After Graduation

City touts slight uptick in college readiness as new school reports go online

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Slightly more students left high school last year ready for college or jobs, though fewer than one-third of graduates met the academic skill requirements of the city’s public university system, according to city data released Monday.

The modest gains follow a small uptick in the state test scores of the city’s elementary and middle-school students, which were announced this summer. Those scores and the data about students’ preparedness for college or work are are included in the de Blasio administration’s new school-quality reports, which were posted online Monday.

Each school now gets two reports — one for families and one for educators— that include survey and school-observation findings alongside test scores and graduation rates. Most notably, the reports no longer rank schools or give them A-to-F letter grades, which the previous administration used to decide which schools to close.

Several parents praised the new reports Monday, saying they were glad to trade the bluntness of the letter grades for more nuanced school appraisals, even if it meant more work for them.

“Some parents would see the letter A and not read anything else,” said Dorna Phillip, whose son is sophomore at It Takes a Village Academy in East Flatbush. “This gives them a little more homework.”

The city included the information about students’ college readiness in an announcement Monday about the new school reports.

Among this year’s public high school graduates, 32 percent had high enough test scores to avoid remedial math and English classes at the City University of New York, the city said. Last year, 31 percent of graduates tested out of those review classes, up from 29 percent in 2012.

In addition, 51 percent of the class of 2013 enrolled in college, a work-training program, or public service after graduation, compared to 50 percent the year before.

And in the class of 2014, 46 percent of students passed at least one course or test — such as an Advanced Placement exam or a technical assessment tied to particular industry — meant to approximate college or professional-level work. The year before, 44 percent of students had taken those advanced courses.

The Bloomberg administration added those measures to its school ratings in 2012 after it became clear that even as more students graduated from high school, they were ill-equipped for college. (The vast majority of city high school graduates who enroll at CUNY must take remedial classes.)

Students who get a “taste of college” during high school through advanced classes or early-college programs tend to fare better after graduation, said Kim Nauer, the education project director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. Taking just one such course lowers the odds that a student will need to take review classes in college, according to a 2013 report about college readiness that Nauer co-authored.

Despite the benefits of college-preparatory courses, most high schools offer a limited selection, Nauer noted. Only 28 out of 342 schools reviewed for the report offered advanced algebra, chemistry or physics classes.

“That is still a big giant question mark for the current chancellor,” Nauer said. “What’s the quality of the college-preparatory curriculum in each high school?”

The bar for students to prove they are ready to take CUNY classes is higher than the one they must meet to earn a high school diploma. While high school students must earn at least 65 points on the required exit exams to graduate, they must score 75 in English and 80 in math on those same Regents exams to skip CUNY’s remedial classes. (They can also use their scores on the SAT, ACT, or CUNY’s own entrance tests.)

Even high-performing schools can struggle to help students hit that target. At It Takes a Village Academy, for instance, 91 percent of students graduate in four years, compared to the city average of 66 percent in 2013. Still, just 16 percent of the small high school’s graduates meet the CUNY proficiency standards.

Principal Marina Vinitskaya pointed out that nearly a quarter of her students are still learning English and many arrive with minimal reading skills. She said even if they are not considered college ready by the time they graduate, it is still a major accomplishment for them to earn diplomas.

“The same students, when they go to other high schools,” she said, “they don’t graduate at all.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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