after the fall

After test score criticism, Klein allows more planning time

Teachers are starting the school year with 37.5 more minutes a week to figure out how to raise test scores.

In an email sent to principals on Friday, Chancellor Joel Klein announced that schools are now allowed to convert one period of tutoring time into teacher planning sessions aimed at boosting scores. The four-times-weekly, 37.5-minute sessions were introduced in February 2006 for teachers to offer small-group instruction.

“This time must be used in a structured way to look at data and student work, to examine curriculum and teacher practice and to diagnose what changes and supports are needed to improve performance for the students who need it most,” Klein wrote.

Klein’s email announcement marks the city’s first concrete response to the state’s more stringent test score standards. In July, when the scores were announced, Klein said schools would have to give struggling students “more attention” but didn’t specify how. Mostly, he and Mayor Bloomberg have focused on defending the city’s progress despite lower scores. In the email to principals, Klein dismissed challenges to the city’s claims as “belligerent critiques.”

Klein’s complete back-to-school email to principals is below:

Dear Colleagues,

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about the impact and meaning of the decision by the New York State Education Department to make testing requirements for student proficiency significantly more demanding.  As school starts, parents and teachers will have questions about what the resultant decline in proficiency throughout our state and City means for students.

The State’s purpose was to align the results better with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which indicated that New York State had dramatically lower proficiency rates than our New York State test had demonstrated.  The State set out to resolve this inconsistency by redefining the cut scores needed to achieve a desired percentage of Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 after the results were known.  If you increase the score required to pass a test, the number of people that pass is inevitably going to fall.

Understandably, we are all disappointed that the pass rate went down.  When you are working hard to achieve a result, and then it becomes even harder to achieve that same result, it’s frustrating.  But I strongly believe that we shouldn’t be disheartened.  New York State is not alone in having set a proficiency standard that was too low to serve our children; the vast majority of states have similarly low standards.

I know you are working with your networks to interpret these adjustments, their impact, and the instructional strategies you can use to help your students improve. I appreciate the time you’re taking to understand your school-level data thoroughly, especially Progress Reports, which underwent significant changes this year to reflect the higher bar that has been set. I encourage you to check out our Principals’ Portal for helpful information.

As you know, our goal is to have all our teachers working collaboratively to meet students’ individual instructional needs. I have received many requests from principals over the past year to build in regular time for these teacher teams to meet.  I know it’s essential, in order to improve instruction in your school, for you to have built-in time for your teachers to plan in teams.  Moving forward, we will support your SBO requests to use one of the 37.5 minute blocks for teacher teams to meet.  This time must be used in a structured way to look at data and student work, to examine curriculum and teacher practice and to diagnose what changes and supports are needed to improve performance for the students who need it most.  This time and the remaining 37.5 minute blocks will be an important resource that must be used strategically in this tight budget year to raise achievement for our weakest students.  Our networks will be working with you to ensure that this time is used to maximum effect.  These teacher teams are also critical to our efforts to raise the bar as we prepare for the Common Core standards.

Raising standards is the easy part.  The hard part will be getting our students to achieve at higher levels.  There are two important points that I want to reinforce with you directly today to help provide context as you plan for the important work that lies ahead.

High proficiency numbers may make us feel good.  But calling a child proficient who is not on a secure path to college and career success is a disservice to the student, her family and the school system.  That’s why I wrote to you almost a year ago stating that “we must hold our students to standards that are as rigorous as those set by NAEP.”  I know it’s not easy to do this, but we have got to be honest with ourselves. Otherwise, our children will pay a terrible price when they graduate into a globally competitive world that will not be forgiving to them if they are not properly prepared. We need to embrace the change the State has imposed, even if it hurts to see our proficiency results fall in the short-term.

I also want to address head on some of the belligerent critiques of our collective work in the days following the State’s announcement of our scores.  Instead of seeing it for what it is-a call for more demanding standards-some have suggested that the data obliterate the substantial progress that we have made.  That view is wrong.  Had it not been for the tremendous progress made over the last eight years, we could not conceive of how we would meet the new standards.  Other school districts in this State are now at proficiency levels in the mid- to low-20s.  That’s where we would be if not for the good work that you and your staffs have done.
Let me emphasize what you already know: while important, data, like test results and graduation rates, don’t tell the whole story of what’s going on at a school.  Many intangibles matter, and in so many dynamic ways our schools have improved-not all at the same pace or in the same manner.  But this is a very different and greatly improved school system compared to what it was in 2002.  The data also confirm that view.

I am linking here to a presentation that shows in detail the progress we’ve made and how substantial it has been.  Here are some of the highlights-what I see as our biggest accomplishments.


  • On our watch, fourth graders have made big gains-11 scale-score points in English and 11 in math, which reflects an increase of more than a year’s worth of learning. The percentage of kids proficient in math went from 21 percent to 35 percent-a 67 percent increase-and the percentage proficient in English went from 19 percent to 29 percent-a 53 percent jump. (Slide 14) In fourth grade, NYC’s performance now matches that of the nation as a whole, even though NYC serves a much more challenging population. That’s called “closing the achievement gap.” * In the eighth grade, the results are mixed and trending up. We’ve gained 7 points in math, mostly since 2005, and, while we’re flat in English, on the last exam we were up 3 points, boding well for the future. (Slide 4)

New York State tests

  • First, let’s look at how NYC would have performed in the past under the new, much more rigorous proficiency standards adopted by the state.  Applying the new standards, our overall proficiency rate would have gone up by 6.4 points in English (from 36 percent in 2006 to 42.4 today) and by 22.1 points in math (from 31.9 percent in 2006 to 54 percent today). Whichever way you measure it, we’ve made progress.  (Slide 3)* From 2006-2010 our scale scores went up across the board in grades 3-8, by an average of 23 points in math and 13 points in English. Those are big gains. (Slide 4)

High school graduation

  • NYC’s gains in high school graduation and college-going rates are impressive.  From 1990-2002 the City’s graduation rate had stagnated in the mid-forties. Last year, it was 63 percent. (Slide 16)
  • This increase has resulted in significantly more NYC students going to college. From 2002 to 2009, the number of graduates attending City University of New York (CUNY) colleges went from 16,000 to more than 25,000-a 57 percent increase.  At the same time, the percentage of students requiring remediation at CUNY decreased. (Slide 20)

Highlighting this point and responding to vocal critics, former U.S Secretary of Education Richard Riley wrote an article in the Daily News summarizing the City’s achievement results, especially the NAEP gains, concluding that “we should celebrate students and educators in New York City for significant improvements-even as we call for higher levels of performance.”  The current Secretary, Arne Duncan, similarly stated in a recent speech: “And these higher standards [adopted by New York State] in no way erase the gains made by New York City in recent years, gains that showed up not only on the state tests, but also on the national tests, called NAEP.”

As you may also have heard, last week New York State won the Race to the Top federal grant competition which will send more than $240 million to New York City over the next four years.  Winning this competition means that we have additional funds to institute core reforms that will support students’ continued progress.  But it’s about more than the money: this victory validates the significant strides we’ve made as a City to improve student achievement.

I am more confident than ever before that we have the right people in place-our principals, teachers, and other school staff-to make our City’s public schools even stronger tomorrow than they are today.  It isn’t going to be easy-putting children first never has been.  But our students are counting on all of us to work together to help prepare them for success.
Thank you, as always, for your hard work and dedication.  Best of luck for a great first day.

Joel I. Klein

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”