for the sake of argument

At Dewitt Clinton, tackling progress report as informational text

Ann Near, right, looks over her school's progress report with teachers on teaching social activism.
Ann Neary, right, looks over her school’s progress report with teachers at a conference on education and social activism.

When it came time to teach her ninth graders to write a research paper, Ann Neary, a teacher at Dewitt Clinton High School, decided that rather than write about a topic distant from their lives, students would try to decipher the school’s city-issued progress report.

The idea formed in November, when the city announced that Dewitt Clinton was so low-performing it might be closed. The school had just received an F on its November progress report, Neary told teachers at a conference about education and social activism hosted by the Museum of the City of New York over the weekend.

The city ultimately opted not to close Dewitt Clinton, though the Panel on Education Policy voted last week to shrink the school and move two new schools into the building. But back in November, when it still looked like the school might close, students got to work.

“We were really rallying around this issue in the school,” Neary said. “So I adopted it as a way to teach research.” An assistant principal had just asked all Dewitt Clinton ninth-grade writing teachers to assign a Common Core-aligned research paper, Neary said, and urged them to focus on non-fiction texts that included graphs for students to analyze.

“It wasn’t an assignment I thought would be interesting to my students,” she said. “I thought the F would be more meaningful to them.”

She used the same grading rubric, but rather than focusing on the nutritional content of foods, as the assignment originally suggested, the 78 students in Neary’s three classes looked into how the school got its failing grade and what each element of the complex progress report meant.

Neary began her presentation at the conference the same way she began one of the early lessons in the research paper unit: She divided participants into small groups and handed out sections of the eight-page progress report, which the city uses to evaluate and compare schools.

Several teachers pointed to parts of the report that they weren’t sure how to interpret.

“This is hard text to break down. Even teachers have to work to understand it,” said Anna Staab, who teaches eighth grade at the Leadership and Community Service Academy. She said she was particularly struck by Neary’s description of information students were able to pull out of the text that their teacher had missed.

“If kids can decipher this text, the skills will be transferrable,” Staab said. She has also worked with students to research a topic connected to their school, in her case, the Integrated Co-Teaching model of special education. “We’ve done research on the history of ICT,” Staab said. “If kids come into ICT and don’t know what it is, sometimes they see a stigma attached to it.”

After the conference participants reflected on their efforts to make sense of the progress report, Neary described walking her students through five essential research steps.

Neary says all of her students wanted Dewitt Clinton to stay open, though they were only three months into their first year at the school. The step they found most difficult, she found, was understanding “claim and counter-claim.”

“They wanted their claim to be that you shouldn’t close our school, and they didn’t want to have anything that would speak against that,” she said. At first, they resisted the idea that showing that they understood opposing arguments — an integral part of the Common Core, and one that Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky emphasized in a guest lesson at Bronx Academy of Letters last year — could strengthen their credibility.

Neary said two students chose to write a paper supporting the claim that Dewitt Clinton should in fact be closed as a personal challenge.

Students less comfortable with writing began the process by generating their claims as though they were posting a message on Twitter. “Let’s use your skills at tweeting by synthesizing your claim statement in 15 words or less,” Neary wrote on the assignment.

To help complete another research step, “thinking about diverse stakeholders,” Neary required students to attend an “early engagement” hearing at the school and take notes on the range of people for whom the issue seemed to matter.

The next three steps, “looking for evidence,” “highlighting support,” and “keeping logs,” made up the bulk of the project.

Neary said students’ first instinct was to look on Wikipedia for information about their school. Once they began to find information on the Department of Education’s website and in newspaper articles about progress reports and the school closure process, they got to work making sense of what they read. Students highlighted information that supported their claims and logged their findings, before ultimately packaging their research into a three-page paper.

One student focused on the B-rating the school received in “college readiness,” the only category in which it didn’t receive an F. She researched other schools that received a B rating and compared those schools to her own.

“That girl dug and dug and dug and dug,” Neary said. “And each day she’d get more excited, because she was getting more information.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.