Against a muted response to the year’s test scores, New York’s charter sector stands out

PHOTO: Grace Tatter/Chalkbeat

New York City students outperformed the state average on this year’s reading tests, but with consequences for low scores receding and year-over-year comparisons off the table because of changes to the test, reactions to the news have been muted.

One notable exception: The city’s charter sector, which far outscored the rest of the city on both reading and math at a moment when lawmakers’ support is far from assured, quickly touted its performance. Other groups pointed out that deep disparities in the scores of different kinds of students remain. And some advocates suggested that they were just happy that more students sat for the tests at all instead of opting out.

Here’s what we’re hearing. We’ll update with reactions as they come in.

Charter advocates took the opportunity to tout their sector’s performance.

“Today, it’s more clear than ever why so many New York City families have chosen to send their children to charter schools. The city’s charter schools continue to deliver extraordinary results for disadvantaged students and have eliminated the achievement gap that otherwise persists across the city and the state. Progress is taking place across the board—for African American, Latino and low income students, as well English language learners and students with special needs. This was the goal when charters first opened 20 years ago and remains the goal today.” — James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center

“The 2018 test score results for math and ELA make it clear the comparison between charter schools on average and the state average isn’t even close — which is significant because the state average includes incredibly well-resourced, low-need districts. The data reaffirm what an estimated 150,000 students and their families already know: charter schools work relentlessly to support high achievement.” — Empire Charter Consultants, a new national group working to support charter school growth:

Some charter advocates alluded to looming policy battles ahead …

“Year after year, these assessment results show that the expertise in closing the achievement gap is found abundantly in the city’s charter sector. While Mayor de Blasio boasts he ‘came into office to shake the foundation of the system’ in reality, the city is just changing who gets to go to the schools it thinks are good. None of the City’s strategies increase the number of quality seats. The only people focused on that are the city’s charter school operators who are ready, willing, and able to open more schools if the cap is lifted.

If combined into a district, New York City charter schools are larger than the Big Four school district combined and perform three times as well. I hope charter critics won’t dismiss these results and will instead seek to replicate and scale them.” — StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis

… while others focused on what their own schools are doing well.

“Children from all backgrounds can achieve exceptional results when given access to great schools. When you focus on the whole child, you develop a passion for excellence, whether it’s in the classroom, on the soccer field, or at chess and debate tournaments.” — Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy, where 91 percent of students were proficient in reading and 98 were proficient in math

Others called attention to deep disparities reflected in the scores.

“It is always positive to see scores improve, but the fact is we cannot be sure what these changes mean because of the recent changes to the test. These scores could be more meaningful if we stopped playing politics and provide consistency in assessments and evaluation. We must embrace educator-driven reforms that ensure quality data is being collected and shared in a timely manner that allows educators to measure achievement and improvement from year to year.

“What we do know for sure is that we still have significant work to do to close the persistent opportunity gaps that exist for low-income students and students of color. For the commitment to equity and excellence to become a reality we need to continue working to elevate the teaching profession, create safe and supportive learning environments where all students are welcome, and fully implement New York’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act.” — Evan Stone, a co-founder and CEO of Educators 4 Excellence, a teacher advocacy group

“In reviewing the test scores for New York City students, we are concerned about the persistent gaps that exist for students with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs).  Teaching students to read is one of the most fundamental tasks of schools. We are disappointed to see a 40 point gap in reading scores between students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers and a 40 point gap in reading scores between ELLs and students who were never ELLs.  With the vast majority of ELLs and students with disabilities failing to score proficiently in reading, the City must do more to support these students and ensure that they receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction that targets their individual needs.” — Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York

And some were just happy that New York students took the tests at all.

“The combination of high standards and aligned assessments is creating real progress in classrooms across New York. What’s more, the state’s recent reforms to the assessments, from shortening the assessment period to having New York teachers help write the actual tests, are working – with student proficiency levels improving and achievement gaps in communities of color shrinking. And as a testament to buy in across the state, this year marks another year of increasing overall participation in the assessments, meaning that teachers and educators have more and more information to build lesson plans and structure classroom time. While teachers and students still have a lot of work ahead of them, today’s strong results mean we are another step closer to our ultimate goal: ensuring that every child in New York, no matter where he or she grows up, has access to a great education.” — Brian Fritsch, executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition formed to generate public support for the state’s testing program

big plans

Four things you should know about the new Memphis plan to expand district support to all schools

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

Shelby County Schools board members heard an ambitious plan Tuesday to expand district support for students across all its nearly 150 schools.

The proposal would expand the district’s flagship turnaround program, the Innovation Zone; test all first-graders for gifted education; give hand-held electronic devices to more high school students; and offer more advanced courses. The recommendations are the first from the district’s new chief academic officer, Antonio Burt, who was appointed in September.

“We’re really focused on system-wide equity,” he said. “We can really switch the conversation from equity to really focusing on equity in action.”

In recent years, Memphis has become a model in Tennessee’s school turnaround efforts. But district officials believe Shelby County Schools has not effectively scaled those lessons up to impact more students more quickly. Burt said his plan will fill in those gaps.

Burt did not break down how much these initiatives would cost, but incoming interim superintendent Joris Ray said the proposals would anchor the district’s budget priorities for the 2019-20 school year.

Here is what you need to know:

All first-grade students would be tested to see if they are eligible for CLUE, the district’s gifted education program.

Currently, teachers pick students to be tested for admittance into a program that promotes higher-level grade work for students from preschool to high school.

Burt said the way students are chosen has led to wide disparities in the racial makeup of the program. Though white students make up 7 percent of the district’s population, they make up 38 percent of the students in CLUE. Black students make up 77 percent of the district’s enrollment, but 45 percent of students in the program.

Nationally, black students are far less likely to be placed in gifted programs, even if they have the same test scores as their white peers, and especially if their teacher is white, according to a 2016 study at Vanderbilt University.

For the first time, all Memphis schools identified by the state as low performing will get additional money.

Eleven schools will be added to the district’s Innovation Zone, known for improving test scores.

The iZone pumps about $600,000 per school for teacher bonuses, for more resources to combat the effects of poverty, and for principals to have more say over which teachers they hire.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Antonio Burt became assistant superintendent in 2017 over the Innovation Zone and other struggling schools within Shelby County Schools. He is now the district’s academic chief.

Some of the schools Burt wants to add have been languishing on the state’s list since it was first created in 2012, but have not received substantial support.

As some schools are being added to the iZone, others have improved their performance, and are no longer eligible for additional state funding. Shelby County Schools, which has covered the reduction in funding, for the first time plans to gradually wean 13 schools off that extra support. Burt vowed to monitor those schools to make sure they don’t slip again.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to see which schools will be affected.

Burt’s plan also would combine Hamilton Elementary and Hamilton Middle into a K-8 school next year, and separate Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High into two schools again after a charter operator moved out the neighborhood. The Hamilton school proposal is also part of outgoing Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s recommendation to consolidate some schools.

Every student in nine high schools would get a hand-held device or laptop this fall, with a goal to expand to every school by the 2024-25 school year.

The district hasn’t decided whether it would be laptops, tablets, or some other device, but officials say students should have more access to technology.

“I think about children in the municipalities and across the nation… they have a device in their hand,” said Ray. “All their textbooks, they’re loaded to one device. So we need to in Shelby County Schools increase technology and give our students the opportunity to compete worldwide.”

But board members cautioned the district should have a robust learning plan for those devices.

“It’s more than just putting a device in hand,” said board member Miska Clay Bibbs.

Every high school will have two Advanced Placement courses for college credit by school year 2020-21.

Students from poor families are more likely to attend a high school with fewer advanced courses, according to a 2018 district report. Burt wants to change that.

The plan calls for more teachers in every high school to be trained to lead an honors, Advanced Placement, or pre-Advanced Placement class.

Below are the schools that would be added to and removed from the iZone. Read the district’s full presentation below.

The schools that would be added to the iZone are:

  • LaRose Elementary
  • Dunbar Elementary
  • Getwell Elementary
  • Hawkins Mill Elementary
  • Woodstock Middle
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Craigmont Middle
  • Wooddale High
  • Sheffield High
  • Oakhaven High
  • Manassas High

These schools would be cycled out of the iZone:

  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Treadwell Elementary
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Ford Road Elementary
  • Westhaven Elementary
  • Douglass K-8
  • Chickasaw Middle
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Hamilton Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Mitchell High
  • Melrose High

text skills

‘My reminders are not spam!’: Teachers and parents protest Verizon over new texting fees

Hell hath no fury like teachers who are told that their direct line to students and parents might soon be cut off.

That’s what Verizon is learning after a text-messaging service used by teachers and parents to share updates about homework assignments and snow days announced that the company would soon make messaging prohibitively expensive.

The service, Remind, emailed users late Monday to tell them that Verizon had decided to treat their messages as spam — a move that would make it impossible to continue distributing messages for free. The change would affect 7 million of the service’s 31 million users, a spokesperson said.

“The Verizon fee will increase our costs of providing text messaging by 11X—pushing our annual costs into the millions of dollars,” the company said in the letter. “This isn’t financially feasible for us to support, and it’s forcing us to end Remind text messaging for everyone who has a wireless plan with Verizon.”

The letter urged teachers and families to download Remind’s app instead — and to lobby Verizon to change its policy.

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s the power of communication,” Remind’s website read. “If Remind’s made a positive impact on how you teach or learn, please call Verizon and ask them to #ReverseTheFee.”

Overnight and into Tuesday, countless educators and parents followed Remind’s lead, posting on Twitter and calling Verizon to explain why free text messaging is essential to their work. Two million educators use the service monthly, and the company says it is used in about 80 percent of U.S. schools.

“My reminders to students and their parents are #NotSpam!!,” wrote Phillip Cantor, a high school teacher in Chicago.  “My district allows ONLY @remind101 to communicate with students via text because it’s safe and free.”

“I bet you didn’t know that 29% of the students that attend the school I teach at rely on the translation tool built into @RemindHQ,” tweeted Beth Small. “Please don’t silence parent/teacher communication!”

“The Remind service is invaluable with my students,” wrote David Bell. “As a high school counselor it helps me build a rapport with my students that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”

Remind officials said the company had been trying to negotiate with Verizon since last summer, when the company first announced the rate increase. (They also said they are locked in a similar conflict with a telecommunications company in Canada.)

Those negotiations are complicated. According to a Verizon spokesperson, Remind contracts with another messaging company, Twilio, that contracts with a firm that has a contract with Verizon, and Remind is not the only service to be caught in a dragnet meant to reduce the number of spam messages that cell phone users receive.

Several of those companies met throughout the day Tuesday with the goal of preserving free text-messaging for teachers and schools. But the night ended without a resolution, and with the social media protest continuing to take aim at the phone company.

“As a student, I use Remind daily and by charging teachers for using its features, that experience will be cut off for me,” tweeted Keegan Ator. “What’s more important, future generations of hard-working students or a few extra pennies in the bank?”