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New York

Anatomy of an action- and algebra-packed middle school class

Ryan Hall watches students work out a graphing equation. "Every second counts," teacher Ryan Hall said about the math classes he teaches at Williamsburg Collegiate Charter Middle School. The Brooklyn teacher, who was recognized by a national nonprofit as one of the top teachers in the country last week, packed a recent eighth-grade class with algebra drills and word problems, presented at a rapid pace to discourage wandering minds. Last week TNTP named Hall, who got his start as a teacher with Teach for America in 2007, as one of 20 teachers up for the brand-new Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. Though Hall did not win the $25,000 prize, he was one of just two city teachers honored as finalists. GothamSchools spent Tuesday morning watching Hall teach at his school, which consistently posts top scores on the city's annual progress reports. After class, Hall explained how he organized the class, grouped students, and assessed progress. Hall's commentary is framed in block quotes beneath our observations. 8 a.m. By moments after first-period started, Hall's 21 students were already sitting in silence, scribbling the answers to a set of six mathematical problems. As he does on most mornings, Hall started the class with two timed exercises: the "Cranium Cruncher" and the "Do Now," which teachers across the city have used to kick off their classes since the Department of Education first mandated the "workshop model" in 2003. Hall said it typically takes him 30-45 minutes to prepare for the class, which always takes place in the morning. "The 'Do Now' is more like grade-level work, with five to six word problems, and we go over that," Hall said. "Then there's one to 12 problems on a 'Cranium Crunch12.' It's a drill sheet — basic skills in isolation, like computation."
New York

With stricter credit recovery policy comes a push to do more

An impending crackdown on how students can make up failed classes has some schools scurrying to help students rack up missing credits this spring. Many schools allow students who are missing credits—either because they failed a class, or because circumstances kept them from attending or completing required work—to receiving course credit for completing extra assignments through a practice known as "credit recovery." The practice, which accounted for about 1.7 percent of credits earned last year, offers students the chance to pick up narrowly missed credits without having to repeat classes, but it has also been criticized for devaluing academic credits because the make-up assignments are often less in-depth than those required in the regular classes. Last month, following an audit that found errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools, the city announced that it would begin restricting credit recovery access to students, in part by capping the number of credits students may receive through credit recovery, limiting enrollment to students who attended at least two thirds of class they're making up, and allowing students to make up credits only in the months immediately after they fail a course. The new policies take effect July 1 — giving schools a four-month window to help students rack up credits before the restrictions kick in. Teachers and students at many schools said last week that they hadn't heard about the looming policy changes. But some of those who did said the news had motivated a credit recovery spree among students missing credits—a response Department of Education officials say is inappropriate. Students at a small school at the Lower East Side's Seward Park Campus, said administrators had individually told students who are missing credits that now is the time to finish credit recovery.
New York

Students, staff defend John Dewey in face of turnaround plans

Students and teachers from John Dewey High School protested outside of the Brooklyn school on Friday, brandishing signs reading: "Fix Schools, Don't Close Them!" and, "Save John Dewey." Anger and uncertainty about the city's plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools reigned today at a "Fight Back Friday" protest organized by teachers at one of the schools. The handful of teachers who braved the cold to demonstrate outside John Dewey High School this afternoon were joined by about a dozen students, who all defend the strength of the school's programs and longtime staff. Mayor Bloomberg announced last week that in order to secure federal funding, he would require the schools to undergo a process called "turnaround," in which they will close and reopen immediately with half of the teachers replaced. Dewey, a large high school with over 2,700 students in southern Brooklyn, is one of 14 schools that had been receiving federal funds to undergo a different process known as "restart." Teachers said the nonprofit group brought in to manage the school under the restart process, Institute for Student Achievement, has so far revamped Dewey's schedule and offered new after-school activities to combat truancy. City officials said the relationship would continue even under turnaround. Teachers said the startling news has already had a negative impact on the school community. Dewey narrowly escaped closure last year and now is set to get a new name as part of the city's rapid close-and-reopen plan.
New York

Over school's objections, some parents protest planned move

A plan to move a high school seven miles from its Williamsburg home has support from school leaders and students. But elected parent officials from its current geographic district and the one it would move to this fall say the plan is ill-conceived. Members of both the Community Education Councils for District 14 and District 19 joined together at a public hearing Monday night to argue that the school's high quality and focus on writing makes it a poor choice for the move. Ever since the Department of Education announced it was considering moving Williamsburg's Academy for Young Writers to East New York, members of the school community have given their endorsement. Under the plan, Young Writers would get space in a brand-new building and expand to include middle school grades. "We're excited about the opportunity described in the proposal," Principal Courtney Winkfield said at a public hearing about the move Monday night, which drew about 50 people. "In this current school year over 60 percent of our students come from East New York and Brownsville, and travel an hour each day. About 25 percent come from Crown Heights or Bed-Stuy, and travel an hour and 45 minutes to get here," she said. "[The DOE] is taking a program that has served them for the past several years, and putting it in their neighborhood." But parent leaders in District 14, where the school is currently located but which supplies just 10 percent of students, said they don't want to see Young Writers leave — in large part because a Success Academy charter school is set to move in under a DOE proposal.
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