call to arms

Diane Ravitch exhorts city principals to join evaluations protest

Principals union president Ernest Logan with Diane Ravitch after Ravitch's speech to union members on Tuesday

City principals should overcome their fear and join with more than a thousand of their colleagues from across the state who oppose New York’s teacher evaluation rules, Diane Ravitch urged during a speech to the principals union Tuesday.

A group of Long Island principals launched a petition in November arguing that the state’s evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers’ ratings to be based on their students’ test scores — are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts.

The petition has attracted nearly 1,300 principals from across the state, but relatively few — just over 100 — work in New York City, in a trend that has persisted since the petition’s earliest days. Sean Feeney, a Nassau County principal who drafted the petition, said in November that city principals seemed to be more afraid of jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out.

Ravitch, a frequent and outspoken critic of the Bloomberg administration’s education policies, took aim at those concerns during the kickoff event in the union’s 50th anniversary celebration. She concluded her speech by exhorting city principals to sign on to the evaluations petition.

“There is strength in numbers,” she said to the roughly 150 current and retired principals in the audience. “The DOE can’t fire you all.”

Ravitch’s speech, a scathing deconstruction of the city’s achievement claims, drew laughs and applause from the audience. Principals laughed when Ravitch suggested that “value-added” assessments of gym teachers might rely on measurements of how many push-ups students could do. And when she said that judging teachers, students, and schools by a single test each year is “simply ridiculous,” they clapped.

Hearing Ravitch describe the city’s school policies induced “cognitive dissonance” with the picture the city paints, Jeffrey Slivko, principal of M.S. 172 in Queens, told me. Slivko signed the evaluations petition last month.

The union, the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators, recruited Ravitch to speak because morale among pricnipals is low, President Ernest Logan said.

“It’s so important that we have somebody to lift us up,” he said, adding that principals together could “take back public education in this city, this state, and ultimately in this country because we are on the side of right.”

Two members of the Board of Regents, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Kathleen Cashin, sat in the front row during the speech, held at St. Francis College in Downtown Brooklyn. Cashin in particular has been an outspoken opponent of using test scores to determine a large portion of teacher and principal ratings.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

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.