of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas sometime in the next two months. That comes on the heels of a letter Carranza sent to Elia last week that said certain city yeshivas appeared to offer little secular instruction and denied city investigators access to 15 others — but ultimately asked the state education department for advice on what to do next.

Without mentioning yeshivas directly, Elia said she was glad that advocacy groups had raised the issue of whether certain private schools are offering a “substantially equivalent” education as public ones. “There has been some reviews of particular types of schools from advocacy groups,” she said. “That’s putting, certainly, the agenda on the page for all of us.”

What’s next for teacher evaluations?

State lawmakers failed to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation law during its last session, and if no action is taken test scores would once again be tied to teacher ratings in 2019 — a policy that has fueled a vigorous political opposition across the state.

Elia said the state planned to restart its efforts to craft a new evaluation system with input from teachers, and strongly hinted that the Board of Regents could extend the ban on using test scores in evaluations until a new plan is ready.

“This is not something that should happen in a very fast timeline,” Elia said. “It should be thoughtful.”

For his part, Mulgrew suggested a faster approach might be appropriate. “If nothing happens by the end of next school year then we go back to ‘everything’s about the test,’” he said. “I’m pretty sure that no matter what side of the debate you’re on in New York State, nobody wants to go back to that.”

First Person

We’re college counselors in Chicago. We want our district to stop steering students to colleges where they probably won’t graduate.

Chicago Public Schools recently unveiled personalized “College Readiness Guides” for high school sophomores and juniors. The district hopes the reports will help continue to boost high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

Andrew Johnson

As college and career advisors at Chicago high schools, we hope the guides will help, but we’re less optimistic. Some critical blind spots might make them a significant missed opportunity.

Ryan Kinney

For one, there are a number of data problems in these new reports. Student grade point averages and number of credits earned are eight months out of date — a period long enough for high schoolers to get off track or regain momentum. The reports also don’t account for whether students have even had the opportunity to meet some of the graduation requirements yet, unwittingly creating the impression that some of our students are off track when they may be doing just fine.

But perhaps the most glaring omission is not about students’ current performance, but about the success rates of the colleges they are on track to attend.

Students examining the reports will see the names of several dozen colleges color-coded according to whether each school, based on their GPAs and test scores, should be considered a “match,” a “reach,” or “unlikely.” That tells students what schools they could go to, but by itself is little help for determining which colleges a students should go to. The missing ingredient is specific guidance about identifying and comparing the colleges’ graduation rates.

Read more about Chicago’s new “College Readiness Guides.”

The significance of considering institutional graduation rates in college advising was cemented by groundbreaking research from the University of Chicago in 2008, and CPS has been wise to partner with the University’s school research arm ever since. This partnership makes it all the more surprising that the new reports fail to capitalize on the researchers’ key finding: Regardless of high school GPA, students graduate from college at higher rates when they attend more selective institutions. In other words, generally speaking, the harder it is to gain admission to a school, the more likely students are to succeed there.

So the absence of colleges’ graduation rates on CPS’s new reports represents a troubling missed opportunity. Graduates of Chicago Public Schools have been enrolling in college at increasing rates over the last decade, but there hasn’t been a meaningful increase in students’ college graduation rates since at least 2011. A powerful response to this phenomenon would be to examine more closely where CPS graduates have been enrolling, to identify colleges where our students have been less successful and where they might continue to be less successful in the future. Instead, the reports replicate the list of CPS graduates’ recent college destinations, threatening to reproduce the pattern of college enrollment without graduation.

Meanwhile, the guides place such a wide range of colleges in a student’s “match” category that they obscure the meaning of the concept. A “match” in college counseling refers to a college that is appropriately selective given a student’s academic profile. It helps a student distinguish what’s possible, but also, just as crucially, what might be ill-advised.

Yet the district’s new report often lumps together both the University of Illinois at Chicago and, for example, Harold Washington College, as “matches.” This implies that the two schools might be roughly equivalent options. Yet most college access professionals could quickly tell you that UIC admits students with an average GPA of 3.25 and has a six-year graduation rate of 58 percent, just under the national average. Harold Washington College, on the other hand, requires entering students only to have a high school diploma, and its students graduate at a rate of 18 percent.

For most students who qualify for UIC, then, it could be critical to their success to see Harold Washington as being not a “match” but an “undermatch” — a school less selective than they should aspire to. And while students and families may ultimately have valid reasons for choosing either one of these institutions, a conversation about graduation rates is critical.

Such an absence also explains why the report can list obviously high-risk opportunities like Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis as a “match” for almost every student receiving this report. While this institution reports an average GPA for incoming students of 2.69, it also maintains the dubious honor of a graduation rate of 5.6 percent. The presence of this college’s name on a district publication, and its accompanying label of “match,” clearly suggests that CPS thinks that Harris-Stowe can be an appropriate destination for our students. Given the price and the risk involved, we would never recommend such a school to our students.

The nonchalance with which CPS has presented 40,000 students with a troublesome list of college options is disappointing. While much productive work has been spent over the years in supporting our students’ college enrollment, it is clear that we must pay more attention to where we are helping students enroll than ever before. We know the district can do better, and we hope it will.

Andrew Johnson is a National Board-certified social sciences teacher. Ryan Kinney is a professional school counselor who has previously served as a CPS master counselor. Both are credentialed college and career access advisors at Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park.

upheaval

Frustrations over principal turnover flare up at IPS School 43

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 43

It began with a tame slideshow presentation about hiring a new principal at School 43. But the Wednesday night meeting soon spiraled into a venting session — as parents and teachers pleaded with Indianapolis Public Schools to send in more staff.

Bakari Posey, the principal of School 43, departed for another job last week in the latest upheaval at the school, which is also known as James Whitcomb Riley. The assistant principal, Endia Ellison, has taken over in an interim capacity, as the district searches for a new leader for the school, which has faced significant turnover in recent years.

“This school needs help,” said Natasha Milam, who has three children at School 43, which serves about 450 students in prekindergarten to eighth-grade. “We need you all to listen. And we need you all to hear us.”

Milam, who volunteers at the school, said that because the building does not have enough staff to handle behavior problems, students are suspended far too often — meaning students are at home doing chores or getting into trouble, instead of in class learning.

Many in the neighborhood had hoped Posey, who is from the community, would be able to turn the school around after the previous two school leaders left their posts just months into the job. But under Posey’s leadership, the school continued to struggle on state tests, with just 7 percent of students passing both the math and English exams last year.

And after two-and-a-half years on the job, Posey left and began working this week as assistant principal at Fall Creek Valley Middle School in Lawrence Township. In an email Thursday, Posey said that he left because he thought the position in Lawrence would help him grow professionally and it was closer to his home.

Posey also disputed the picture of School 43 as a campus in crisis. He said this school year, there hasn’t been “turmoil in the school in regards to student behavior,” suspensions were down, and the campus has been “very calm.” (Suspension numbers could not immediately be verified.) He also said that Indianapolis Public Schools provided “great support” to school staff.

Nonetheless, parents and teachers’ at the meeting Wednesday said the school has serious problems.

Ryesha Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher who has been at the school a little over a year, said there are not enough staff to help with student discipline problems. That makes it hard for educators to teach, she said.

“We have fights almost every day,” Jackson said. “I guess my question is, ‘What are we doing right now to support teachers?’”

School 43 is a neighborhood school, on the north side of the district. More than 75 percent of students there are black, and almost 70 percent come from families with incomes so low that they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals — about the district average.

Indianapolis Public Schools interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said district and school leaders would work together to develop a plan to address the urgent problems at School 43.

“But what I can’t give you right now is the plan for that help,” she said. “That takes time and coordination with the school staff.”

The district is gathering input about what school community members are looking for in a principal before posting a listing, officials said. Finalists will be interviewed by committees of parents, community members, and school and district staff. The goal is to name a new principal by April.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting was a small contingent from the IPS Community Coalition, a group that is often critical of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration, particularly the district’s partnerships with charter schools.

Michele Lorbieski, a resident from the north side who ran unsuccessfully for the Indianapolis Public Board with the support of the coalition last year, said the district cannot just rely on the next principal to fix the school.

“What I’d hoped to hear tonight was what the school district was doing to put things in place to stop this revolving door of principals,” she said.

District officials did not directly address why turnover has been so high among principals at School 43. But Brynn Kardash, a district official who recently began working with the school, said that the central office is doing more to support it this year.

School 43 was added this year to the transformation zone — an effort to help troubled schools that includes dedicated support and regular visits from a team at the central office, said Kardash, the district’s executive director of schools for the zone. Educators in the zone get additional training, extra planning time, and help analyzing student data, she said.

“The goal is to really support Ms. Ellison in work that she’s doing,” Kardash said, “which then leads to, hopefully, teachers feeling that support in the classroom.”