The GothamSchools Community
A conversation among researchers, educators, and smart observers about the New York City schools.
August 20, 2013
Last week, the New York City Department of Education issued its first-ever Teacher Preparation Program Reports. The department was judicious in not describing the reports as an evaluation of the quality or effectiveness of the dozen teacher-preparation programs in the New York City area that collectively produce more than 50 percent of the 10,000 traditional-pathway teachers hired by the city over the past five years.
Others were not so careful. Writing in The New York Times, Javier Hernandez described the PowerPoint slides comparing the 12 programs as “scorecards,” and stated that these ed schools were being “evaluated,” a term repeated in his article’s headline. Politico also used the term “scorecard.” The Wall Street Journal described the data as “rankings,” although teacher-preparation programs were not ranked. The Associated Press described the data as “grading” the colleges and universities, and looked for “winners or losers.” The New York Post and the New York Daily News both referred to “grading” the programs. Even my own institution, Teachers College, which appears in the data, fell into this trap: the headline on the college’s webpage reads, “TC Rated in City Evaluation of Teacher Prep Programs.”
What’s the big deal? Report, description, analysis, comparison, ratings, rankings, evaluation — aren’t these all pretty much the same thing?
No, they are not, for several reasons. (more…)
August 13, 2013
“Oh my god, you’re the playwright? It’s soooo amazing to meet you!”
Brian — my former theater student and star of the production of “Les Miserábles” I co-directed with students last year in the South Bronx — fights through the crowd in the lobby of Atlantic Stage 2 in Manhattan. He’s still sweating from his opening night performance of “Circuits,” one of two student-written one-acts currently in production by National Theater for Student Artists.
As Brian lunges forward to hug the young playwright of ”Circuits,” she shouts, “You were fantastic!” and they launch into a volley of overlapping compliments. The lobby around them is a jumble of whooping, high-fives and gravity-defying hugs. Audience members vie to congratulate exuberant swarms of student directors, designers, stage managers and actors — the oldest recent college grads, the youngest fresh out of eighth grade. From across the lobby, I catch NTSA founder and executive director Victoria Chatfield’s eye and wink. Judging by the jubilant reaction of this opening night crowd, her high-stakes gamble is paying off big-time.
When the phrase “high stakes” comes up in a conversations among educators these days, it’s usually in reference to only one thing: standardized testing. (And if the frenzied analysis greeting last week’s release of New York’s new, lower Common Core state test scores is any indication, odds are those conversations are going to be pretty grim.) (more…)
August 12, 2013
GothamSchools is looking for teachers to help us shape our Student Journalism Initiative, a new program launching this fall. Details about the program, what we’re looking for, and how to apply are here.
Writing has always been a hobby for me. Growing up I used to make newspapers every day for my dad when he arrived home from work. I would hand him my newspaper filled with updates about home and he would hand me a copy of the New York Times. When I had the opportunity to take a journalism class as a senior at Dewitt Clinton High School last September, I jumped at it.
Future students at Clinton might not have the same opportunity. As the New York Times reported this spring, student newspapers across the country are struggling in the face of budget cuts. Few student newspapers in the city have managed to last as long as ours, but the future of the Clinton News is far from certain. If the paper doesn’t survive, students will miss out on an experience that gave me more confidence in my writing and changed the way I viewed my role in the Clinton community.
The most valuable lesson I learned from writing for The Clinton News is to take pride in my work. (more…)
August 9, 2013
Ten weeks ago, I made some predictions about New York City’s 2013 proficiency rates on the New York State English Language Arts and mathematics assessments — the first New York tests to be aligned with the challenging Common Core State Standards adopted (more or less) by about 45 states across the country. I relied on just two bits of information: (1) New York City’s 2012 proficiency rates; and (2) what happened in Kentucky when it shifted from its previous assessments to Common Core-aligned assessments. The predictions were not based on any knowledge of the specifics of the new assessments in New York, or what the Big Apple’s teachers were doing in their classrooms.
How did I do? The two charts below tell the tale. The first displays proficiency rates on the English Language Arts assessments in grades 3-8, overall and for particular demographic subgroups. The blue column is the 2012 proficiency rate; the red column is my prediction for 2013; and the yellow column is the actual proficiency rate in 2013. I underestimated overall proficiency by a bit, predicting that 22 percent of students in grades 3-8 would be classified as proficient, when in fact 26 percent fell into that category. But I was within one percentage point for black and Latino students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
In math, shown in the second chart, my prediction for 2013 was almost on the mark, as I had predicted a proficiency rate of 31 percent, and the actual rate was 30 percent. I wasn’t quite as accurate with the subgroups in math; I overestimated the percent of black and Latino students who would be classified as proficient by five percentage points, but missed the mark by only two or three percentage points for all of the other groups displayed in the chart.
What do my powers of prognostication mean? (Other than my opening a storefront on 72nd Street, where I will be happy to read your palm for $15…) (more…)
August 8, 2013
The release of student test data from 2013 has educators, administrators, politicians, and parents abuzz in New York. These are the first state exams aligned to the Common Core standards, and as widely predicted, proficiency rates have plummeted, leaving everyone scrambling to explain what has happened.
The most common explanation offered is that these new tests are substantially more rigorous than the old ones, so lower student performance is to be expected. I was curious about the claim that the new tests are more rigorous, and while the state does not release the exams to the public, they do publish a small number of questions from each grade level.
The new tests were administered in grades 3-8. As a high school teacher, I am not well versed in elementary school tests, but I have spent a substantial amount of time scrutinizing New York state math Regents exams, so I thought I’d look at the eighth-grade math questions that were released to the public. I was quite surprised by what I saw.
The “representative sample” of eighth-grade math questions does not seem more rigorous to me. They do not seem to emphasize “deep analysis” or “creative problem solving over short answers and memorization,” which is often how the new standards are characterized. I can’t say I was surprised to discover this.
What did surprise me, however, was how many of these eighth-grade math questions were virtually identical to questions that have recently appeared on high school math Regents exams.
Here is the first example from the set of eighth-grade math questions released to the public:
This problem is essentially the same as #4 from the January, 2013 Integrated Algebra exam:
The second example from the set of eighth-grade math questions released to the public:
is quite similar to #4 from the January 2013 Geometry exam:
And the fourth example from the set of eighth-grade math questions released to the public:
is essentially the same as #9 from the January 2013 Integrated Algebra exam:
This surprising discovery left me with a lot of questions.
First, why are eighth-graders facing the same kinds of questions on this state exam that ninth-, 10th-, 11th-, and even 12th-graders faced this year? Were teachers and students prepared to see this kind of content on the eighth-grade exam?
Second, how can it be argued that this new test is more rigorous if it is comprised of the same kinds of questions that appear on the old tests? Simply moving a question from a 10th-grade test to an eighth-grade test doesn’t transform the question into one that requires deep analysis or creative problem solving. More rigorous questions would ask students to construct mathematical objects, explore concepts from different perspectives, and demonstrate mathematical reasoning. None of the above questions do this: They are not especially challenging, deep, or novel. In short, they are typical standardized test fare.
And perhaps the most important question is this: If these are the hand-picked exemplar questions released to the public, what must the rest of the test look like? Only by releasing the entire test to the public can we truly assess what we are assessing.
Patrick Honner teaches math at Brooklyn Technical High School. This piece was cross-posted on his personal website, MrHonner.com.
August 2, 2013
As they make their way through dozens of debates and hundreds of interviews, the candidates for New York City Mayor have fallen into predictable mantras on charters, school closings, teacher evaluation, and parent involvement, usually citing cautious support for each, with “cautious” being the operative word for fear of alienating potential primary voters.
Trouble is, these high-profile issues, while important, have little to do with the ultimate success of city schools. The city’s schools face harrowing problems: inadequate school leadership, disgraceful student achievement, and crushing child poverty that undermines learning. Rather than attack these shortcomings, the Bloomberg administration created tiny, competitive oases as alternatives while most students and teachers are starved for academic resources required for widespread academic success.
The next mayor will face big, interconnected educational challenges. But politicians avoid nuanced positions in a hard-fought campaign. Voters must demand more than a contest of simplistic responses to rack up easy points. New York’s school system is too complex, our students too diverse, for yes/no answers to our most pressing problems. In electing someone to govern, rather than merely win, candidates should be made to answer these and other hard questions to earn their place in City Hall:
1. How would you meet or reduce the Department of Education’s stated annual need for 150 to 200 new principals and 350 to 400 assistant principals? (more…)
July 18, 2013
On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday and Mandela Day, celebrated worldwide, GothamSchools is collecting tales from New York City schools about the former president of South Africa. Jeniffer Montano met Mandela in South Africa in 2009 when she attended Jill Chaifetz Transfer High School.
Since I was a little girl, I have always had a desire to change the world. I wasn’t sure how, but I just knew I wanted to leave this world a bit better than it was before I entered it. I idolized people like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela. These people dedicated their lives to helping others.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Schools are the primary source of education. Teachers and staff are the ones that dispense this powerful weapon. So, what happens when kids like me learn to define education by the metal detectors they must walk through to enter school, or by the teachers who do not care or by the guidance counselor who tells them to drop out because they are not “school material”? If education is one of the most powerful weapons in the world, then the type of education I received is closing the door to change. It is destroying potential leaders and reformers. It is breaking down and destroying our future Nelson Mandelas.
I live in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx where violence and drugs are a part of daily life. I live in a place where hopelessness fills the hearts of most, and our schools are a reflection of this. My dreams of changing the world were slowly shattered as I moved through the public school system. By the time I got to Dewitt Clinton High School I had completely lost sight of my dream. I looked around me and started to understand the message that was being sent. You are nobody and therefore you will forever be nobody.
By the time I got to my junior year I had completely given up. My average was about a 55.8 and I had been absent for two months straight without anyone noticing. I was ready to drop out. Before I made my decision I went to my guidance counselor. I was hoping to find words of encouragement and motivation. Instead, I was told to drop out and get my GED. The guidance counselor said that I just wasn’t made for school. (more…)
July 18, 2013
On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday and Mandela Day, celebrated worldwide, GothamSchools is collecting tales from New York City schools about the former president of South Africa. Rabih Ahmed is a college student who met Mandela in South Africa when she was a ninth-grader at Bronx Guild High School.
Since I was a child, my parents would refer to the president of South Africa as “The Great Nelson Mandela.” He was someone whose name was respected and greatly treasured in my home because he used his power to liberate his people and provide them with equal opportunity, especially in education. Nelson Mandela’s story inspired me as a high school student in New York City and continues to shape my experience as a student at SUNY New Paltz today.
In high school, I attended the Bronx Guild High School, which allows students to gain credits through independent projects. I needed a history credit and decided to focus on Nelson Mandela. Going in, I knew Mandela was important, but I wasn’t aware of his legacy and the powerful impact he had on this world. I studied his activism and his influence on the South African society. I learned about his struggle from the beginning of his journey till the post-Apartheid era.
I was motivated to study because I had gotten the opportunity to chose a topic that interested me. (more…)
July 15, 2013
The Common Core’s “six shifts in literacy,” or the big ways in which the standards aim to overhaul teaching, can be boiled down a la Michael Pollan: Read complex texts. Mostly nonfiction. Very closely.
Through that close reading, teachers get clear opportunities to foster critical thinking. Attempting to help students access texts, previous standards and curricula in many states have focused on previewing the material, skimming it, and connecting it to the outside world, the self, and other texts — at best, achieving a rich holistic understanding, and at worst, dancing around the challenges posed by the author’s actual words.
But the Common Core’s reverence for the text as “the master class,” as chief creator David Coleman said in a 2011 speech, means that students’ personal interpretations are deemphasized — and even denounced. That particular pendulum swing has me concerned because, in my experience, students must also bring their own perspectives and experiences to the text if they are to read critically. (more…)
June 21, 2013
A few days after a new teacher evaluation system made headlines in New York, I was honored as one of 50 finalists for the Department of Education’s Big Apple Awards, designed to “recognize the city’s best teachers and support a system-wide conversation about excellence in the classroom.”
I’d like to contribute my voice to this conversation by saying, first of all, that I doubt my teaching “excellence” greatly outshines many New York City teachers who dedicate their professional lives to the public schools and too often go unrecognized for their efforts.
Moreover, even though the Department of Education chose me for recognition from among 2,000 nominated teachers, I doubt I will receive a “highly effective” end-of-the-year rating next year. The criteria for this highest designation within the new evaluation system is so idealistic it feels unattainable for teachers grappling with the typical challenges associated with serving students from low-income families — inconsistent attendance, classrooms with a vast range in student-literacy, students who, for whatever reason, have difficulty studying or completing homework assignments. (more…)