Posts from Grace Tatter
June 25, 2012
Faculty and students at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School believe in the Scandinavian saying: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
For four years, members of the class of 2012 endured classes in the rain, snow, and sleet as they learned the ins and outs of marine biology and ship engineering through sailing and diving in the New York Harbor.
But that didn’t stop a severe thunderstorm from interrupting their graduation Friday, which was held outside the small public high school’s campus on Governors Island.
When lightning struck yards from where the ceremony was being held, Principal Nate Dudley helped direct an evacuation of the area. Students, teachers, and families fled to shelter in a tunnel in a nearby building, crying young siblings in tow, then waded through ankle-deep puddles to the school’s dining hall. They quickly dismantled tables that had been set for a senior banquet, and the ceremony resumed where it left off, in the middle of the valedictorian Cesar Gutierrez’s speech.
Dudley said that efficiency and resiliency represents the Harbor School. ”We roll with whatever happens to make our programs work,” he said.
Dudley, too, was graduating, after overseeing the school since it opened in Bushwick in 2003. This summer he is leaving Harbor School to become a deputy leader in one of the networks that the Department of Education runs to support schools. He’ll also continue working toward a doctorate in education leadership at Seton Hall University. (more…)
June 21, 2012
The high-profile debate on public access to teacher evaluations ended today when lawmakers signed off on a bill making the data available to parents, despite reluctance and opposition on both sides.
The bill, which was introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, passed the Assembly 118-17. Cuomo called it a compromise between those aligned with the teachers unions, who opposed releasing teacher performance data, and officials who wanted full disclosure of the data.
Not everyone was satisfied by the compromise. Many assemblymen said they felt the bill still left teachers vulnerable. Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement that he felt the opposite.
“I believe that parents have a right to full disclosure when it comes to information about their child’s education, and I am disappointed that this bill falls short of that goal,” he said.
Many assemblymen said before the vote that they were supporting the bill in the spirit of compromise, although they said the bill itself was weak. One New York City lawmaker apologized to principals for the bill because he said he believed it would give them a host of new responsibilities in order to comply with the law.
“I’m sorry for you principals out there for what we’re doing to you today,” said Bronx lawmaker Michael Benedetto. ”I’ll be voting for this very reluctantly.” (more…)
June 20, 2012
Advocates filed a federal complaint today against the city Department of Education that they said represents years of troubling reports from parents who don’t speak English.
Hundreds of those parents have come to the advocacy groups with concerns that the department doesn’t provide sufficient language services for navigating special education. And with extensive special education reforms in progress, the need for language services is more pressing than ever, said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children.
AFC, which represents low-income students and students with disabilities, joined with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest to file the complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights on behalf of 19 city families. The complaint charges the city with violating federal, state, and city laws by failing to provide translation services for the parents of children with special needs.
The complaint profiles one of the parents in detail. Nyuk Siem Looi, who speaks only Cantonese, has two sons who are autistic and cannot speak. According to the complaint, Looi has been told to bring her own interpreter to meetings and pressured to sign documents about her sons’ educational programs that she could not understand.
Parents named in the complaint were joined by dozens of others at a rally on the steps of City Hall today after the complaint was filed, many holding umbrellas to relieve themselves from more than 90-degree heat. (more…)
June 19, 2012
For some students, final exams administered on Monday posed an extra challenge.
Months after a spate of errors on the state’s elementary and middle school exams caused parents and educators to charge that test-makers are held to lower standards than its teachers or students, more mistakes have come to light. This time the errors are on high school foreign language exams developed by the city Department of Education.
This year, local districts were required for the first time to create the foreign language exams that students can take to fulfill graduation requirements. The state had produced Regents exams in several languages in the past but eliminated them in a cost-cutting move last year.
Department of Education officials said the new requirement would be easy to meet because the city already created tests for less commonly studied languages such as Hebrew and Chinese. But when students sat down to take French and Spanish exams on Monday, errors quickly became apparent.
Students who took the French exam were asked a multiple-choice question with more than one correct answer. In one part of the Spanish exam, students were asked to choose two out of three questions to answer, but only given two options. And a printing error meant that the rubric students were supposed to use when structuring their essay on the Spanish language exam was missing. (more…)
June 18, 2012
New York public school students have fewer options for recourse against discrimination today than they did a week ago.
The state’s highest court ruled last week that public school students cannot use New York’s human rights law to seek recognition of discrimination — or get financial compensation when discrimination has taken place.
Never before have courts ruled that such a large group of constituents is not protected by the law, said Rebecca Shore, the director of litigation for Advocates for Children, which aims to protect low-income students from discrimination.
New York’s human rights law, the first of its kind when it was passed in 1945, prohibits discrimination based on “age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex or marital status” in a variety of settings, including “non-sectarian educational institutions,” according to the State Division of Human Rights. Individuals can file complaints with the state’s Division of Human Rights and seek restitution, all without paying for a lawyer.
But after two school districts contested the human rights division’s jurisdiction to investigate and fine them, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in a 4-3 decision that the division cannot probe discrimination claims in public schools. (more…)
June 15, 2012
In September, sixth graders at a new middle school in Clinton Hill will regularly stand at the front of the class to share a vocabulary word, or how to solve a math problem. And feedback from fellow students will be valued as much as feedback from their teachers.
In more than a dozen city schools, teachers are taking a literal backseat in their classroom as they adopt a student-driven teaching method called Learning Cultures. But Urban Assembly Unison School is the first to be built from bottom up around the method.
Unlike some of the schools that use Learning Cultures to help immigrant students learn English, Unison probably won’t be serving a large population of English language learners. District 13, where the school will open, has relatively few ELLs.
But Learning Cultures is flexible enough to challenge and support any students, said Jennifer Ostrow, the co-founder and principal of the school. She said she heavily recruited ELLs from outside the district, but students who live in District 13, which has had a dearth of high-quality middle schools, got priority for admission. (The school is still accepting applicants, Ostrow said.)
“I am really excited to create what I think will be an excellent middle school and hope will be a valuable contribution to our community,” Ostrow said. (more…)
June 12, 2012
After months of waiting to hear the results of a pilot program for the city’s special education reforms, many advocates hoped they would finally get some answers today at a City Council hearing. But when Department of Education officials sat down to testify, there were few revelations.
It’s not that the DOE was witholding any new information. It was just that no such data yet existed, said Laura Rodriguez, the outgoing Deputy Chancellor of Special Education.
Rodriquez said they had so far collected data for only a couple of measures – such as attendance and the rate of movement of students with special needs into general education settings – and that they hadn’t focused on other key metrics. Advocates say that other important measures of success include suspension rates and parent surveys. (more…)
June 12, 2012
A year ago, Department of Education officials gathered more than a thousand city principals in a hot auditorium for a speech by Common Core architect David Coleman. The energy in the room was “truly off the charts“ according to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and it set the tone for this school year.
This year’s principals’ leadership conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School, took a lower-key tone, focusing not on big ideas but on the nitty-gritty of implementing existing ones. A series of workshops delved into the Common Core learning standards, evolving state tests, looming special education reforms, and observing teachers — all issues that have dominated the city’s policy agenda for more than a year.
Instead of Coleman, whose standards are new for New York, the principals heard from Robert Evans, a clinical and organizational psychologist, and received copies of his book, “The Human Side of Change.” Evans urged principals to give the Common Core a positive spin while rolling it out in their schools.
That’s exactly what Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky urged when he instructed principals to continue to communicate the importance of the Common Core, especially as the state transitions to assessments based on the standards.
“As principal, one of your biggest challenges is to create a sense of urgency around this work without creating a sense of panic or anxiety,” he said during a portion of the day that was open to reporters. (more…)
June 7, 2012
New York City neighborhoods that undergo gentrification don’t always wind up with diverse schools.
In the Community section today, Jennifer Stillman explains her research into why — and her suggestions for how the city could tip the scales toward school integration in changing neighborhoods.
Stillman’s Community section contribution is part of “Useable Knowledge,” a GothamSchools feature that aims to promote policy based off of educational research. In the series, researchers present their research and findings, as well as policy implications that could inform education policy locally and elsewhere. And readers are invited to join the conversation.
Stillman studied the relationship between neighborhood gentrification and school integration as a doctoral student in politics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She found that public schools in gentrifying neighborhoods offer the perfect opportunity for social mixing between people of different backgrounds — but that getting “gentry parents,” her term for upper-middle-class, white newcomers, to send their children to those schools is difficult. (more…)
June 5, 2012
This story has been corrected from its earlier version to clarify the positions expressed by Lasher yesterday.
Two months ago StudentsFirstNY, the New York branch of Michelle Rhee’s political action committee, announced itself with a splash. But it hasn’t been clear where the group will direct its financial and political might.
Micah Lasher, StudentsFirstNY’s executive director, fleshed out the group’s platform for the first time at a discussion hosted Monday by the DL21C, a group of young Democrats. GothamSchools’ Elizabeth Green moderated the discussion.
StudentsFirstNY will also focus on organizing parents to demand policy changes around improving teacher quality and school choice, Lasher said. He also said the group might well weigh in on next year’s mayoral race, whose victor will determine the next phase of the city’s education reforms.
“If there comes a time where it becomes clear that there is a candidate that we think would be effective on these issues, and it makes sense according to our political judgements and the way we think we can best improve schools in the city, I would allow us to get involved in getting support of a candidate,” Lasher said. (more…)