up to standards

City officials to ed commission: standards rollout needs funds

Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT president Michael Mulgrew talk at the education commission.

The city and other school districts desperately need additional funding if they are to raise academic standards, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said today.

Even though the city has done more to integrate new learning standards known as the Common Core than other districts and states, it cannot adequately train staff or buy the materials it needs with the resources it currently has, he said.

“We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge,” he told the commission, according to his written statement.

The call for additional funding was one of three priorities that Polakow-Suransky outlined before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission today. The funding, he said, would be necessary to to purchase new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, and help schools hire coaches to train teachers in the implementation of the Core. He also said the city needed more funds to develop a key piece of the new teacher evaluation system, rigorous assessments developed by the city for each grade level and subject area that would factor into teachers’ evaluations on top of many other criteria.

“As these assessments become more authentic there are real costs that come along with them,” Polakow-Suransky said. “None of this is funded.”

Polakow-Suransky was offering a solution to a problem that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the commission had already arrived. Mulgrew said the Common Core rollout has already been hindered by the lack of robust materials aligned to the new standards that teachers can use in classrooms now.

“Millions of students will be tested on a curriculum that was never supplied to their teachers,” he told the commission. “[This is] a storm that is headed right at us.”

They were not the only officials to say the new standards necessitated more resources. Eloise Messineo, a former city principal who is now a leadership program director for the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators, said “principals desperately need more training about the new initiatives they are supposed to implement, such as tougher teacher evaluations. ”

“In absence of statewide effort …it would be unreasonable to assume that our schools are ready to implement upcoming education reforms,” Messineo said.

State education officials have been hard at work preparing new state tests that promise to be more rigorous than in the past. The city has spent $125 million in private and federal funds to create materials and train teachers, but that funding is soon to run out. But educators have been sounding the alarm that teachers have not been given the curriculum materials they need to to prepare their students, or enough time to adequately study the new standards.

Some teachers have already devoted hours to professional development around the standards and to the task of curriculum alignment, but education officials say some schools are much further along than others.

“When I write curriculum, it takes me hours and hours and hours of time each month and for it to be good, I need other people to look at it and give me feedback,” Stephen Lazar, a founding social studies teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School, said in an interview. “Teachers need time to do the work, they need time to get feedback from their colleagues, and they need time to reflect on how things went after they taught it so it can be better next year. And every teacher I know is working at 120% capacity already.”

Mulgrew told the commission that he would like to see the city and state offer teachers curriculum materials aligned to the Common Core that go beyond the detailed set of standards and sample work available on the state’s teacher website, EngageNY.org.

“Standards are not curricula,” he said. “The teachers don’t have the curricula to prepare students for these tests. We are setting the children and their teachers up for falling short of the mark.”

“The solution would be to get a curriculum down quickly,” Mulgrew told reporters. “I know the state is now working on one, but my area of greatest concerns is K through 5th grade math. But we’re a month and a half into the school year, that’s a lot of time.”

But Walcott said teachers have in fact received the support they need to prepare students for the new tests, and the city is working “very closely” with state officials to provide even more.

“We’re working with a variety of different stakeholders including the state very closely,” he said to reporters. “Teachers have gotten a lot of training around Common Core. It’s all of us working together to make sure the curriculum is in place, and I think New York City is way ahead.”

SED officials and teachers around the state have been creating sample curriculum materials aligned the the Core, and expect to have the majority of subjects and grade levels covered by the end of 2013. However, State Education Commissioner John King said the burden to create new curriculum materials actually falls primarily on the school districts, which have had a two year head start on the job.

“We are committed to build curriculum materials as a resources to districts. I see it as the state really investing in professional development and support for the districts,” King said. But ultimately, “The state’s role is to set standards and assessments. Curriculum decisions are local.”

Polakow-Suransky said in an interview that the city is “eagerly awaiting that resource, in addition to the work that we’ve been doing.”

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

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.