implementation mess

At Common Core talk, a principal says his reality includes vomit

Joseph McDonald, a professor of English education at NYU Steinhardt, (pictured far left) was the moderator for Friday morning's NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series. Pictured from left to right: Randi Weingarten (president, American Federation of Teachers), James Cibulka (president, National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education), Okhee Lee (professor of teaching and learning at NYU Steinhardt) and Ramon Gonzalez (principal of M.S. 223).
PHOTO: Megan Quitter
Joseph McDonald, a professor at NYU Steinhardt, (pictured far left) moderated Friday morning’s NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series Common Core discussion. From left to right: Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers president); James Cibulka (president, National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education); Okhee Lee (NYU Steinhardt professor) and Ramon Gonzalez (M.S. 223 principal).

Principal Ramon Gonzalez has been a principal for ten years, but this week, he said, he’s experienced a lot of firsts.

“I’ve had my first experience of students vomiting on a test. After we cleaned off the test, we had to call testing security to make sure it was still valid,” he said. “I have to tell you, I was happy to submit that test to the testing authorities.”

Gonzalez, the principal of M.S. 223 in the South Bronx, joined education policy makers at an NYU Steinhardt breakfast meeting Friday morning to talk about the Common Core learning standards. Some presenters talked about standards’ role and development, but Gonzalez focused on his frustration with implementing the new standards and the shock that students and teachers faced this week when they saw the first Common Core-aligned state exams.

“They didn’t know it would be a test of endurance. They thought it would be a test about what they knew,” he said. Teachers were visibly upset by the test’s length, he said, and some students cried because of the exams.

Gonzalez began implementing the Common Core at his school two years ago and started a summer “bridge” program last year to give students more time to adjust to the higher standards. He said he supports the more rigorous standards but thinks important other issues, such as how to teach to the standards and assess them, were not carefully thought out.

He also said the way the standards are written is so dense that he had to hire consultants to help explain what they mean.

“I wonder who was at that table, who wrote the standards, because it sure wasn’t folks like me,” he said.

Another panelist, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, also supports the standards but has been vocal in her criticism of New York’s implementation of the Common Core.

“What has happened here is we have the cart before the horse,” she said. “How do you put $350 million of federal money into assessment development and not put any money directly into preparing teachers to do this?”

Her question was met with applause as she went on to single out New York and Kentucky — the first two states to tie their exams to the Common Core — as doing the worst job of implementing the standards.

“Frankly, no one in business would ever do this if they were rolling out a new product,” she said. “No one would just say to employees, ‘Just do it.’ No one would say to customers, ‘Oh, by the way it’s really not gonna work the first time.'”

Weingarten said she would release a survey of AFT members’ opinions on the Common Core next week. That survey included an extra-large sample of New York teachers.

During the question and answer period, former State Education Commissioner David Steiner defended his successor, John King, and King’s implementation of the Common Core. Steiner listed some steps the state took under King’s leadership to try to help teachers better understand the new standards, such as creating free Common Core curriculum materials and training educators during multiple summer sessions.

“My concern is the effort is never enough,” Steiner said. “Are we going to lose the reform because we can never do enough? I urge us for the sake of underprivileged children … not to let this go because we haven’t done enough.”

For now, principals such as Gonzalez have to figure out how to get their anxious students through the next week of testing, this time in math.

“I don’t think we really understood how stamina was going to play  a role in this test,” he said. He added, “I wasn’t expecting to deal with all the emotions. That surprised me.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.