training wheels

City crunches teacher prep data in early bid to assess programs

A slide in the city's presentation about new Teacher Preparation Program Reports shows what proportion of training programs' graduates went to work in high-need schools.
The city’s presentation about new Teacher Preparation Program Reports shows what proportion of training programs’ graduates went to work in high-need schools.

City officials said they were “pleasantly surprised” by what they learned from their inaugural effort to analyze data about teachers by the programs that trained them.

Just one in five of the 10,135 recent graduates of teacher preparation programs hired by the city between 2008 and 2012 left the school system within three years. In contrast, about one in three teachers left their jobs nationally during the same period, according to city Department of Education officials.

“New York City is really bucking the trend,” Deputy Chancellor David Weiner said today during a press conference to unveil “Teacher Preparation Program Reports” for 12 colleges and universities that together supplied about half of the city’s new teachers who came through traditional training pathways.

The reports represent a new frontier in the department’s accountability efforts. They analyze the teacher preparation programs’ graduates by six characteristics, including how long they stay in the classroom, how often they receive poor evaluations, where they work, and how they have fared on measures of their students’ growth.

City officials warned against making strong conclusions about the preparation programs’ quality. Next year, after the city implements a new evaluation system, the training programs will be rated by their graduates’ scores, they said, but for now, the reports are meant to spur collaboration with local colleges and universities.

The analysis is a first for a district to have completed. But states have increasingly turned their scrutiny to teacher preparation programs, with the goal of exposing programs that produce teachers who do not perform well in the classroom and pushing programs to align what they teach with what new teachers need to know.

Much of the criticism that traditional teacher training programs have received is warranted, said Mary Brabeck, dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, one of the programs that the city examined.

“We need to look at what helps us produce the most effective teachers and the data can help us do it,” Brabeck said. “Teacher education programs haven’t been as informed by data as they need to be.”

But she said the city’s data are not all that NYU needs. “We collect a lot more data than those six charts,” said Brabeck, who said some of the city’s data didn’t fairly reflect the number of students who come to Steinhardt from out of town and move away when they graduate.

Other deans whose schools were listed in the reports generally praised the city’s efforts but stopped short of endorsing the data as meaningful.

“Warning flags about using this data should be up all over the place,” said David Steiner, the dean of Hunter College’s School of Education who kicked off efforts to overhaul teacher preparation programs when he was state education commissioner several years ago.

For instance, Hunter graduates were rated ineffective 2 percent of the time on 2011-2012 growth scores compiled from that year’s state tests, among the lowest of any program. But the data were based on just 28 teachers who graduated from Hunter.

Some data points were based on larger sample sizes. The city’s reports show that programs did not send graduates to high-need schools at equal rates. Mercy College and Lehman College both sent nearly half of their new teachers to high-need schools, but that figure less than 25 percent for six universities, including just 16 percent for Queens College and 22 percent for NYU and Teachers College graduates.

The higher-than-average retention rate is also meaningful, officials said. Teachers do not reach their peak performance until they have been in the classroom for five years, research suggests, but half of all teachers leave before then.

The data did not show whether the teachers who stayed in the system were effective, which department officials cited as a major limitation. In the future, they said, the reports will be used to show whether preparation programs produce high-quality teachers who stick around.

For now, officials said they hoped the report cards would pressure the education colleges to change their approaches so that their graduates better serve the city’s public schools.

“We do think there are other ways that we can kind of work with the universities to incentivize them to implement new programs to better meet our needs,” Weiner said.

Brabeck said her school recently launched a dual-certification program for teachers to receive special education certification in order to meet a higher demand to serve students with disabilities.

Jane Ashdown, dean of the education school at Adelphi University on Long Island, said geography explains why just one out of four Adelphi graduates hired by the city worked in high-need schools.

“Teachers historically teach close to home,” said Ashdown. “We’re a regional school and we pull many of our candidates from very close by, in Nassau County and Queens and Brooklyn. So our school sites also tend to be in those areas.”

But, she added, “I think we could be improving in seeing more of our candidates prepared for and staying in high-need schools. So I think that’s something we can dig into and will be using as we go into the fall semester.”

The city will produce similar reports for alternative certification programs, including Teach for America and the city’s Teaching Fellows program, next month.

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.