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March 25, 2011
A union skeptic, converted by Steve Barr, befriends the UFT
Steve Barr argues that education activists need to move from campaigning to governing. When Gideon Stein first picked up the 2009 New Yorker profile of California charter school leader Steve Barr, he put the article down without finishing it. The story was all about Barr's decision to work with the teachers union rather than fight it. "I was like, eh, how great can his schools be?" Stein, an entrepreneur and real estate developer based in Manhattan, recalled in an interview this week. A board member of at one of Eva Moskowitz's Success Charter Network schools, where teachers are determinedly not unionized, Stein didn't believe that anyone working with a teachers union had a shot at turning a school around. But at the urging of his family, he finished the piece and was so impressed that he asked Moskowitz to broker an introduction. Soon he flew to Los Angeles to visit Locke High School, the school that Barr's group, Green Dot, took over in 2008. The trip was "transformative," Stein said. In Barr, he saw the solution to the problem that troubles many education philanthropists: Successful transformations urban and rural schools are too rare. They have not achieved "scale." "While I love my work with Eva, and I think Eva is just an unbelievable educator and advocate for children," Stein said, "if you really want scale, I think you're going to have to make some compromises." He asked Barr how he could help Green Dot's mission of re-making schools in partnership with labor. Now Stein is the president of Barr's national organization, which changed its name today from Green Dot America to Future Is Now Schools. And he's rejiggered his social calendar. "I've now had dinner and drinks with Randi 10 times in the last eight months," he said, referring to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Winning the Future
January 28, 2011
Week of 1/24/11: Teaching & learning tidbits
Special ed resource fair Saturday; Big changes for Falcon district; Good news in science ed; Obama calls out Denver school; Fort Collins school saved by a vote; Fate of cursive in schools; Aurora hunts truants; State's smallest district ponders future.
December 9, 2010
List of schools city must "turn around" grows by twenty-one
New York State's annual worst-of list is out today and it includes 21 new struggling schools that New York City will have to radically change in the next several years. Many of these schools are already on the city's radar. Two of them — the School for Community Research and Learning and I.S. 195 — are on the list of schools the city plans to begin closing next year. Others, such as Herbert Lehman High School, earned poor grades on their annual progress reports and were considered for closure. With the addition of these 21 schools, the number of schools eligible for (but not yet undergoing) federal "turnaround" strategies is up to 43. By next April, the city's Department of Education has to send the state a plan for how it will improve each of these schools. "We need to apply to the state with a school-by-school plan with a proposed budget and we'll go back and forth with them on a draft until they finally approve," said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. "We have a technical deadline of sometime in April, but obviously we want to get moving on this as soon as possible."
November 5, 2010
Find your school’s new state rating
State officials this week unveiled the ratings for 2,080 schools or programs under the Education Accountability Act of 2009. Only those ratings agreed upon by state and district officials have been released. Another 99 campuses are still being reviewed. Check out this neat-o search function at Education News Colorado created by EdNews staff writer Nancy Mitchell.
November 4, 2010
State releases new school ratings
More than 80 percent of Colorado schools meet minimum state expectations while the lowest 11 percent have five years to improve or face closure.
October 6, 2010
Large high schools still find favor in Queens, if not at Tweed
Rejecting small schools with themes like social justice or green jobs as "boutique schools," parents in central Queens are demanding that the city build them a large, comprehensive high school. And, after years of the city closing big schools and championing those boutiques, city officials have agreed. At a meeting in central Queens last night, Executive Director of School Improvement Alex Shub said the Department of Education intended to build a 1,100-seat school building in Maspeth. The school will open in 2011 or 2012, depending on how quickly the city finds and hires the right principal, Shub said. But when it does, it will be one school, not several small high schools housed in a single campus as has become the norm. "People want one large comprehensive school. You don't want a bunch of boutique schools, a dance school, a school for lawyers," Shub said to the parents assembled at P.S. 58. "It sounds like people speaking now are interested in a comprehensive school that is going to give your kids every opportunity for success. And I can guarantee you a school that can do that."
September 23, 2010
City wins $36 million federal grant to expand performance pay
The federal government is giving the city $36 million to expand a performance pay program that gives large bonuses to high-performing teachers in struggling schools. The money is a percentage of the $442 million Teacher Incentive Fund doled out today to more than 60 groups, including states, school districts, charter school operators and non-profits. Federal officials are handing out the grants the same week as a major study of merit pay in Nashville found that offering teachers up to $15,000 bonuses had little effect on student academic achievement. The award aims to let the city hire "master" and "turnaround" teachers for 75 low-performing schools. The two groups of teachers have full or nearly-full course loads and devote extra time to training or mentoring other teachers at their schools. Turnaround teachers, who will work an estimated 30 hours more per year, get bonuses of 15 percent of their salaries. Master teachers work an extra 100 hours and receive 30 percent bonuses. Both categories of teacher are also required to maintain a "highly effective" rating under the state's new teacher evaluation system, based partly on their students' test scores.
June 25, 2010
A city principal who favors change warily prepares for more
Graduating seniors celebrated today inside the Cobble Hill School of American Studies Today was a roller coaster for Kenneth Cuthbert, principal of the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn. At 1 p.m., he stood inside a new basement auditorium he excavated from a former garbage dump and watched more than 100 of his students graduate to shattering cheers. A few hours later, he learned that he might lose his job. Cobble Hill has been named one of the 34 city schools the state will attempt "turn around" as part of an Obama administration program. The news Cuthbert received this afternoon, in an e-mail message from Chancellor Joel Klein, is that Cobble Hill will undergo the so-called "transformation" model — the less severe model that preserves a school's teaching staff, but still endangers its principal. State rules say that all schools on the federal list should lose their principals, but city officials are considering appealing for some principals to stay, and the principals union is pressuring them to save these jobs. So far, Cuthbert doesn't know where he falls. "They need to do what’s in the best interest of the children," he told me this afternoon, after receiving the news. "I will be fine. God sends us here with gifts, talents, and abilities. What are you going to do? You play the hand you’re dealt. We’ve played it for the last several years." His mixed feelings reflect the fact that, for the five years that he's been principal, Cuthbert has seen himself as on a war path to improve the school — and he feels like he's made important steps. Last year's four-year graduation rate was 65 percent, up from 42 percent two years before. Since he came, the school has launched several new programs, including a law program that he said is behind increasing enrollment. (Achievement statistics on the school can be found here and here.)
June 25, 2010
City picks 23 schools to close or overhaul, 11 to "transform"
Nearly two dozen struggling schools will be closed, turned into charter schools, or lose their principals and at least half of their teachers over the next several years, city officials announced today. City officials released the list of 34 schools today that will be part of a three year federal grant program to “turn around” the city’s most struggling schools. Of those schools, 11 will use the "transformation" model — the least invasive option that relies on removing the principal, bringing in more support services, and changing how school time is used. But most of the schools — 23 in total — will undergo one of three plans set out by the federal government", all of which require many teachers and principals be removed. Department of Education officials said the transformation model was only being offered to schools that were already showing significant improvement. Many of these are vocational schools, such as William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School and Automotive High School. The other 23 schools will experience "very dramatic change," said Deputy Chancellor John White.
June 24, 2010
City, union agree to performance pay deal for struggling schools
The city and the teachers union have struck a performance pay deal that will tie some teachers' salaries to a range of measures of their effectiveness, including their students' test scores. The deal is part of a federal grant program to "turn around" the city's most struggling schools. It also builds on a teacher evaluation agreement reached between the union and state education officials last month. According to the deal, 34 schools that have been designated as persistently lowest achieving will be able to pay model teachers significantly more money to take on greater responsibilities. Deemed the best-of-the-best, these teachers will mentor their colleagues, write curriculum, and open their classrooms to teachers who want to watch a lesson. City officials have decided that 11 of these 34 schools will undergo the transformation model beginning next September. This means they can get support services, have an extended school day or an entirely new schedule, and can keep the teachers they have. In some cases, the city may decide to replace these schools' principals.
May 10, 2010
City and union have two weeks to strike turnaround deal
New York City has two weeks to convince the teachers union to sign onto its plans to turnaround 34 low-performing schools. The feds have given the state $308 million to distribute to local school districts to "turn around" their lowest performing schools. Districts have until May 24 to apply for a portion of those funds, and the applications must include which of four federally-approved methods the districts plan to use to turn around each school. And in most cases, districts will need to negotiate side deals with their unions outside of their regular contract to accommodate individual schools' turnaround plans, State Deputy Education Commissioner John King said over the weekend. Each district must negotiate those changes before it submits its application for funds, King said.
May 5, 2010
Union contract limits options for school turnaround, city says
In an attempt to improve some of the worst schools in the country, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is offering states four methods of turning around their lowest performers. But New York City officials say the union contract here rules out one of the three — the so-called "transformation" model — even though it's the only one that wouldn't cause teachers to lose their jobs. The other three methods either turn schools into charter schools, close them down, or force their principals and at least half of the staff to be fired. "Transformation" calls for the principal's removal, but keeps the school's staff in place. Yet crucially, it also requires that schools use students' test scores as a significant factor in evaluating teachers, that merit pay be put in place, and that teachers whose students don't show enough improvement be fired. Since New York state law bars principals from using student data in teachers' tenure decisions and the teachers contract only allows merit pay for entire schools that perform well, not individual teachers, city officials claim they cannot use it. That's despite the fact that the city actually wants to use the transformation model at some of the 34 schools on the state's turnaround list, a Department of Education official said. He mentioned (but did not name) a small group of schools that are improving and have above-average graduation rates despite their overall-poor performance.
December 14, 2009
Regents to push Race to the Top school turnaround strategy today
State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch welcome board members to their December meeting in Albany this morning. The public…
July 2, 2009
Mayoral hopefuls to be quizzed on failing schools at forum tonight
Believe it or not, there are just four months before the city’s mayoral election, and tonight the three declared candidates will take questions from a…
April 9, 2009
Two efforts to improve a school, with two different sets of tools
I have a story in this week's Village Voice about the fight over how to improve struggling public schools. Should the schools be rescued from the inside or replaced? I focus on P.S. 194 in Harlem, which school officials favor replacing with the fledgling Harlem Success Academy 2. Both the principal at HSA 2, Jim Manly, and the principal at P.S. 194, Charyn Koppelson Cleary, are trying to give Harlem's children a radically different experience of school. Yet they have very different tools to work with. Cleary's world: Before the school year began, staffers recall, she gathered her whole faculty, from the teachers to the security officer to the secretary, in what she called a "circle of change." Each person talked about what needed changing at the school. "The good news," Cleary told them, according to people who were there, "is that 94 or 95 percent of the stuff you guys are talking about, we can change." In some ways, Cleary was constrained in her efforts. She could not hire a staff of her own, since the bulk of the teachers were inherited from the school's previous years. She could not ask the custodian to repaint the entire building, since his contract only permitted a certain percentage. But she did the best she could, asking for the neediest rooms to get fresh paint and finagling a handful of other educators she trusted onto the payroll. She also only had last three months to prepare for her turnaround: She began the job last July. Now, here's Manly's world:
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