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April 23, 2012
Federal teacher evaluation mandate's impact felt across country
New York City’s controversial school turnaround proposals represent a tiny piece of a sweeping effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to overhaul the country’s lowest-performing schools. In the last of three articles about the reform effort produced by Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and the Education Writers Association, Sarah Garland looks at the national impact of a federal requirement — tougher teacher evaluations — that has tripped up School Improvement Grants in New York. GothamSchools was one of four news organizations to contribute to the reporting. Elliott Elementary in Lincoln, Neb., struck off on its own last year when it became the only school in the city to win money through the federal School Improvement Grant program. Winning wasn’t something to be proud of, though: It meant the school qualified as one of the worst in the nation. About a third of fifth-graders at Elliott were proficient on state reading tests when the reforms began, compared to 80 percent in Lincoln as a whole. Winning also meant a lot of work for teachers and administrators. One of the biggest tasks was overhauling the way teachers at the school are evaluated. Elliott was the only school in the city making the change, which meant it had to come up with a new way of rating teachers mostly on its own. “The challenge was connecting it to student achievement,” said Jadi Miller, named the principal at Elliott after a longtime principal was ousted to comply with the grant’s mandate of new leadership. “That was certainly very new for us.” In the Obama administration’s new push to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools nationwide, the vast majority of districts chose the reform option that seemed the least invasive: Instead of closing schools or firing at least half of the teaching staff, schools could undergo less aggressive interventions, such as overhauling how teacher performance is measured and rewarding teachers who do well. But the teacher-evaluation requirement has turned out to be a major stumbling block for many schools in the SIG program.
April 20, 2012
Charting a new course in Sheridan
Part 2 of a series examining the effort to turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools, with snapshots of three Colorado campuses.
April 20, 2012
Teacher evaluation requirement has wide impact
Part 2 of a series analyzing the nation's effort to improve its lowest-performing schools focuses on the mandate to overhaul teacher evaluations
April 19, 2012
The school closure protest and the championship chess team
The two events were so unrelated that one might expect them to appear together in a story on the state's English language arts exam. This afternoon, critics of the city's school closure policies gathered for a protest on one side of the Department of Education, while just meters away inside City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg was congratulating I.S. 318's chess team on their underdog win at last week's National High School Championships. The protest outside the Department of Education's headquarters drew about 40 teachers and students, including many from schools that face a closure vote next week. Turnout was denser inside City Hall, as Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott crowded in for a photo shoot with the I.S. 318 students, who returned from the tournament just in time for the start of annual state tests. Banter between the students and the officials soon turned to this week's tests. Several of the students are in eighth-grade and described for the mayor their confusion upon being asked to answer questions about a story called "The Pineapple and the Hare." The story, an adaptation of a story by the absurdist children's author Daniel Pinkwater, had flummoxed the students, who said they were not sure how to answer a question about why the pineapple was eaten.
April 19, 2012
Top DOE official endorses a "turnaround" transfer high school
http://youtu.be/uAM5MyHmko8 At most of the public hearings about the city’s plans to “turn around” dozens of struggling schools, Department of Education representatives have insisted that closing and reopening the schools with new principals and teachers would be in students’ best interest. That was not the case at Bushwick Community High School Wednesday night. After hearing dozens of students deliver emotional speeches in defense of the transfer high school, the department’s second-in-command offered a testimonial of his own. “This is a school that looks at the whole child. This is a school that gives students second chances. It’s a place of redemption. It’s a family. It saves lives,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer. “I was moved by what you said tonight,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of public hearings and I think it’s a tribute to the educators in this community that students here speak with such passion, with such eloquence, and so thoughtfully about what works.”
April 19, 2012
Schools slated for turnaround say they're already getting better
Teachers and students at the Flushing closure hearing wore red and glitter horns to represent the school's mascot, the Red Devils. The Department of Education isn't paying attention to recent improvements at the school it has proposed for "turnaround," teachers and students said at two of the schools Wednesday evening. At Flushing High School, teachers said during a public hearing about the turnaround plan that a recent leadership change had created conditions for success — and that any consideration of the school's performance should taken into account its large immigrant population. At the Bronx High School of Business, teachers said the staff had been overhauled this year but hadn't yet had a chance to demonstrated success. The city has been holding public hearings about the turnarounds, which would require schools to be closed and reopened after replacing many teachers, since late last month. The final two hearings are tonight, and the city's Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the 26 total proposals next week. It has never rejected a city proposal. Flushing High School According to the dozens of students and teachers who testified at Wednesday night's closure hearing, Flushing High School is on the upswing after suffering from years of poor leadership and budget cuts. More than 100 protesters of the city's plan to close the school using the turnaround model struck a tone of optimism and passion as they sat in the Flushing auditorium, wearing red T-shirts and, in some cases, glittery horns to represent the school's mascot, the Red Devils. A group of sophomores from a band class drummed forcefully on plastic tubs before city officials began the hearing, chanting, "Save our school." Deputy Chancellor David Weiner cited the school's low four-year graduation rate — 60 percent for the past two years — as the main reason the Department of Education believes Flushing would benefit from turnaround. As he spoke, teachers and parents in the audience sporadically shouted over him. "Nobody wants this!" one called. "Fix truancy," another shouted. A third person yelled, "They're not English-speaking," referring to Flushing's large number of English Language Learners. Of Flushing's 3,075 students, 618 are ELLs.
April 18, 2012
Pep-rally tone but many worries at Queens turnaround hearings
Students dressed in blue and white, Long Island City High School's colors, chant at the school's closure hearing Tuesday. The feeling at two Queens high schools Tuesday evening was as much pep rally as protest during public hearings about the city's plans to close the schools in June. The city wants to close and reopen the schools, Long Island City High School and Newtown High School, under the federally prescribed reform process known as "turnaround." The process would require many teachers to be replaced, a prospect that students said has induced anxiety about what classes and clubs would be offered next year. Students and teachers said unique elective and extracurricular options that currently exist — including boys gymnastics, robotics, and guitar — are a large part of what makes the schools special. They urged the Department of Education to preserve those features and revert to other improvement plans that would cause less disruption. At a third school whose turnaround hearing took place last night, John Dewey High School, students and teachers have been mounting a vigorous defense since January, when the turnaround plans were announced. The three schools are among 26 whose turnaround proposals are likely to be approved when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on them next week. Newtown High School The crowd at Newtown gave forth whoops and cheers for every teacher who spoke, for every mention of the school’s winning robotics team, and for every nod to longstanding principal – and Newtown alum – John Ficalora. But before there was cheer, there was tension when a top Department of Education official, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, had not shown up 20 minutes after the meeting was supposed to begin. At 6:20 p.m., with Weiner an estimated 20 minutes away, Jesse Mojica, the Department of Education’s executive director for Family and Community Engagement, tried to start the meeting without him.
April 17, 2012
Mixed schedule signals for families at schools slated for closure
Junior Edmund Cintron, a student pilot at August Martin High School, speaks at the school's closure hearing Monday. A scheduling conflict has parents at some "turnaround" schools miffed that they're being asked to be in two places at the same time. The Department of Education is hosting four meetings this week for parents whose children attend the city's lowest-performing schools under federal accountability laws. The borough-wide meetings are intended to help parents learn about options for transferring out of their current schools through No Child Left Behind's "Public School Choice Program." But the department is also hosting public hearings about proposed school closures at the same time, putting families who wanted to attend both events in a difficult spot. At Monday night's hearing for August Martin High School in Jamaica, Queens, parents said they felt conflicted about which meeting to attend after receiving a postcard advertising the transfer meeting over spring break and phone messages about the closure hearing this week. "I didn't know which meeting was more important," said Helese Crawford, whose husband attended the Queens transfer meeting at John Adams High School, about three miles down road, at the same time as the August Martin meeting. "Thankfully, because we're together, we were able to go to both." Laura Brown said she had planned to attend the transfer meeting to learn about options for her ninth-grade daughter — but then she drove by August Martin and recognized other parents and teachers outside the school. "I saw that everybody was here and I thought they cancelled the other one," she said.
April 16, 2012
Growing pains at Denver’s Lake campus
Part 1 of a series examining the effort to turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools, with snapshots of three Colorado campuses
April 16, 2012
Verdict still out on school turnarounds
Two years into the nation's nearly $5 billion effort to turn around its worst-performing schools, there's still no verdict on its effectiveness
April 16, 2012
Nationally, federal turnaround funding generates mixed reviews
New York City's controversial school turnaround proposals represent a tiny piece of a sweeping effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to overhaul the country's lowest-performing schools. In the first of three articles about the reform effort produced by Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and the Education Writers Association, Alyson Klein examines the effects of federal School Improvement Grants on districts across the country — and the grants' uncertain future. GothamSchools was one of a dozen news organizations to contribute to the reporting. After two years, the federal program providing billions of dollars to help states and districts close or remake some of their worst-performing schools remains an ambitious work in progress, with roughly 1,200 turnaround efforts under way but still no verdict on its effectiveness. The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, supercharged by a $3 billion windfall under the federal economic-stimulus program in 2009, has jumpstarted aggressive moves by states and districts. To get their share of the money, they had to quickly identify some of their most academically troubled schools, craft new teacher-evaluation systems, and carve out more time for instruction, among other steps. Some schools and districts spent millions of dollars on outside experts and consultants. Others went through the politically ticklish process of replacing teachers and principals, while combating community skepticism and meeting the demands of district and state overseers. It’s not at all clear if the federal prescription can cure the most ailing schools and lead to long-term improvements, but preliminary student achievement data for the program offer some promise. The U.S. Department of Education looked at about 700 of the schools in their second year of the program and found that a quarter of them posted double-digit gains in math during the 2010-11 school year. Another 20 percent showed similar progress in reading. A collaborative reporting project drawing on the efforts of more than 20 news organizations and affiliated journalists paints a mixed picture of how the SIG program is playing out on the ground. The major findings show:
April 16, 2012
Back to school means back to turnaround hearings and protests
Hearings This Week Monday Alfred E. Smith CTE HS, Bronx August Martin HS, Queens J.H.S. 80, Bronx Tuesday John Dewey HS, Brooklyn Long Island City HS, Queens Newtown HS, Queens Wednesday Bronx HS of Business, Bronx Bushwick Community HS, Brooklyn Flushing HS, Queens Richmond Hill HS, Queens Thursday John Adams HS, Queens M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx Debate about the city's controversial plan to "turn around" 26 struggling schools did not pause for spring break, with a legislative hearing and protest focusing on the proposals last week. But the school-based closure hearings, required as part of the turnaround process the city is trying to use, did go on hiatus. Now, after holding 15 hearings in the weeks before the break, the city has a dozen more to race through this week. The turnaround plan will go on trial tonight at August Martin High School, whose principal was replaced the day before the break began. Supporters of Flushing High School, where a hearing will take place on Wednesday, are holding a rally this morning in Queens. Teachers at Brooklyn's John Dewey High School, who were among the first to begin protesting the turnaround plans in January, are planning to turn out en masse at the school's hearing on Tuesday. And supporters of Bushwick Community High School, whose low graduation rate is by design because it serves only students who have fallen behind in other schools, will make yet another attempt to convince Department of Education officials to keep their school open. A full list of the hearings taking place this week is at the right.
April 11, 2012
Walcott: Turnaround will happen even without federal funding
When members of the Panel for Educational Policy vote on more than two dozen school closure proposals later this month, they won't know whether the city will get federal dollars to fund the schools that replace them. Speaking to state lawmakers today, Education Commissioner John King said he does not plan to respond to the city's applications for federal School Improvement Grants until "early June" — well over a month after the PEP is scheduled to vote on closure plans for 26 schools. The panel has never rejected a city proposal. The closures are part of an overhaul process known as "turnaround" that the city devised in large part to win the funds. When Mayor Bloomberg announced the turnaround plans in his State of the City speech in January, he cited the availability of the federal funds — about $2 million per school each year — as a key motivator. But lately, the city's rhetoric has changed. When the Department of Education published details about its school closure plans last month, it explained that the turnarounds would happen with or without the federal dollars. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg also told GothamSchools that new principals wouldn't have to replace half of their staffs when the schools reopened, a provision that could disqualify the schools from receiving SIG grants. Walcott told reporters at the hearing today that closure was the best move forward for the 26 low-rated schools with or without the supplemental grants. The schools are eligible for more than $150 million over a three-year period, but Walcott said the city's plans could be implemented without the extra funding. "If we have the money, that's great," he said. "But money should not drive policy. The policy should be, how do we benefit the students in the long run, and that's my overall goal."
April 6, 2012
Funding for no-longer-turnaround schools still an open question
Rejoice is turning to concern about funding at schools newly spared from an aggressive overhaul process. The seven schools — all with top grades on the city’s performance metrics — pulled from the Department of Education’s “turnaround” roster on Monday were positioned to receive about $15 million in federal School Improvement Grants next year. Being taken off the turnaround list means the schools won't have to replace half of their teachers, lose their names, or get new principals. But it also means that they might not receive the funds: A letter distributed by the Department of Education to students at the schools on Tuesday states, "We regret that this [change] may result in the loss of federal resources for your school." The funds could make the difference between continued improvement and backsliding for the schools. Five of the seven schools had received SIG funds in 2010 and 2011, enabling them to pay for enhancements that their principals said led to quick improvements. At Brooklyn's School of Global Studies, nearly $1 million received under "transformation" allowed the school to buy new technology and hire expert teachers. William E. Grady Career and Technical High School paid for tutoring, college trips, an extended program, and Saturday school for students who had fallen behind. Both schools scored B's on their most recent city progress reports after years of low grades. "If we don’t get the money we wont be able to finish what we started," Geraldine Maione, Grady's principal, said this week. "We started out on the premise that we were getting this money for three years because that is what we were told."
April 6, 2012
Voices from turnaround hearings reflect on schools' qualities
Public hearings about the city's plan to "turn around" dozens of struggling city schools have attracted vociferous protest. But behind the anger and frustration we found teachers and students who had carefully considered their schools' need to improve and the potential effects of the turnaround plan. At six hearings in four boroughs, teachers and students said their schools had not been given enough time to improve with the help of federal School Improvement Grants, and warned that turnaround would make improvement more difficult. Here's what some of them told us when we asked them to delve deeper into their thoughts about their schools' pasts, presents, and future. Joe Puntino, social studies teacher at Automotive High School What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far? "I don't know where this money went. Last year, the one when we were [using the federal model called] transformation, it seemed to me that most of the money went to pizza. Every event we had, the students had, there were 20 pizza pies. The only thing that I see that New Visions, [the non-profit that supervises Automotive,] has actually done, which is a good thing, is they brought in something called "Datacation," which is a great tool. It's the best thing they've done. It's basically a one-stop store for teachers. Gradebook, anecdotal logs, contact information. It's a great tool. The only thing I can positively say that they did well. Other than that, they walk around into our classrooms, they jot down notes and you hear nothing." In what areas do you think the school needs further improvement? "For the students coming in here, there can't be 40 percent with [Individualized Education Plans for special education students]. Any school's going to fail with 40 percent IEPs. There had to be a better proportion of non-IEPS to IEPs. We'll take them, we'll teach them, we love them, but 40 percent? Any school isn't going to make the benchmark that the state wants."
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