Posts from Jessica Campbell
May 18, 2012
But Alphonse is different in one key way: She is not technically a student at the school. Instead, Alphonse, who is wheelchair-bound, attends Q811, the District 75 school for severely disabled students sited on QHST’s campus.
All city schools include students with special needs in some way. Many have self-contained classes that serve only students with disabilities. Others operate some classes where special education and general education teachers work together to serve both kinds of students. But few are “fully inclusive,” as QHST is.
Full inclusion means that every student with special needs who is admitted to QHST is educated in the same classroom as general education students. There are no self-contained classes.
It also means that students such as Alphonse, whose disabilities are so severe that they are enrolled in District 75, taking classes alongside general education students and joining in with all of the QHST’s day-to-day activities, clubs, and programs. About three dozen Q811 students are enrolled in QHST classes, but all of the District 75 school’s students can participate in the high school’s extracurricular activities, and many do.
QHST is not just different because of how it has included students with special needs. Its success with them is also substantially different. Across the city, only a little more than one in four students with special needs graduates from high school in four years. At QHST, it’s well over 70 percent — not far off the school’s overall 88 percent graduation rate. (more…)
May 10, 2012
A study of New York City charter schools that found a strong link between the amount of instructional time students got and their achievement is being held up as an evidence for a national push for longer school days.
Roland Fryer, the Harvard University researcher who completed the study, found in a different investigation that student test scores inched up — by about .015 points per day of school — in years with few snow days.
Fryer spoke during a press call this morning announcing the debut of the Time to Succeed Coalition, which is calling for schools to expand their day and year — an often controversial proposition. It also calls on schools to redesign the way they use time in order to beef up the curriculum and ensure students get a well-rounded education.
The coalition’s chairs are Chris Gabrieli, the longtime extended-day advocate who chairs the National Center on Time & Learning, and Ford Foundation president Luis Ubiñas. They have attracted more than 100 coalition members from across state, sector, and political lines, ranging from the CEO of Netflix to the president of the NAACP. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and State Education Commissioner John King have all signed on as well, committing to prioritize the expansion and redesign of school time in the coming years. (more…)
May 4, 2012
When Democracy Prep students stroll into school wearing t-shirts that read “I’m kind of a big deal” and “Don’t act like you’re not impressed,” they don’t get in trouble for not wearing their uniforms. Instead, they get applauded for winning the right to wear the celebratory shirts by hitting a major milestone on their journey towards reading 1.2 million words.
Requiring students to log the pages or books they read is common practice in city schools. But the expectation is a bit different at Democracy Prep.
Schools in the network regularly see students’ math scores shoot up. But reading scores proved harder to budge. The network’s founder and superintendent, Seth Andrew, chalked the phenomenon up to differences between the two subjects. In math, a student can be strong in geometry but weak in algebra, but literacy is built on more cumulative knowledge, he explained: In order to raise students’ reading scores, they mostly needed to read more.
In 2010, when Democracy Prep Harlem opened, literacy specialist Ajaka Roth and principal Emmanuel George thought about ways to make this happen. It wasn’t by requiring students to read more books, they decided. (more…)
April 18, 2012
Changes to state tests, which doubled in length this year, are hitting some of the city’s neediest students twice as hard.
For students with disabilities who are given more time to complete the tests, testing can stretch as long as three hours on each day of testing. That means the students could spend more than half of the school day — and more than 18 hours total — on state exams this week and next.
At I.S. 190 in the Bronx, Maribeth Whitehouse’s self-contained special education class of eighth-graders sat down to their reading exams at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Including the time it took to hand out the test, read directions, and take breaks, her students didn’t close their test books and head to lunch until after 12:30 p.m. — at which point, one student complained, “My legs hurt.”
That was just the beginning. The schedule repeated today and will again on Thursday and next week for the state math exam.
“It’s not water-boarding, but when you’re 13 it’s pretty close to torture,” Whitehouse said of the morning stretch. “My kids would have done great if it was just three days for Book One.” (more…)
April 18, 2012
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. (more…)
April 16, 2012
At least a handful of the students who are supposed to sit down Tuesday morning for the first day of state testing already know that they will be absent.
That’s because a small number of parents are boycotting this year’s state tests, choosing to keep their children home or away from class out of protest against the tests’ growing importance.
Test scores have long been used to judge students’ readiness for the next grade. And for the last several years, the city has rated each school based in large part on how students perform on state tests. But this year, the test scores could end up being used to rate teachers, too, if the city adopts new teacher evaluations as mandated by state law. This year’s tests are also longer than ever: about 300 minutes for each grade, more than twice what some students spent on testing in the past.
Last year, the Grassroots Education Movement, traditionally an outlet for activist teachers, launched a campaign to draw attention to — and, ideally, lower — those stakes. The parents who are opting out of the tests are part of GEM’s “Change the Stakes” committee, which is holding a forum on high-stakes testing Tuesday evening.
Only a few parents have committed to keeping their children out of the tests, but they say they are willing to go it alone to raise awareness about the pressure that students and schools are under. (more…)
April 4, 2012
The results of the Department of Education’s learning environment surveys, due tomorrow, aren’t likely to go public until June. But Catina Venning, the executive director of Fahari Academy Charter School, doesn’t want to wait. Since the start of the year, she has been polling Fahari’s families monthly about their satisfaction and tweaking the school’s practice in response.
She launched the polls after Fahari scored a B last year on the section of the progress report that counts survey results — the “environment” section. Looking closer, she found the source of the problem: parents had graded the school poorly for communication.
“We looked at our survey from last year and the numbers were a little bit lower than they were in our first year and that was not pleasing to us at all,” Venning said. “We want to make sure parents are getting the services they’re signing up for.”
The new mini-polls’ instant feedback has already led to some changes. After only 55 percent of parents reported receiving weekly phone calls from their child’s advisors in a fall survey, Venning issued a course correction. Soon, advisors were submitting weekly contact logs to administrators, and parents were receiving not only more frequent reports but also weekly newsletters.
The polling is part of a larger outreach push that includes a new director of family engagement and a parent she’s brought on staff to work with families after school. (more…)
April 3, 2012
When public hearings about the city’s plans to “turn around” two large high schools began last night, few of their supporters had heard that other schools had been spared the aggressive reform process.
Herbert H. Lehman High School and Grover Cleveland High School were not among seven top-rated schools that the city announced yesterday would not undergo turnaround after all. The controversial process requires schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers.
A third school slated for a public hearing Monday night, Brooklyn’s School for Global Studies, had its turnaround plans withdrawn. But at Lehman and Cleveland, the hearings went on without interruption — with students, teachers, and graduates at each offering more than three hours of testimony about their schools.
Diana Rodriguez, the senior class president at Cleveland, saw the surprising news about changes to the turnaround list on her phone during a pre-hearing rally organized by students.
“Obviously Cleveland is not on the list. This is very disappointing for us but we will not give up,” she said. “Tonight we will show that we have a voice and will not give in.”
That voice grew strained over the course of the afternoon and evening from loud chants and cheers. Before the closure hearing, Rodriguez led a band of students — including one dressed in a tiger costume — on a march around the neighborhood. As they passed the Q54 bus on Metropolitan Avenue, the driver honked repeatedly at the procession and other cars joined the chorus. More students joined when the group returned to the school’s entrance on Himrod Street, until the rally swelled to nearly 50. (more…)
March 28, 2012
Teachers should undergo standardized observations well before their students can read, talk, or even walk, according to researchers who discussed the role of observations in improving teacher quality during a panel on Tuesday.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative of the New America Foundation, and Susan Ochshorn, founder of ECE PolicyWorks, touted the potential of engaging caretakers and educators working with the infant through five-year-old group in observations and feedback that push towards effective teaching.
Guernsey and Ochshorn recently co-authored Watching Teachers Work: Using Observation Tools to Promote Effective Teaching in the Early Years and Early Grades, in which they cite a 2011 study that shows a strong correlation between students struggling in the early grades and dropout rates later on. They argue that the same kind of innovations that are being touted for K-12 teachers would push teachers of even younger children to improve, which would in return ensure children are receiving quality educational experiences from the start.
“Today’s early education system is weakened by discrepancies between standards and measurement tools used for K-12 teachers and those for professionals in child care and pre-K programs,” they write. (more…)
March 27, 2012
Schools across the city will go short-staffed for 15 days starting as soon as next month’s state tests conclude.
As happens every year, the Department of Education is asking schools to send teachers to help grade the tests. But this year, the scoring period is 50 percent longer — 15 days instead of 10 last year — and it’s largely taking place during the school day. The changes mean schools will lose more teaching time than in the past.
Schools with more test-taking students are required to send more teachers. So a school with under 100 test-taking students will lose just one teacher from late April through early May, but a school with more than 1,100 test-takers will have to send eight to centralized grading centers.
Anna Allanbrook, principal of the Brooklyn New School, is responsible for contributing five teachers for grading this year. She has decided to send teachers that work as support staff, to keep classroom teachers inside the classroom. While she won’t need to shell out money for substitute teachers by distributing staff in this way, she is still at a loss.
“It costs me time because they’re not doing what they’re normally doing,” Allanbrook said. “I often wonder if they put all that money into something else if it would improve student performance.”
The tests have undergone changes this year to make them longer and include “field” questions that are aligned to new Common Core standards but won’t factor into students’ scores. Allanbrook said she thought the changes could prove burdensome for young students.
But the experimental questions will be graded by machines, not teachers, and the longer test is not the reason for the extended scoring period, said DOE officials. Instead, they blamed the change on budget cuts and a lack of aid from the state. (more…)