free response

Survey of students about student surveys yields mixed opinions

Students from LaGuardia High School gathered at the Sloan awards ceremony to support their teacher, Neal Singh.

Student opinion surveys seem unlikely to play a role in the city’s teacher evaluation system, even as research suggests that they can provide valuable information.

The city Department of Education piloted student surveys as part of its preparation for new teacher evaluations, and the head of the state’s teachers union says student feedback could be useful in helping to rate teachers. But city union officials say they are staunchly opposed to incorporating student feedback in teacher evaluations because the information could be skewed and could encourage teachers to put student approval ahead of student learning.

But what do students think about what they can contribute to teacher evaluations? The students GothamSchools surveyed last week at a reception for award-winning math and science teachers had mixed opinions about whether their peers could accurately judge the quality of their teachers.

Should student survey results factor into teacher evaluations?

“I think some students would be negative because they have anger against a certain teacher, so when it comes time, they might put bad stuff. But at the same time, as students, we are able to look at what teachers are able to bring to the table in terms of skills and personalities.” —Raymond John, senior at Gotham Professional Arts Academy

“Yes, if it really were to affect the way that a teacher will teach in the future, then students wouldn’t be biased and would actually say their real opinions. But that’s if a student cares about doing well.” —Rebecca Boorstin, senior at LaGuardia High School for Music and Art & the Performing Arts

“I think it would be a positive thing. I think we can [give accurate responses] because in our school we already do surveys and we try to make both the students and teachers come together, and we debate and state our opinions and they accept it sometimes.” —Kiayia Washington, senior at Gotham Professional Arts Academy

“I don’t think so. There’s a survey about the school during the year that we do, and none of the kids take it seriously because we get it at a random time and only have two minutes to fill it out.” —Fallon Boles, senior at LaGuardia High School

How can you tell when you have a good teacher?

“A good teacher is someone who is eager to teacher about the topic, and who is willing to have fun. It’s the look on their face, the expression, and working with each student individually, and getting them to understand the topic more.” —Raymond John

“I think that a teacher needs to root for their students, especially if they’re passionate. … Of course the homework and the tests are important, but it’s really about getting us to care and by being passionate about the subject and wanting us to care about the subject more than just get our work done, then that’s how you know they’re a great teacher.” —Cody Kostro, senior at LaGuardia High School

“A teacher should not only care about the subject their teaching, but also be interested in the students themselves. What’s the point of being a teacher if you don’t care about kids or like talking to kids? I feel like a lot of teachers do not like kids.” —Rebecca Boorstin

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.


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 Spokane, 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.”