mailbag

A teacher says proposed credit rules over-empower principals

The state’s online survey about proposed credit recovery rules will only accept comments of 400 words or less, according to a Bronx math teacher who had a lot more to say. So he sent me his response. Here’s part of his answer:

A dangerous discrepancy exists between the statement “the committee much consider each student’s needs and course completion deficiencies” and “the student must also demonstrate mastery of the initial deficiency areas. What is the state definition of mastery? A principal could, by these regulations, decide that a student that is not going to college does not need to know how to solve a one variable equation, and therefore assign a project that superficially demonstrates “mastery” without the student actually addressing his/her deficiencies. There MUST be some provision to make it very clear to school administrators what this means, otherwise there will be inconsistency across the state in the area of credit accumulation. 

Send your comments about the proposed regulations to [email protected]. The teacher’s complete response is below:

A. Do the proposed provisions provide sufficient opportunity for students to receive credit for making up incomplete or failed course work?

If implemented according to these provisions, students will have opportunity to make up course work, but more work needs to be done at the state level to define what is appropriate. A dangerous discrepancy exists between the statement “the committee much consider each student’s needs and course completion deficiencies” and “the student must also demonstrate mastery of the initial deficiency areas. What is the state definition of mastery? A principal could, by these regulations, decide that a student that is not going to college does not need to know how to solve a one variable equation, and therefore assign a project that superficially demonstrates “mastery” without the student actually addressing his/her deficiencies. There MUST be some provision to make it very clear to school administrators what this means, otherwise there will be inconsistency across the state in the area of credit accumulation. 

B. Can the proposed provisions be implemented?

Not until the state can ensure (and measure) the same quality and rigor of education provided through both pathways towards course credit. It will reflect negatively on the state education program if two schools with equal levels of credit accumulation have drastically different results on the AYP report at the end of the year. The state will have a LOT of work to avoid the creation of ‘diploma mills’ after implementation.
C. Are there any significant challenges for implementing the proposed provisions?

It seems this process is happening after the fact – many principals in the NYC system are already doing this, and robbing students of the education they need for success outside of high school. The state must describe what mastery means, how alignment with the Regents learning standards will be monitored, and what accountability tools will describe how students in a particular school are earning credits in this alternate way. This is the only way such a program could be implemented fairly.

D. Do the proposed provisions meet the appropriate unique needs of students who did not complete a course or failed to master competencies necessary for success?

The vague title of ‘appropriate unique needs’ is going to be renamed lowering standards or watering down the state curriculum for students in this category. Considering that many students that already are benefiting from these programs in the NYC system go to low-income schools, or are members of a minority group, formalizing this program without ensuring equal levels of rigor or expectations is clear racism. It is crucial that we not sacrifice the education of any student. The standards are there for a reason, and abandoning them for the purposes of getting students out of our schools is extremely inappropriate. This is why it is necessary to measure and monitor how
students subsequently make up the competencies they lacked during the failed course.

Other comments or suggestions may be entered here:
Principals now are giving away credits because students pass Regents exams with absurdly low scores. The state lets this happen because it sets the minimum standard for passing on these exams. To now allow principals the freedom to pressure other administrators and teachers to award credit in a way sanctioned by the state is dangerous, and disrespects the true potential of students, as well as the professionalism of teachers that assigned a grade in the first place.

It is true that situations do arise that require teachers and administrators to be flexible in addressing the needs of a student – in this age of accountability, however, principals need guidelines for doing so in a manner that is closely monitored and maintains a high standard for students graduating from the New York State school system.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.