language acquisition

In training, teachers learn new ways to talk about student work

Dennis Walcott joined principal Annabelle Martinez (standing) and teachers at P.S. 124 in Sunset Park for training on the Common Core standards.

Huddled around tables in their school library, three dozen teachers at P.S. 124 in Sunset Park got a taste for how new standards being rolled out across the city would reshape their work in the classroom this fall.

Principal Annabelle Martinez handed out photocopies of student writing samples and asked the teachers to evaluate the work according to the new standards.

For a team of third-grade teachers, that meant looking at a short essay about weather and determining whether the author used “informative and explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.”

At first, the teachers found strengths in the essay’s display of mechanics. One teacher pointed out that the student had used capitalization correctly.

“He knows his paragraphs,” another teacher said. “And he knows sentence structure too.”

Later, the teachers used a projector to present their notes to their colleagues. Under Martinez’s guidance, the teachers revised how they discussed the student’s strengths. Now, they called the essay “informative” and said it was organized well by topic and included a “clear introduction” and a “clear conclusion” — language that was more in line with the new standards.

Scenes like this were playing out in schools across the five boroughs this morning as part of an extra day of professional development given to staff before students start class tomorrow. The training sessions were specifically targeted at preparing teachers for the citywide rollout of the Common Core curriculum standards, designed to refocus expectations to be more in line with college and career readiness.

P.S. 124 was among 100 schools that tested the core standards waters as part of a citywide pilot last year. This year, all schools are expected to begin tying instruction to the new standards, and their first step is to identify the gap between what students currently know and what the Common Core demands of them. That means teachers will be reviewing samples of student work, using the same kind of scrutiny required in today’s training exercise.

“One of the things that we strive to instill with our staff is that it’s not good enough just to teach the curriculum,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who is overseeing the city’s Common Core rollout. “You can teach something and still have half the kids not learning.”

He visited P.S. 124 today along with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. With the pair of top officials dropping in on the training session, teachers spoke excitedly about the new standards. But many of their comments were cut with a sense of caution.

“I feel an incredible amount of enthusiasm for the first time in eight years,” said one teacher. “I really just hope that we’re supported from the top on this.”

“We’re heading in the right direction, but there’s still fear,” another teacher remarked. “And that’s okay.”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.