first draft

Walcott: City won't wait for evaluations to tackle teacher quality

Even without a new teacher evaluation system, New York City will ramp up efforts to weed out teachers who “don’t deserve to teach,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today.

In an early-morning speech to the Association for a Better New York, a business and political group, Walcott said the city would adopt new policies to insulate students from teachers deemed “unsatisfactory” under the current evaluation system. Under the new policies, no student will be allowed to have a teacher rated unsatisfactory multiple years in a row, and the city will move to fire all teachers who receive two straight U ratings.

“If we truly believe that every student deserves a great teacher, then we can’t accept a system where a student suffers with a poor-performing one for two straight years,” Walcott said. “One year of learning loss is bad enough — but studies indicate that two years could be devastating.”

The policies would go into effect if the city and union do not agree on new teacher evaluations by September, when the new school year begins. Under the existing evaluation system, two consecutive U ratings can trigger termination proceedings but do not have to. Two “ineffective” ratings on teacher evaluations now required under state law would automatically trigger termination proceedings.

Walcott also announced that the city would capitalize on a clause in its contract with the teachers union to offer a resignation incentive for teachers who have spent more than a year in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions. Buyouts would have to be negotiated for each teacher, and Walcott promised that the incentives would be “generous.” The move represents a shift in approach for the Bloomberg administration, which has previously sought the right to fire members of the ATR pool.

Walcott’s complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below. We’ll have more on his proposals later today.

The following is text of Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott’s address as prepared for delivery at Association for a Better New York breakfast event on May 17, 2012

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. It’s been an honor to serve in your administration for the last ten years. And thanks to Bill Rudin for your leadership and for making New York City a better place.

“Good morning. Let me start by thanking ABNY for hosting us today. It’s a pleasure to be joined by so many New Yorkers who share a passion for this great city, especially those who work hard on behalf of our students. I’ve attended my fair share of ABNY events over the years, so I am truly honored to speak to you this morning as your Chancellor.

“Today, I’d like to talk about the extraordinary work happening in our 1750 schools, and discuss some bold new ideas we believe will make a lasting impact on the lives of our students.

“Let me start with some perspective on the size and complexity of our school system. Everyone, please take out a piece of paper and sharpen your number two pencils. It’s time for a test. First, does anyone know how many meals we serve each day in New York City public schools? Eight hundred thousand. Other than the US military, no single organization buys more food than we do.

“Here’s another question: if our public schools were a large US city, how do you think it would rank compared to the population in other cities? 20th in the nation? 15th? The population of our public schools would make it the 10th – largest city in the United States, right behind Dallas.

“Think about this for a second: with over a million children in our schools, one in every 311 Americans is a New York City Public school student.

“I have one more question: how many languages are spoken by students in our public schools? Any guesses? By our latest count, it’s 184. Some of our fastest-growing languages include Punjabi, Albanian, Mandinka and Fon, to name a few.

“So with those facts in mind, let’s talk a little bit about how we got where we are today. I remember that summer day in 2002, at an East Harlem school, when I stood with Mayor Bloomberg to celebrate a pivotal moment in New York City history. State lawmakers had just voted to give control of New York City’s public schools to our elected Mayor.

“Remember that for decades, the quality of education in our schools was stagnant. Student performance was flat and high school graduation rates hovered at 50 percent. Only one in two students who started high school left with a diploma.

“In some corners of the city, jobs at schools were handed out as favors. A well-connected parent could make a phone call and get their child into a particular school. No one was held accountable. And I assure you, no one talked about a school’s college and career readiness rates.

“So in 2002, our first priority was to reform a broken system that didn’t serve our students. And that’s what we did. Under mayoral control, we have improved teacher quality and created schools that put students on a path to success. Instead of making excuses for those schools that graduated as few as one in four students, we took action.

“It wasn’t easy, but today, with higher standards, graduation rates are at an all-time high, and the dropout rate has been cut in half. We made our schools safer. Today, crime is down by almost 50 percent. Working together with the New York City Police Department, we have made our schools some of the safest of any large American city. We infused more money into our schools. Since 2002, the Mayor has increased funding for schools by more than $11 billion – that’s up over 100 percent.

“We created the best school choice system in the nation, as recently recognized by the Brookings Institution. Ten years ago, a child could be forced to attend his or her neighborhood high school, no matter how bad it was. This is no longer the case.

“We empowered principals to manage their own budgets and become the CEOs of their buildings. Before 2002, the school system was designed around compliance and following the rules, and that stifled creative thinking. Now, principals are encouraged to innovate, problem-solve, and make hiring decisions to help their students succeed.

“We instilled a culture of accountability throughout our organization. Today, the conversation in schools and across America is focused on student achievement – that simply wasn’t the case ten years ago.

“We created 535 new public schools, including 139 charter schools. Together, they would make up a school district comparable to the size of Philadelphia. We will continue this strategy into next fall, bringing the total number of new schools created to 613. And our new small schools work: students in these schools are graduating at rates 20 points higher than graduates at schools they have replaced.

“Some of our most exciting new schools are Career and Technical Education models, or “CTE”.  Just two weeks ago, TIME magazine highlighted the positive impacts of CTE schools for students, businesses and communities. CTE schools are perhaps the best way to train students for the jobs that exist today and those that will be created tomorrow. That is why I am thrilled that we will be opening 12 new CTE schools in the next two years, on top of 18 we’ve opened since 2002.

“We’ve also recently taken on a problem seen throughout the United States: the lagging achievement of students in middle school. In the next two years, we will open 50 new middle schools and embark on a citywide campaign to improve literacy in those grades.

“And we’ve doubled down on efforts to make parents our true partners and find new ways to communicate with them through surveys, meetings, and online tools. Next fall, we will launch a Parent Academy to help parents reinforce learning and help their children with homework. And we will begin a new series of webinars for parents on a range of topics.

“To those of us who work in our schools, it’s clear that lawmakers made the right choice in 2002. And they did so again by renewing Mayoral control just a few years ago. It’s important to take stock of what this means for our students – and, more broadly, for New York City. We would not have been able to give students and families more options, make schools safer, and improve teaching and learning without this authority.

“But it’s still not enough. In some areas, we continue to do things the ‘old-fashioned way.’ We know that teachers are the most important factor in helping their students learn and grow. The data is clear: during the course of a school year, a student can learn three times as much material from a high-performing teacher as they would from a low-performing teacher. Even more: an above-average teacher can help their class earn an additional $400,000 over their lifetimes. That’s the effect of just one year of great teaching. If you expanded that to our entire city, we are talking about adding billions of dollars to the city’s economy, just by improving teaching.

“The facts speak for themselves: teaching matters. That’s why we’ve gone to great lengths to make New York City a more attractive place for aspiring educators. Mayor Bloomberg has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation, raising teacher salaries by 43 percent.”

“But if we can’t find a way to improve teacher quality even further, it will be impossible to ensure our students are being taught the skills to succeed beyond high school. Unfortunately, in many of our efforts, we have been unable to find a partner in our local teachers union, the UFT. In some cases, they have even stood in our way.

“But that’s no reason to stop trying. Today, I want to share a few key ideas that I believe will help greatly improve the quality of our teaching force.

“Right now, our teacher evaluation system is outdated. More than 97 percent of teachers get “satisfactory” ratings. The ratings offer no feedback to help teachers improve, and leave us unable to remove teachers who get low ratings in multiple years.

“The teachers union knows this. In February, the UFT committed to a new evaluation system that would allow us to identify great teachers and reward them accordingly, support those who are still developing, and allows us to remove those who are poor-performing. The UFT President celebrated this deal with Governor Cuomo in Albany, and I applauded him for it. Three months later, we have made little progress. As each day passes, we are still waiting for the UFT to return to the table and finalize this agreement.

“If you don’t know me, I’m an eternal optimist, and I am still hopeful we can complete this deal in time for next school year. But right now, the clock is ticking. Rather than come together on behalf of our students, the UFT takes every opportunity to stall, often suing us in court and complaining to a State panel when they don’t get their way.

“We don’t have time for stalling tactics. We need the UFT to finalize a citywide evaluation system before it’s too late. Until that happens, our 1.1 million students – the 10th largest city in the country – are stuck in this system. It is upon us to find another way.

“Early in this administration, we made a decision not to force any principal to accept a teacher they don’t want. We believe that principals should be empowered to make the best choices for their students. As a result, some teachers have ended up without permanent teaching jobs, and are placed in something we call the Absent Teacher Reserve, also known as the ATR pool.

“Unfortunately, we, the taxpayers, continue to foot the bill. If they can’t get hired by another principal – and even if they don’t try to find a job at all – we still have to pay their salaries. There have been over 3,600 teachers in the pool at some point this year, and that’s now down to 800.

“But those who remain will cost the city an estimated $100 million in salaries. That’s a huge, wasteful expenditure that doesn’t help our students succeed. More than a quarter of these teachers have been disciplined for bad behavior. Almost half of them have not even submitted a job application or attended a recruitment fair in the past year. That’s unacceptable.

“Think about that: when unemployment is still high and budgets are tight, we are spending more than $100 million on teachers who aren’t interested in teaching.

“Today, I am proposing an idea. If you’re a teacher who can’t find a permanent job in our schools after a year, we will offer you a generous incentive to resign and pursue another career. It would reduce a significant burden on our budget, allowing us to divert millions of dollars back to schools. Every dollar we save, we can use to benefit our students, instead of wasting it on teachers who probably chose the wrong profession. This buyout proposal will be more attractive than any we’ve seen across the nation—for teachers, and for the taxpayers of New York City.

“Of course, we can’t limit ourselves to focusing on teachers in limbo. We need to find a way to ensure every child has a good teacher right now, and support or remove those who can’t get the job done. But without a meaningful evaluation system that allows us to remove ineffective teachers, we are left with few options.

“Now, let me be clear: singling out bad teachers for the woes of education is a convenient, over-simplification of our problems, and I won’t stand for it. The vast majority of our teachers deserve our praise and support. Blaming them for our challenges is simply unacceptable. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate teachers based on how much our students are learning.

“When I think about the fact that a child’s future could be opened up to great opportunities – or closed off forever – by a single teacher in elementary school, I am both hopeful and worried. Teaching is just that important. Plain and simple: we need a way to ensure that no child gets stuck with one of the few teachers who are ineffective, especially in the early grades.

“So today, I am proposing a solution. If the new evaluation system isn’t in place by the beginning of next school year, I will implement a new policy that would protect these young students:  First, it would prevent any elementary school student from being taught for two consecutive years by a classroom teacher found to be incompetent.

“If we truly believe that every student deserves a great teacher, then we can’t accept a system where a student suffers with a poor-performing one for two straight years. One year of learning loss is bad enough—but studies indicate that two years could be devastating.

“Second, this new policy would set a trigger: after any teacher receives two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings for incompetence, we would remove that teacher from the classroom and seek their dismissal from our public schools. In my view, if you are one of the few hundred teachers who gets poorly rated two years in a row, you don’t deserve to teach in our schools and in front of our students.

“That’s the spirit of the new evaluation system—so we will move forward, whether or not the union decides to join us.

“The union and others would rather stay silent than cheer the progress our students have made since 2002. Some would even disparage the hard work of our students and staff these past few years.  So you have to wonder: with students doing better by every measure, who is the union trying to protect?

“We are focused on the students, and the reasons are obvious: The effects of these proposals will pay dividends now and well into the future. We know that higher levels of education lead to greater incomes for individuals and their families. And that’s true today more than ever.

“Over a lifetime, a high school graduate makes half a million dollars more than a dropout. And a college graduate makes even more than that. Only 11 percent of jobs today are available to those without a high school diploma—that’s way down from just a few years ago. And the fastest-growing industries – such as healthcare, engineering, and education – require college diplomas.

“So we’re not going to stop at high school graduation: in this economy, our students need to be ready for college and careers. That’s why we are hard at work introducing the new Common Core Standards in our schools. This year and next, students in every school will be exposed to more critical thinking, essay writing, and real world problem-solving.

“New York City is leading the way in these efforts. While most states are waiting until 2014, our work has been underway since 2010. Next year, we’ll expand it even further. Today, I am proud to announce that the GE Foundation has decided to renew their commitment to our students with a gift of $14.3 million. This gift will build upon GE’s previous investment and help give our students the tools they need for college.

“So, increasing graduation rates isn’t just about data—it means thousands of families being put on the path to economic-self sufficiency. And as more and more New Yorkers earn their high school diplomas and complete college, New York City’s workforce will become more globally competitive.

“Now, this is really personal for me. I am the son of a high school dropout, a city worker who enabled me to stand before you today. As many of you know, I am a graduate of New York City public schools. I still live approximately two miles from the elementary school I attended as a child.

“Every morning, when I see children in my neighborhood and across the city attending our public schools, I think about their futures. I know that the workforce and the economy today are far different than they were when my father dropped out of high school. If he was navigating today’s job market, his prospects would be bleak.

“So my message to you today is this: if we’re going to make college and careers a reality for all our children, we need to continue our bold approach to reforming education. I know that some adults might not like it. The teachers union may stand in the way. But the best interests of our students need to come first.

“We can’t rest until every family in New York City can send their children to an excellent public school. I believe, and I hope you do too, that a better school system today will mean a better New York City tomorrow.

Thank you.

study says...

In new study of school-district effectiveness, New York City falls just below national average

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Each year, state test scores offer a snapshot of how much New York City students have learned. But they say little about how the city’s schools stack up against other districts’, in part because the raw scores largely reflect student demographics — wealthier districts tend to have higher scores.

Now, a major new analysis of several years of test scores from across the country provides a better way to judge and compare districts: Instead of looking at a single moment, it shows how well school systems help students grow their skills over time.

Based on that measure, New York City falls just below the middle of the pack: In the five years from third to eighth grade, its students collectively make about 4.6 grade levels of progress — landing New York in the 35th percentile of districts nationally. By contrast, Chicago students advance the equivalent of six grades within those five years, giving the district one of the highest growth rates in the country.

Still, New York is slightly above average when compared to other large districts with many students from low-income families. And it trounces the state’s other urban districts — including Yonkers, Syracuse, and Rochester, which have some of the nation’s worst growth rates.

“Among big poor districts, it’s better than average,” said Sean Reardon, the Stanford University researcher who conducted the analysis. “In the grand scheme, it’s pretty middle-of-the-road.”

Reardon’s analysis — based on 300 million standardized tests taken by students across more than 11,000 school districts from 2009 to 2015 — is the largest of its kind. It looks both at student proficiency on third-grade math and English tests (that is, what share of students earned a score deemed “proficient”) and student growth between grades three and eight (how much their scores improved over time). Reardon’s research was supported by several foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides funding to Chalkbeat.

The analysis controls for the differences in tests across states and over time by converting scores into a common scale that measures growth in grade levels, making it possible to compare nearly every district in the country to one another. (It excludes New York’s scores from 2015 and some grades in 2014 because of the high number of students who boycotted the state tests those years. However, each district’s five-year growth rates is actually an average of its year-over-year growth, so Reardon was still able to calculate a five-year rate for New York.)

Experts generally prefer growth rates over proficiency as a way to evaluate school quality, since growth measures the progress students make in school rather than where they started. Even if a district enrolls many poor students who are less likely than their affluent peers to hit the “proficiency” benchmark, its schools can still help them advance at a rate comparable to or even better than schools filled with wealthier students.

“Growth is way better than achievement,” said Douglas Ready, an education and public policy professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. “We know low-income students start school behind — the question is what do school districts do with the kids they get?”

New York’s growth rate falls just below the national median of 4.8 grade levels. Among big districts, its students made gains similar to those in Dallas and Detroit, and greater than students in Los Angeles, Miami, and Indianapolis.

By contrast, Rochester ranks rock-bottom nationally. In that high-poverty district, where the median income among families with children in the public schools is $26,000, students advanced about three grade levels in five years. Yonkers’ $48,000 median income is much higher, yet its schools barely do better, with students moving just 3.5 grade levels. (Among New York City public-school parents, the median income is $42,000.)

Reardon emphasized that test scores provide an important but incomplete picture of student learning, and growth rates are an imperfect measure of school effectiveness since factors outside of the classroom also influence how much students learn over time.

Still, he argued that officials who rate schools and parents who choose them would do much better to look at a school’s growth rate over its average test scores. In fact, he said, a focus on growth rates could theoretically drive down socioeconomic segregation since higher-income parents might be willing to enroll their children in schools with many poor students and low overall test scores if the schools nonetheless had outstanding growth rates.

Ready, however, pointed out that even when schools and districts are highly effective at helping students make progress, they are still unlikely to close the yawning achievement gaps that separate most poor and wealthier students from the time they start school. Reardon came to the same conclusion.

“The large gaps in students’ academic skills between low- and higher-[socioeconomic status] districts are so large,” Reardon’s analysis says, “that even the highest growth rate in the country would be insufficient to close even half of the gap by eighth grade.”

In response to the analysis, New York City education department officials pointed to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test taken by a representative sample of students in each state and certain districts, including New York. Only one other district among the country’s 10 largest cities performed better in reading and math than New York, which had the highest share of low-income students reach the proficient level on the reading test.

“Our schools are the strongest they’ve ever been, with record-high graduation and college enrollment rates, and improving state test scores,” said the district’s spokesman, Will Mantell.

boosting literacy

A new Memphis nonprofit sees training teachers in dyslexia therapy as key to closing literacy gap for all

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis Delta Preparatory charter school is one of four schools working with ALLMemphis to develop stronger literacy curriculum.

A new nonprofit organization says educators must be better trained to recognize and teach students with learning disorders like dyslexia if they are to raise reading proficiency throughout Memphis.

Michelle Gaines and Krista L. Johnson founded ALLMemphis in June to boost overall reading comprehension and fill a gap they see in local classrooms — the lack of training for teachers in approaches proven to help students with dyslexia, a disorder from which many Memphis students are likely struggling.

The pair now work, for free, with about 500 students in four Memphis elementary charter schools and have trained 29 educators.

About one in five children in Tennessee are dyslexic, but until last year, early screenings weren’t required in local schools. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing words and sounds and spelling, but can learn how to read with a specific multisensory approach that combines touch, sound and sight.

But even when the disorder is caught early, schools often don’t have the proper training or tools to address it. Gaines and Johnson say their organization can change that and even benefit students who aren’t dyslexic.

Specifically, ALLMemphis trains teachers in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to reading that is common in dyslexia therapy but is rarely a part of public school curriculum in Tennessee.

“This approach is the gold standard when it comes to dyslexia therapy, but we believe it can benefit children’s reading ability regardless whether or not they are dyslexic,” Johnson said. “Our mission is to impact the third-grade reading crisis, and we believe this can do it.” 

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Krista L. Johnson

The latest data shows that two out of three Memphis third-graders aren’t reading on grade level. Shelby County Schools officials have set a goal of to have 90 percent of students reading on grade level by 2025.

ALLMemphis trained teachers and coaches in Orton-Gillingham over the summer and works with the educators throughout the year. Gaines and Johnson also work with individual students in the classrooms. The organization will be tracking student data throughout the year, and the initial results are encouraging.

While working for the Bodine School in Memphis, a private school that serves students with dyslexia, Gaines and Johnson piloted their teacher-training model at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary for the last two years. They left Bodine to form ALLMemphis in June and brought on Megan Weinstein shortly after to oversee data evaluation.

Johnson said ALLMemphis will work with their current four schools for the next three years, with hopes of adding new schools every year. Eventually, the plan is to charge schools a minimal fee.

Gaines said the initial data after two years showed that KIPP students who worked with ALLMemphis showed more growth overall on MAP score data than their peers, especially in first and fourth grades.

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Michelle Gaines

“What’s so exciting is that the data shows this can work in an urban, whole-class setting,” Gaines said. “We know that as we grow, we want to continue offering supports that are relevant to teachers. We write and give teachers lesson plans and we work with coaches on assessments. The point is for our program to be an asset, not a burden.”

Catherine Norman, a teacher at KIPP Collegiate, said the training changed the way she thought about literacy and armed her with strong lesson plans, too.

“What I appreciate most about Orton-Gillingham is that it incorporates lots of different learning styles in one lesson,” Norman said. “The training is really expensive when a teacher does it on their own, but the fact they (ALLMemphis) have trained every K-3 teacher at our school is crazy in a good way. It makes me really excited because it provides a lot of opportunities that our kids wouldn’t get otherwise.”  

Schools currently working with ALLMemphis are KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, Collegiate Elementary and Preparatory Elementary and Memphis Delta Preparatory.