change over time

Continuing a transition, Board of Regents gains three members

The state’s education policymaking body gained three new members Tuesday, including the education director at Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies and a member of a Manhattan Community Education Council.

Luis Reyes, a research associate at Hunter, will fill an open at-large seat on the Board of Regents. Nan Eileen Mead, a public school parent on District 3’s education council, will serve a one-year term as Manhattan’s representative.

“I’m looking forward to taking this natural next step in my advocacy,” Mead said in an interview with Chalkbeat.

The third new Regent, Elizabeth Smith Hankanson, is an educator from Syracuse who has taught for more than 30 years.

State lawmakers made the three appointments Tuesday, and they come at a time of transition for the 17-member board. The Regents have gained seven new members in the last two years, and are set to elect a new leader in March — changes that are likely to shift the dynamics and policy direction of the board, which makes decisions about K-12 and higher education in New York state.

Outgoing Chancellor Merryl Tisch spearheaded a sweeping set of policy changes over the last six years, including the switch to the Common Core learning standards and the adoption of a new teacher evaluation system. Opposition to many of those shifts swelled in recent years, and helped spark a statewide movement by parents to opt their children out of state tests that grew to one in five eligible students last year.

Several Regents have indicated that Regent Betty Rosa, a former Bronx superintendent, is the frontrunner to replace Tisch. Rosa said she is interested in the position but noted that the final vote will not be taken for two weeks.

“I want to honor the fact that it is my colleagues’ decision,” she said.

Both Rosa and the newly appointed Reyes were endorsed by leaders of the opt-out movement. In a survey submitted to New York State Allies for Public Education, the state’s most prominent opt-out group, Reyes said he supports parents’ right to choose whether or not their children take the state tests.

Mead also voiced some skepticism about state tests and the way changes to the assessments have been introduced. But she supports the Common Core standards and has talked to parents in her own district about the drawbacks of opting out, she said.

“I think it’s important for parents to feel like they can make informed choices,” Mead said.

Mead has been involved in discussions about school diversity in District 3, which has a number of schools starkly divided along race and socioeconomic lines. When asked if she would bring diversity conversations to the state, she said she would first need to discuss it with other Regents. She also said she will have to do more research before commenting on teacher evaluations.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: