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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 tips@gothamschools.org. 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.

Headlines

In smaller gun violence protests, hundreds of students walk out of NYC schools to mark Columbine anniversary

PHOTO: Drew Angerer
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Student activists rally against gun violence at Washington Square Park, near the campus of New York University, April 20, 2018 in New York City. On the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting, student activists across the country are participating in school walkouts to demand action on gun reform. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

From Brooklyn to the Bronx, students left their classrooms Friday to protest gun violence in demonstrations that were smaller but no less than passionate than last month’s massive walkout.

This time around, school officials weren’t giving a free pass to students for skipping school to protest — the Department of Education said there could be repercussions and Chancellor Richard Carranza urged students to stay in class because “you don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

According to the Department of Education, attendance on Friday was 89.89 percent, down just slightly from Thursday’s attendance of 91.36 percent. But that number might not account for students who briefly left school to attend protests after the school day started.

The walkout was designed to protest gun violence and planned for the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

Many of the demonstrators gathered in Washington Square Park for a “die-in.” But other students stayed close to home, such as the School for Global Leaders on the Lower East Side. Here are some photos and videos shared on Twitter that give a sense of the walkout’s scope in New York.

#NationalSchoolWalkout

Carranza discourages student participation in Friday’s gun violence walkout — which could come with consequences

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn walked out of class in March to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and call for stricter gun control laws.

Last month, 100,000 students streamed out of city classrooms to protest gun violence, demonstrations condoned by the mayor and education department officials.

Similar but scaled-down protests are being planned for Friday, but with a major difference — students are more likely to face consequences for walking out of their classes this time.

For the March 14 walkout, held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, city education department officials laid out clear rules meant to facilitate student participation. Anyone who left school for the scheduled protest but returned immediately afterward would not be marked absent.

This week, students who are not in school will be marked absent, according to the education department.

At his first town hall meeting with students, Chancellor Richard Carranza implored them not to walk out of class this week.

“I supported it in March,” he said. “This one — I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

Instead, Carranza said, students should focus on having conversations about the issue inside their schools. “You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

The department’s revised approach comes as activists planning the day of action worry that focus on gun control policy is diminishing as the Parkland shooting recedes into the past. That shooting has inspired a sustained protest movement led largely by students, but other topics have pushed it out of headlines in recent weeks.

Indeed, advocates are expecting a smaller turnout this time around, with about a dozen New York City schools registered on the national organizing page — including Bard High School Early College Queens and Stuyvesant High School.

One of the biggest demonstrations is expected to be an afternoon rally at Washington Square park, but other schools are opting for a day of action within their own buildings — and some students say they are prioritizing other ways of making a difference.

“We will be hosting a lunch and learn and creating kindness cards,” Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice junior Robina Afzal said in an email. “We don’t feel the walkouts are most effective. Instead we can stay in school and create a change.”

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Fifth-grade students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn are planning to walk out of school on April 20, marking the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. They will head to borough hall and deliver letters to their local U.S. representative calling for stricter gun control laws.

At M.S. 51 in Brooklyn, students will take part in a day of assemblies where they will write letters to elected officials to demand action on issues that are important to young people.

“We want to balance our walkout and take real action that might influence policy-makers, rather than making another powerful public statement,” according to a press release sent by the middle school students there.

P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is one of the few elementary schools expected to participate on Friday. The fifth grade students have assigned themselves organizing tasks, with separate working groups dedicated to poster-making, writing original freedom songs, and even a media team. They plan to march to Borough Hall, where students will stand in a circle, sing, and chant to draw attention to young lives lost to gun violence every day across the United States.

“I think we should do it outside of the school because more people can see us walking out, because this is very important,” said Bayan Clark, a fifth-grader who is helping to organize the event. “Kids get shot every single day and it’s not just in school. It’s also outside.”

Principal Jackie Allen said such social actions are woven into the school’s teaching and learning.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, students wore black armbands in solidarity with protesters who drew attention to racial profiling and bias. When President Trump proposed an immigration ban on majority-Muslim countries, they marched around their school and created posters to signal that everyone is welcome at P.S. 261.

Ever since the Parkland shooting, students have been tackling issues around gun violence, writing letters to local elected representatives and making connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We try to make sure the curriculum is relevant,” Allen said. “What’s happening in the world, it does make our way into the classrooms and kids want to talk about it.”

“We want to reflect democratic values,” she said. “We want kids to take social action and develop social awareness.”