human capital

UFT wants city to reconsider Teaching Fellows program

UFT President Michael Mulgrew is urging the de Blasio administration to reconsider the city’s flagship teacher training program after a union survey found that few graduates say their preparation was “excellent.”

Just 5 percent of teachers who answered the union’s survey said their training through the city’s Teaching Fellows program was “excellent,” compared to 21 percent of graduates of education schools.

And while 18 percent of education school graduates called their training “poor” or “fair,” that figure was nearly 50 percent for Teaching Fellows.

The findings were based on responses to a wide-ranging survey that the union sent to 2,500 randomly selected members. It received more than 800 responses, including from 81 Teaching Fellows and 636 teachers who came through traditional pathways. (The number of Teach for America teachers who answered the survey was too small to generate a finding, the union said.)

Since 2000, the Teaching Fellows program has placed new teachers, many entering their second careers, in high-need classrooms after a summer of intensive training. Then the fellows teach full-time while also working toward master’s degrees in traditional education schools. In contrast, graduates of education schools have previously committed to careers in the classroom and have had at least one full year of training, including a stint as a student teacher.

The Department of Education pays TNTP, a nonprofit group that also lobbies on teacher quality issues including in favor of evaluations that consider student test scores, to operate the Teaching Fellows program. Now, the union wants the city to reconsider that contract.

“Teaching in our schools is tough job, particularly if you feel that your training program didn’t really prepare you for the challenges of a New York City classroom,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “Given the millions of dollars that the Bloomberg administration spent on this contract, I hope the new leadership at Tweed makes it part of its review of all the Bloomberg-era deals, many of which have years to run.”

Noting that current and former fellows comprise more than 9,000 of the city’s teachers, a TNTP spokeswoman criticized the survey as offering “little insight about how the Fellows actually feel about their preparation.”

“A response rate below one percent is unlikely to be indicative of Fellows at-large or to stand up to scientific scrutiny,” said the spokeswoman, who also pointed to studies that showed the program’s graduates improved student learning more than those of traditional programs.

(Teaching Fellows make up 11 percent of the city’s teaching force and about 10 percent of the survey respondents. But the number of Teaching Fellows who responded to the survey reflected less than 1 percent of the 9,000 graduates of the program teaching in city schools right now.)

The finding comes as Chancellor Carmen Fariña is poised to reshape the ways that the city prepares new teachers. While Fariña has said little about teacher training since taking office at the beginning of the year, she has emphasized the value of experience in other areas, most notably setting a new experience requirement for school administrators. She has also pledged to build stronger relationships with local schools of education as the city adjusts its teacher hiring needs to reflect its pre-kindergarten expansion plan.

The survey was wide-ranging and covered the Common Core standards, teaching conditions, and education policy questions, according to a spokesman for the union, Dick Riley. Its aim was to establish a set of questions that could be asked of teachers annually, and more results will be published in the union’s newspaper, Riley said.

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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.