What King decreed, Part II: Growth measures, surveys, and more

The teacher evaluation plan that State Education Commissioner John King set for the city over the weekend has prompted both city and union officials to claim victories.

But a point-by-point analysis of some of the major areas of dispute shows that the truth is more complex than either side has proclaimed. We’ve rounded up some of the biggest disputes and how King settled them. In our first installment, we looked at King’s decisions on issues relating to teacher observations. In the second installment, we look at other issues where King bridged gaps between the city’s and union’s positions.

School-based committees to decide student growth measures
Outcome: Shared UFT/DOE win

Both the city and the UFT agreed that figuring how to calculate the “locally selected” piece of student growth should be decided at the school level. But they disagreed about who should make that decision and about one of the options they should have.

The UFT wanted a team of teachers to make the choice, but the city wanted principals to have complete discretion. King accepted the union’s suggestion that each school have a committee to draft recommendations for which student growth measure to use. But, siding with the city, he said principals could reject the committee’s recommendations.

The sides agreed that the committees should be able to choose from performance assessments or third-party tests. They also both agreed that there should be a “school-wide” option where all teachers would be rated on student growth in certain areas.

But the union also wanted portfolios of student work to be included as a possible measure of student growth, too. Both performance assessments and portfolios compare authentic student work, such as an essay or a science experiment, produced at different points over the course of the year. But portfolios traditionally reflect work that has been revised with teacher feedback, while a performance assessment is considered a more pure reflection of students’ skills. King rejected the union’s request, although he allowed for portfolios of student work to be considered in a different portion of the evaluation system.

The scorecard that the UFT sent out Sunday afternoon listed the portfolios issue as a “win.”

“Somehow the UFT must not have read the plan, because what they’ve stated is simply not true,” said David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality.

Outcome: UFT win

The law allows teachers to challenge their ratings, but another open question was whether King would let teachers challenge the way their principals carried out their evaluations, too.

The Department of Education argued that no additional time needed to be set aside for arbitration of procedural issues, such as the timing of observations. The union, on the other hand, asked for 100 days of arbitration, which could allow for a thousand teachers to challenge their evaluations each year.

King was not obligated to grant any days at all. But King, who has previously expressed concerns about the city’s preparedness to carry out evaluations, allotted 150 slots over 15 days, which city officials said they had offered in January shortly before negotiations with the union broke down. On Saturday, King made it clear in a conference call with reporters that it was inevitable that disputes would arise because of the plan’s complexity.

King also rejected an overarching proposal by the union to establish a “policy committee” that would be “responsible for all decision-making and policy-making related to aspects of the NYCDOE’s APPR plan.”

Sunset clause
Outcome: Cuomo

Another issue that stymied negotiations in January was the union’s request for a “sunset clause” or expiration date for the plan. Most districts in the state set their plans for just one or two years, which distressed Mayor Bloomberg so much that he ended talks.

The dispute was rendered moot in March, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressured lawmakers to amend the evaluation law. Now, plans remain in effect unless and until districts negotiate new plans with their teachers unions.

Pointing to the “in perpetuity” amendment that Cuomo pushed through, the city didn’t suggest a timeline for when the plan should expire in its proposal to King. But the UFT asked, as it did in January, for the plan to expire after one year.

In his decision, King did set an expiration date: after the 2016-2017 school year, unless he approves a new plan submitted by the union and a new mayor before then.

Bloomberg said on Sunday that the timeline was a victory for the city. But King said explicitly that he had chosen the extended timeline because of the city’s and union’s intransigence over evaluations up to now.

Student surveys
Outcome: DOE win

Bolstered by the Gates Foundation’s finding that student surveys effectively predict teacher impact on student learning when used in conjunction with other measures, the Department of Education has long advocated for including student surveys in teacher evaluations.

The UFT, on the other hand, has staunchly opposed the option, and department officials said they had conceded the point in negotiations with the union in January. Still, the officials made the case in their paper to King last month that surveys yield useful information about teacher quality, and according to King, they asked that survey results count for a full 10 points of the 60 allocated to “subjective measures.”

King sided with the city, but he carved out only a 5 percent role for student surveys. But he acknowledged the union’s resistance to the measure by requiring the city to conduct a one-year pilot before counting survey results in teacher ratings. The move creates a window for the UFT potentially to negotiate away the surveys with the next mayoral administration before the surveys count in ratings.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.