August 12, 2013
When Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign sketched out a series of policy focus weeks, it did not know that education’s turn would coincide with the state’s annual test score release.
In July, the campaign focused on issues facing Latino New Yorkers, transportation, and affordability. And when the lower test scores came out, drawing days of media attention, Quinn did not turn away from the agenda she had already set out for last week.
Instead of focusing on the scores, Quinn issued a series of policy proposals about literacy instruction, engaging families of children with special needs, supporting English language learners, and boosting the graduation rate.
The closest Quinn came to the test score furor was on Tuesday, the day before their release, when many of her fellow candidates were citing the looming scores to bash Mayor Bloomberg’s claims of academic improvement. Quinn spoke outside P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village about how she would reduce the city’s emphasis on standardized testing, but she declined to criticize Bloomberg.
“Obviously when you’re going to raise standards, that’s going to have an effect on test scores,” she said. “What we need to look at within the information we’re going to have is, where did we do well, where didn’t we do well, [and] what can we learn from these test scores to move forward?”
Most of Quinn’s proposals for reducing the emphasis on standardized testing were ones she has aired before, such as encouraging more schools to use portfolio-based assessments and ending the city’s participation in state field testing. She also fleshed out plans for the comprehensive literacy program that she promised at her major education speech back in January.
But she also rolled out some fresh ideas, including ones that focus on students with disabilities and English language learners, two groups to which critics say the Bloomberg administration has not given enough attention. She vowed to provide more information to families of the high-need students and, in an unique promise, said she would allow students who do not speak English fluently to use portfolios to apply for admission to selective high schools.
“Students should be tested on their academic abilities, not their language abilities,” Quinn said in a statement.
Quinn’s proposals offer signals about where she is getting her education policy advice. She said she would expand on the work already being done by New Visions and Outward Bound, two nonprofits that already manage dozens of city schools. Quinn said she would borrow from New Visions’ parent engagement work and would push schools across the city to use the “student-led conferences” that Outward Bound’s Expeditionary Learning Schools all require.
“Student Led Conferences are time-intensive (we change our schedules) and expensive (teachers are paid overtime), but are some of the most intense, celebratory, and sometimes redemptive moments we spend with our students,” Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School teacher Dana Lawit wrote in the GothamSchools Community section in 2010.
Quinn’s education ideas continued over the weekend, when the candidate announced that she would push for the right to raise the city’s mandatory attendance age from 17 to 18. That shift would require legislative approval: Currently, districts are not allowed to set the minimum dropout age any higher than 17.
All of Quinn’s education policy proposals from last week, as outlined in her campaign’s official press releases, are below.
Improve Teacher Coordination Through All Grades
Quinn’s plan will create geographically-based support structures to connect early childhood educators and elementary school principals, ensuring that standards, curricula, assessment, and professional development are aligned and that teachers are collaborating across grade levels to ensure student success. This will help prevent a teacher from blindly handing off a student to his or her new teacher each year and allow that student’s educational needs to be addressed more rapidly in the school year. Quinn will also empower teachers and school-based literacy coaches to provide small group interventions to students as soon as teachers diagnose a problem. This is especially important for English Language Learners, special education students, students with an interrupted formal education, and those who are over age and under credited.
Make Literacy Instruction a Part of Every Classroom
Under Quinn’s strategy, schools will incorporate literacy instruction into every class and every subject area including the arts, mathematics, and science, not only creating a reading and writing culture within the school, but also an effective teaching practice that helps prepare students for real world applications. This will be accomplished by prioritizing school-based professional development and a mentor teacher program for all new teachers in the city that ensures teachers in all grade levels are trained to diagnose, assess, and remediate struggling readers and writers.
Support Summer and Out of School Time Learning Programs
National studies show that low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement during the summer months while their middle-class peers make slight gains. To address this, in addition to extending the school day for the highest-needs schools, Quinn will promote partnerships between schools serving low-income students and non-profit organizations, such as Read Alliance, to increase literacy rates in the summer, after school, and on weekends. Read Alliance partners high school students with younger students (K-1) to provide tutoring and academic support over the summer.
Under Quinn’s plan, she will create an online Parent University to equip parents with the tools they need to support what their children are learning in school, from information about how to get the most out of reading with their child to how to help their child choose the right books for independent reading. Additionally, she will expand on the parent involvement and college readiness work developed by New Visions for Public Schools, using data tools, workshops, and one-on-one conversations to help parents understand literacy benchmarks, monitor their children’s progress, collaborate with teachers and school staff, and access academic enrichment and other resources.
Quinn will also promote a Dual-Generation approach to increasing family literacy by connecting parents to adult education classes, as necessary, to increase parents’ literacy so they can better support their children in school.
Create a New Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and Children
This new office will oversee all agencies that work directly with children and better coordinate the many services available to kids and their families to keep them fit to learn. Specifically, one of the tasks the office will be to focus on the implementation of Quinn’s plan to expand the community schools model throughout the city to help tackle barriers to learning that are often linked to poverty, starting with the schools in the city with the highest percentages if students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch.
Revise School Progress Report Methodology and Do Away with Single Letter Grades
Quinn noted how currently, 85% of a school’s progress report score is based on test results, which only reinforces to schools, teachers, students, and families that test results are paramount in education. As mayor, Quinn will continue to issue school progress reports because she believe they are crucial for families to have as much information and transparency as possible about their children’s education, but will do away with giving schools an overly simplified single letter grade. Instead, she will create a school report that makes clear how a school is doing in more of the areas that contribute to school quality, including art and physical education, richness of curriculum, school culture and parent involvement.
Additionally, instead of using progress report grades in making school closure decisions, Quinn will create a red alert system for struggling schools, looking at early indicators like chronic long-term absences and graduation rates, and identify schools that need help well before they’re slated to close. Then, she will provide them with intensive support to improve, so every student in every neighborhood has access to a high-quality school.
Require Project ARTS Funding be Used for Arts
Recognizing the significance of arts education in schools, Quinn also outlined her plan to require Project ARTS funding be used exclusively for arts education. This was the case up until 2007, when the funding was folded into a school’s overall budget allowing principals to spend the money on other subject areas. Naturally, given the emphasis on high stakes tests there has been a drastic reduction in arts programming throughout the city. The Center for Arts Education estimates that only 8 percent of New York City elementary schools offer the four arts forms required by state law – visual arts, music, dance and theatre. Similarly, they estimate 30 percent of all the city’s public schools have no certified arts teacher on staff.
Restrict High Stakes Testing in Grades K-2
Quinn announced her support for a bill sponsored by State Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan to ban high stakes standardized testing in grades K-2. Quinn will make it a priority using the bully pulpit of the Mayor to get this bill passed in both State chambers and signed into law.
Expand the Number of Schools Using Alternative Performance Measures
Quinn stated that as mayor, she will expand performance based assessment in more public schools throughout the city. This will include expanding the number of schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium and replicating the Outward Bound model of Student-Led Conferences, where students maintain portfolios of their achievements in academics, service, fitness, and the arts, and present them in formal reviews that they themselves lead in front of their teachers and parents. Outward Bound reports that not only do Student-Led Conferences increase investment in learning from students, they increase parental engagement, and schools with average attendance rates of 50% at regular parent-teacher conferences have 100% attendance rates for Student-Led Conferences.
Eliminate Stand-Alone Field Testing
Quinn today reiterated her call to eliminate stand-alone field testing in city schools. In 2012, 488,000 students across New York State took experimental field tests which have no impact on a student’s grades and are used exclusively to try out questions for future exams at no cost to the state’s contracted testing company Pearson. As mayor, Chris will continue her fight to push the State Department of Education and Pearson to eliminate these stand-alone field tests.
Make Physical Education Available in Every School
As mayor, Quinn will ensure that every student in every school receives physical education (PE) by 1) requiring that all new schools be constructed with either indoor or outdoor physical education space, 2) helping existing schools forge partnerships with community based organizations that provide creative PE options, and 3) adding PE to school progress reports to ensure that these classes are viewed as part of the core curriculum. Quinn discussed how students with physical activity and education has been shown to both improve academic performance and combat childhood obesity but many schools in New York City currently do not meet state physical education standards.
Create a Guide Book for City’s Special Needs Schools and Programs Similar to Guide Books for Middle and High Schools
Currently, parents of typically developing students are provided with a nearly 500 page directory of New York City’s public middle and high schools to help them determine which school their child should apply to. This guidebook reveals information to parents such as class size, courses offered, athletic and extra-curricular activities. However, no such guidebook or directory exists for the city’s 55 special needs schools and more than 300 special needs programs. That means parents are forced to play a guessing game each year on where to send their child. Under Quinn’s plan, she would create a guidebook for these special education schools and programs, clearly indicating the range of services each offers to help parents make informed decisions about where to send their child. Currently, the only way to find out information about a special needs elementary school is for parents to research each school individually, often requiring in-person visits. Under Quinn’s plan, this information would be made available both in print and online where school choice is an option.
Grant Parents of Special Needs Children Access to Online Database
Parents of public school students are able to access their child’s grades and attendance at the click of a button. Parents of children with special needs, however, are unable to access key information related to their child’s academic progress such as if they are meeting the benchmarks on their IEPs. Quinn’s plan will grant access to this database and empower these parents with information to hold schools, teachers and their own child accountable. This information is crucial in determining whether or not a child is progressing in school and is currently not typically available unless requested by the parent or until a parent-teacher conference.
Requiring Parent Coordinators to ensure every parent of an ELL student is adequately informed
Coordinators will have to provide information about a child’s educational options and fully enforce the requirement that every school adheres to parent preferences on ELL education.
Increasing the number of bilingual preschool programs
Pre-K through grade 3 is a time when children are “learning to read” before they begin “reading to learn” in later grades. Providing bilingual education at such an early age has the capability to provide the greatest impact in later success.
Increasing support for ELL high school students
High school graduation requirements are the same for ELL students as they are for English-speaking students, meaning they struggle with learning English at the same time they are trying to meet the requirements for graduation. Chris would increase the number of bilingual programs and provide additional support for ELL High School Students, which will improve the quality of support and extend valuable instructional time.
Allowing English Language Learners to use portfolios when applying for selective high schools
Currently, an ELL who may have been the top student in their original country faces substantial pressures when applying to New York’s high schools specifically because they don’t speak English. By creating a rigorous portfolio acceptance track to some of the city’s most competitive high schools we can ensure that they are able to maximize their academic potential.
Including ELL resources in non-traditional graduation routes
Providing support to students in programs such as GED classes will ensure that ELL students committed to receiving their diploma get the instruction they need to succeed.
Increasing wrap-around services to Latino and immigrant students at CUNY
Many ELL students continue to need support even after high school graduation. Providing targeted services will ensure more students stay on track to receiving their college degree.
There are approximately 150,000 English Language Learners in the New York City School system. Of these students, more than half do not graduate high school after four years and many drop out by the ninth grade. On the state’s most recent tests, only 3.4 percent of ELL students passed in English and only 11.4 percent in math.
Raise the Minimum Drop Out Age in New York City from 17 to 18
Currently, New York City students are given permission to drop out of school at 17 years old – when they are still children. Working with Cathy Nolan, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Quinn announced that as Mayor, she will push the state to allow municipalities across New York to raise their legal drop-out age to 18. Acknowledging this alone will not solve the dropout crisis or increase graduation rates, Quinn believes this will send a powerful message to the city’s children that the City wants and expects them to be in school until they graduate, or, at least until they reach legal adulthood.
Additionally, data shows that by keeping a student in school for another year increases the likelihood that they will graduate. According to a study by the NYC DOE, only 59.3 percent of students who were supposed to graduate in 2006 actually did. However, of the 26 percent of students who were still enrolled in the program in 2007, 70 percent ended up graduating – a 10 percent jump.
Expand Alternative Graduation Paths and Connect High School Graduation with Employment
Quinn believes that the City must connect high school graduation with a good paying job not only by increasing the number of jobs in the city but by improving the K-12 job pipeline. This will be accomplished by expanding vocational schools and 6-year High School-Associate Degree programs. Additionally, Quinn will introduce a thoroughly reinvented workforce development system that’s driven by real-world demand, has clearly defined metrics and goals, and rewards lasting results. These programs show students the tangible value of completing school.
Aggressively Address Factors that Contribute to Dropout
Under Quinn’s plan, an alert system will be put in place to notify parents, teachers, administrators and counselors when a middle school student has certain flags that correlate with dropping out such as high rates of absenteeism, suspension or poor grades. These issues alone may not indicate a student is on a path to drop out of school, but when looked at as a whole, it can be easier to identify and address problems sooner.
Additionally, by improving school safety, both students and teachers will feel more comfortable in the school and more likely to succeed. As Speaker, Quinn has made it a priority to decrease suspensions and increase schools safety by passing the School Safety Act and pushing the DOE to make changes in the discipline code that have resulted in significant reductions in suspensions citywide. As mayor, Quinn will go even further, requiring all schools to use proactive, positive behavioral intervention systems as a first line of action when responding to student behavior. Additionally, she would hold schools accountable by measuring their success with the approach on a revised school progress report.
Give Every Student the Foundation for Success in High School
As mayor, Quinn will bring Student-Led Conferences (SLCs), a staple of the City’s Outward Bound Schools, to schools across the city. These conferences form the core of student assessment and are led by students, not by teachers. Panelists include parents, community members, working professionals, and educators. Not only do these conferences increase investment in learning from students, they increase parental engagement. Outward Bound reports that schools with average attendance rates of 50% at regular parent-teacher conferences have 100% attendance rates for Student-Led Conferences. Additionally, Quinn has pledged to expand on the 9th Grade Parent Involvement in College Readiness initiative, developed by New Visions for Public Schools. Using data tools and aligned events like the Freshman Academy, schools involved in the initiative help parents understand college readiness benchmarks, monitor their children’s progress and support their college and career aspirations, collaborate with teachers and schools staff, and access academic enrichment and other resources to support their children’s progress.
Earlier this week, Quinn laid out her literacy plan to have all students reading proficiently by the end of third grade and ensure that as students move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”, they continue to take steps forward so they are college or job ready by the 12th grade.