Posts from Anna Phillips
May 20, 2011
After two plus years at GothamSchools, I am signing off. Today is my last day working with two of the top education reporters in the country — Elizabeth Green and Philissa Cramer — who have graciously shared their wisdom and friendship with me, and whom I will deeply miss.
Assuming that the apocalypse will not occur this weekend, I have accepted a job covering New York City education issues for The New York Times. And as of June 1, that’s where you can find me.
I’d say it speaks well of GothamSchools that the NYT has acknowledged its work, but I don’t think it ever needed the recognition. It’s been an honor to help Elizabeth, Philissa, and Maura Walz build this site into a singular and irreplaceable institution. I know it will remain that way.
(And let me say for anyone applying to fill my seat: this is a fun job. And this office has a great view of Manhattan. How many people have fun jobs? Other than Michelle Obama, how many?)
Thank you for reading, for commenting, for contributing, and yes, on occasion, for correcting. And if it’s not too uncouth, I hope to win you over to my new side of the Internet. But I know that will be a fight.
For now, I’m off to go camping.
May 19, 2011
A South Bronx charter school is screening children for admission based on their performance on academic tests, according to parents and several current and former employees of Academic Leadership Charter School.
As a charter school, Academic Leadership is required by New York state law to admit students through a random lottery. But multiple parents and staff members described a process designed by the school’s director to weed out low-performing students.
Four parents who tried to enroll their children at Academic Leadership, an elementary school, this year or last year said that school employees tested their children before deciding whether or not to accept them.
“They took my son to a class to watch him in the class and see if everything was okay. He was in the class an hour,” said Khalilur Munshi, describing his experience with the school this winter.
Dissatisfied with his neighborhood school, Munshi had taken his son, a second-grader, to Academic Leadership to try to enroll him in the middle of the school year. An employee told him that the second grade had open slots and no waiting list, and then his son was taken to sit in on the class, Munshi said.
When his son returned, a staff member told Munshi that there actually was a waiting list and that school officials would let him know if a spot opened up.
“I could tell they weren’t going to take my son,” he said. After the visit, he called the school three times to check on the status of the waiting list and never heard back.
Several former and current school employees said that the school’s director and founder, Norma Figueroa-Hurwitz, a long-time New York City educator, orders teachers to test applicants in order to admit the most advanced students. The employees all asked to remain anonymous out of concern that speaking on the record would jeopardize their careers in education.
Reached by phone, Figueroa-Hurwitz denied that students were tested before they were admitted and declined to answer further questions. The same day, her husband and the school’s co-founder, Ted Hurwitz, called GothamSchools to respond on Figueroa-Hurwitz’s behalf. He said that the school tests students only after they have been admitted through the lottery for the purpose of “placement.”
Asked why parents would say otherwise, he said, “I don’t know why. I don’t understand that. We do anything and everything we can. We might do that to get a head start, but I can’t understand that personally.” Hurwitz said that he now spends one day a week at the school. (more…)
May 16, 2011
Introducing a new option for how to change teacher evaluation, the Board of Regents voted today to allow districts and unions to increase the weight of student test scores on those evaluations to 40 percent.
According to the law passed last summer, which changed how teachers in New York State are evaluated and introduced their students’ test scores as an element for consideration, state tests would count for 20 out of 100 points. Another 20 points would come from local assessments, which school districts could devise on their own. Yet the set of regulations approved in a vote this evening will allow school districts, with the approval of teachers unions, to count students’ progress on state tests for 40 points of a teacher’s evaluation score.
The board voted 14 to 3 to approve the regulations. Regents Betty Rosa, Roger Tilles, and the board’s newest member Kathleen Cashin, voted against the proposal.
The increased emphasis on students’ progress on standardized tests turned up in the final draft of regulations after Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped into the discussions last week. In a letter to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the governor said he believed that students’ scores on the annual math and reading tests should carry more weight in the evaluation of their teachers. Mayor Bloomberg agreed, saying that an earlier draft of the regulations did not place enough importance on the tests.
Yesterday, a group of 10 prominent education researchers sent the Regents a letter asking them not to place more weight on value-added scores, which measure students’ progress on tests against that of similar types of students. (more…)
May 16, 2011
- Proposed new teacher evaluations would place more weight on student test scores. (Times)
- The regulation’s increased emphasis on test scores came at Governor Cuomo’s urging. (GS, Daily News)
- Democrats for Education Reform criticized the regulations for burdening local districts. (Post)
- A study of school grades shows the city’s metrics keep changing, affecting schools’ fate. (Post)
- But in a given year, the grades are a reliable way to compare schools. (Times)
- Among the recipients of Bloomberg charity are charter schools and a principal training group. (Post)
- The city has been temporarily blocked from co-locating an UWS charter school. (Daily News, WSJ)
- The mother of a P.S. 141 student said a teaching assistant put her son in a choke hold. (NY1)
- Students who attended P.S. 86 reunite after 10 years with the teacher who took them to Finland. (Times)
- Parental anxiety is fueling a boom in pre-kindergarten tutoring programs like Kumon. (Times)
- A five-year-old Queens girl’s parents keep her busy, spending $1,500 a week on tutoring. (Daily News)
- The Post accuses Bill de Blasio of being a teachers union “puppet” because of a now-removed link.
- The state is demanding repayment from a Long Island school that vastly overpaid its CEO. (Times)
- Critics believe that parents of playground arsonists are buying them out of trouble. (Brooklyn Paper)
- The Wall Street Journal says Rahm Emanuel’s new ed bill is a good start, but only a start.
- Newark advisory task force members say they were left out of the superintendent search. (Star-Ledger)
- In New Jersey, Orthodox Jews and public school parents are fighting for control of a school board. (WSJ)
- The CFO of Philly’s public schools says the budget cuts have never been so bad before. (Inquirer)
- Special ed advocates are accusing D.C. charter schools of steering students to private schools. (WaPo)
- A CT student who was suspended for the way he invited a girl to prom will be allowed to attend. (Post)
- GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann entered politics via the school board. (WaPo)
May 13, 2011
If Governor Andrew Cuomo angered Mayor Bloomberg by batting off his calls to end seniority-based layoffs, perhaps the governor redeemed himself in the mayor’s eyes today. Cuomo sent the chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, a letter saying he believes that student test scores should count for a larger portion of teachers’ annual evaluations.
His comments are a critique of a set of regulations put out by the Board of Regents that they will vote on next week. The regulations are to be used by New York City and other districts as a guide to implementing the state’s new teacher evaluation system.
In a statement today, Tisch vowed to support Cuomo’s recommendations at the meeting next week, saying that they “will lead to an even stronger teacher and principal evaluation system for New York.” It’s not clear if the other members of the board will agree with Tisch. A recent appointee to the board, the former city school official Kathleen Cashin, is a quiet critic of Bloomberg’s.
Another hurdle involves getting the teacher evaluations implemented in school districts. The new state law revising the evaluation system granted final power to local collective bargaining talks between districts and unions. That means that no evaluation system will become final without local unions’ approval.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded to Cuomo’s letter obliquely, saying only: “We look forward to discussing the Governor’s recommendations with the Regents.”
Bloomberg’s reaction was more effusive:
“The thoughtful recommendations made today by Governor Cuomo will greatly improve the rigor of these new evaluations, and I am heartened that the Regents agreed to adopt them. But it will take the sustained commitment of all invested parties – and perhaps most importantly, the cooperation of the teachers union – if we are to make this evaluation system a reality.”
Here’s Cuomo’s complete letter: (more…)
May 13, 2011
The list of low-performing schools the city plans to improve with a management-change next year grew to 22 today, when officials added 13 schools to the nine they announced yesterday.
This group of schools will begin what’s known as the “restart” improvement plan next fall. The restart plan is one of four programs districts can take on in order to win federal grants aimed at improving the country’s lowest-performing schools. It calls for putting an ailing school under new management.
Though city officials would have liked to use two of the other school improvement plans, they were unable to convince the teachers union to go along. Two of those plans — transformation and turnaround — would have required the union to allow the city to remove principals and teachers at some of these schools.
Under the restart model, the city will pair schools with non-profit education management organizations — a plan that’s less invasive than firing teachers or removing a school’s principal. One major question is whether it’s invasive enough.
Already, every public school in the city belongs to a support network whose job it is to give them instructional and operational guidance. These networks can make recommendations about which teachers should receive tenure, which principal should be selected to fill a vacancy, and who the school should hire for professional development, among other things. (more…)
May 12, 2011
With their plans to postpone parent council elections failing to placate critics, city school officials have decided to start the voting process all over again.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today that already-cast votes will be invalidated and the two-step voting process be pushed to next week. Parents will now be able to vote in the first part of the election, which is advisory, from May 18th to the 25th. The results from that election are non-binding and are meant to guide parent association leaders in their final vote, which will now run from May 27th to June 3rd.
Pressure to stop the election and start from scratch came from a group of vocal parents who felt that the Department of Education’s Office of Family Information and Action had done too little to publicize the election. They also accused OFIA of releasing inaccurate about who was eligible to run. Complaints mounted when the DOE initially password-protected candidates’ information, preventing some parents who didn’t have passwords from seeing it.
From there criticism became contagious. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio held a joint press conference earlier this week to chastise the city for thinking one week would be enough time to fix the troubled election. A group of parents also sued the city this week, asking for a restraining order to halt the elections. (more…)
May 12, 2011
Unable to convince the teachers union to let school officials fire principals and teachers at a group of low-performing schools, the city is resorting to a another option: changing the schools’ management.
The so-called “restart” option is one of four programs districts can take on in order to win federal grants aimed at improving the country’s lowest-performing schools.
City officials announced today that nine public schools will undergo the restart model next year. The plan putting a school under new management — for example, under the guidance of an education management organization like New Visions. A major, and so-far unanswered, question is how this plan will differ from the relationships schools already have with support networks, whose job it is to offer academic and operational guidance. Another question is what organizations would apply to partner with these schools on such short notice.
Three other schools that are eligible for the federal improvement grants will not receive them next year. Plans to overhaul the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Harlem Renaissance High School, and W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical High School, all of which could begin any of the improvement models next year, will be put on hold for another year while the city decides whether to close them or improve them as they are.
Department of Education officials said they intend to announce their plans for 31 other schools that are eligible for the grants tomorrow. Some of those schools will undergo the restart strategy, but the officials did not say how many. (more…)
May 12, 2011
- A vote on whether to ban high school teachers from grading their own Regents exams is soon. (WSJ)
- New York’s John White is now a front-runner for state superintendent of Louisiana. (Times-Picayune)
- Mayor Bloomberg’s approval ratings did not rebound after he replaced Cathie Black. (Post)
- Chancellor Walcott appointed two new deputy chancellors after a ton of turnover. (GS, Times, WSJ)
- Two city councilmen want laws that would force the city to open up about its PCB clean-up. (Daily News)
- In the latest census, Manhattan was the only borough to have an increase in children under 5. (Times)
- Students at an East Harlem charter school are retracing the route of the original “freedom riders.” (NY1)
- A sports equipment company is charged with defrauding more than 100 New Jersey schools. (Times)
- Bel Kaufman, the author of a play about teaching in the NYC schools, turned 100. (Times)
- Advocacy groups want Scholastic to stop publishing curriculum paid for by the coal industry. (Times)
- Test-prep companies are developing apps that help teenagers study for the SAT. (Times)
- Gail Collins: alternative certification programs in Texas are redefining lack-of-experience. (Times)
- The Times says we need tighter regulation of for-profit colleges that leave students drowning in debt.
May 11, 2011
In April, Cynthia Rosario picked up a copy of the New York Times Magazine and began reading its cover story, which chronicled the challenges of a South Bronx middle school and its driven principal.
The story talked about M.S. 223′s rising test scores, its extraordinarily challenging students, and how its staff of young, but committed teachers was steadily improving. But all that progress was threatened, the school’s principal Ramon Gonzalez believed, by the city’s plans to open a charter school in the building next year. His building was already nearing capacity and handing the remaining space to a new school would jeopardize his plan to expand into a high school.
“I kept reading thinking, ‘Oh no,’” Rosario said, just waiting to see her school’s name mentioned in the role of the villain.
A year ago, when Rosario applied to open a charter school in the South Bronx, she entered the city’s opaque space-search process, which nearly pitted her against a high-quality school. When she began, she never imagined the city’s Department of Education would look to a school like M.S. 223 for space. (more…)