college ready

New York City schools expand career and technical education, while City Council members look to track progress

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

With demand for career and technical education growing, the New York City Department of Education announced this week an additional $113 million in spending on expanding and enhancing such programs.

A City Council education committee hearing was called Wednesday to consider a bill that would require the Department of Education to report each year on student demand for CTE, how many CTE programs are offered, and graduation rates for students in CTE schools and programs.

Members also discussed the obstacles that stand in the way of CTE offerings, such as teacher training, infrastructure needs and the state’s cumbersome approval process.

Chalkbeat reported in August that some schools forego the formal approval process, which can take as long as six years. As a result, those schools can’t offer CTE-endorsed diplomas and students don’t have a reliable way to measure program quality. Councilmember Daniel Dromm, chair of the committee, made many of the same points at the hearing, and Chalkbeat’s story was cited extensively in the council’s briefing paper.

“We need to reduce the bureaucracy and streamline the process at entry level,” said Sterling Roberson, vice president for career and technical education at the United Federation of Teachers, in his prepared remarks.

Career and technical education programs have come a long way from what was once described as “vocational” education. CTE programs emphasize rigorous academics along with training for in-demand and high-paying jobs.

Councilman Mark Treyger, along with advocates who testified during the hearing, touted the benefits of CTE schools for underserved students. In New York City, as of 2013, students enrolled in CTE schools were more likely to graduate than those who were not, a finding that’s especially true for students with disabilities or who are learning English.

But Sam Streed, a policy analyst with Advocates for Children, said steps need to be taken to make sure those students get into CTE programs in the first place.

“We cannot tell from public data whether they have equitable access to the full range of available programs,” he said, in prepared remarks.

On Wednesday, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg said the department will launch or enhance 40 CTE programs over four years. At least three of the new programs will offer students the chance to earn an associate’s degree — for free — along with their high school diploma.

The expansion has already begun, with three new programs slated to open this fall. They include a culinary arts program at August Martin High School in Queens, a digital communication and media program at Brooklyn Studio Secondary School and a solar energy installation program at High School for Energy and Technology in the Bronx.

Additionally, the department has changed the way it funds CTE programs. For the first time, more than 70 traditional academic high schools got additional per-student funding for CTE programs. In the past, only CTE schools received such funding.

Still, City Council members and advocates made it clear that more changes are needed.

According to a 2015 survey by Partnership for New York City, less than two percent of CTE students participated in internships. John Widlund, executive director of career and technical education for the DOE, said the department has increased the number of internship slots from fewer than 1,500 to more than 2,000.

Roberson, of the UFT, said it’s also important to make sure CTE teachers have the opportunity to participate in real-world training and update their skills as needed.

“It’s easy to open up the door,” he said. “The challenge is, as things change…how do we make sure the teachers are prepared?”


Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Play nice

How can Michigan schools stop skinned knees and conflict? Use playtime to teach students kindness

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn
Macomb Montessori kindergartner London Comer plays with a ball during a Playworks session at her school.

Kindergartners play four square, jump rope and line up in two rows with outstretched arms to bump a ball during recess. What’s unusual is that the four- and five-year-olds don’t fight over balls or toys, and when one child gets upset and crosses her arms, a fifth-grade helper comes over to talk to her.

This is a different picture from last spring, when the students at the Macomb Montessori school in Warren played during recess on a parking lot outside. The skinned knees and broken equipment were piling up, and school administrators knew something needed to change.

“Recess was pretty chaotic, and it wasn’t very safe,” Principal Ashley Ogonowski said.

The school brought in Playworks, a national nonprofit that uses playtime to teach students how to peacefully and respectfully work together to settle disagreements — also known as social emotional learning, said Angela Rogensues the executive director of the Michigan Playworks branch.

Ogonowski said the change she has seen in her students has been huge. Kids are getting hurt less, and teachers have said they have fewer classroom behavior problems.

The program teaches better behavior through physical activity. Games focus on cooperation, not winners and losers. When tensions rise on the playground, kids are encouraged to “rock, paper, scissors” over conflicts.

Playworks is adamant that their coaches are not physical education teachers, nor are their 30-45 minute structured play periods considered gym class. But the reality is that in schools without them, Playworks is the closest many kids come to receiving physical education.

Macomb Montessori does not have a regular gym teacher, a problem shared by schools across the state and nearly half of the schools in the main Detroit district, and a symptom of a disinvestment in physical education statewide. In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified.

But with Playworks, the 210 elementary-aged children at the school have a daily recess and a weekly class game time lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Another benefit of the program is the chance to build leadership skills with upper elementary students chosen to be junior coaches. Shy kids are picked, as are natural leaders who might be using their talents to stir up trouble.

“I made it because I’m really good with kids. I’m nice and kind and I really like the kids,” Samerah Gentry, a fifth-grader and junior coach said. “I’m gaining energy and I’m having fun.”

Research shows that students are benefitting from both the conflict resolution tools and the junior coach program.

“The program model is really solid and there’s so much structure in place, I can’t really think of any drawbacks,” Principal Ogonowski said.

The program, however, is not free.  

Part of the cost is handled on the Playworks side through grants, but schools are expected to “have some skin in the game,” Rogenesus said. The program at Macomb Montessori costs between $60,000 and $65,000, but poor schools can receive a 50 percent subsidy.

The cost hasn’t prevented eight Detroit district schools from paying for the program. Rogenesus said she is talking with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about putting the program in even more schools next year. He also identified Playworks as one organization that could be brought in to run after-school programs at a time when he’s rethinking district partnerships.

Part of Playworks’ mission is to work together with schools, even if they already have gym and recess in place or plan to hire a physical education teacher.

“PE is a necessary part of their education in the same way social-emotional learning is a necessary part of that education,” she said.