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Shelby County Schools

New York

City preparing to open a high school with no walls of its own

New York

NYC sitting out national move to tie charter, district admissions

New York

State releases agreement for data system that raised concerns

New York

Report finds lasting graduation rate gains at city's small schools

The Bloomberg administration has long touted the small high schools it created as outperforming large schools closed to make way for them. But a new report finds, for the second time, that the schools also post higher graduation rates than other city schools that stayed open. Being randomly selected to attend small high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration made students significantly more likely to graduate, even as the schools got older, according to the report, conducted by researchers at the nonprofit firm MDRC. The researchers updated a 2010 study that examined "small schools of choice" that opened between 2002 and 2008 and did not select students based on their academic performance. Of the 123 schools that fit that bill, 105 had so many applicants that the schools selected among them randomly, through a lottery. The lottery process enabled the researchers to compare what happened to two groups of students that started out statistically identical: those who were admitted to the small schools and those who lost the lotteries and wound up in older, larger schools. That type of comparison is considered the "gold standard" in education research. The original study found that the small high schools had positive effects on their students — but it looked only at the schools' very first enrollees. The new report looks at those students in the fifth year after they enrolled and also at the second set of students who enrolled at the schools. It finds that the higher graduation rate — 67.9 percent, compared to 59.3 percent for students who were not admitted — continued for the second group of students who enrolled and cut across all groups of students, regardless of their race, gender, family income, or academic skills upon enrollment. Students at the small schools were also more likely to meet the state's college readiness standards in English, though not in math. "Small schools for a variety of reasons, I always felt, were going to succeed in certain ways," said Richard Kahan, the head of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that started a handful of schools included in the study. "But I would not have predicted the impact."
New York

Gates Foundation study paints bleak picture of teaching quality

The study measured teachers against the criteria in Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Effective Teaching rubric, which is used in New York as a tool for observing teachers. Teachers scored better at classroom management than they did on measures of higher-order instructional challenges, such as asking productive questions. A historic look inside the nation's classrooms, including some in New York City, painted a bleak picture, according to a report released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today. The second installment of the foundation's ambitious Measures of Effective Teaching study, the report focuses on the picture of teaching yielded by five different classroom observation tools. It also scrutinizes those tools themselves, concluding that they are valuable as a way to help teachers improve but only useful as evaluation tools when combined with measures of student learning known as value-added scores. The conclusion is a strong endorsement of the Obama administration's approach to improving teaching by implementing new evaluations of teachers that draw on both observations and value-added measures. New York State took this approach to overhauling its evaluation system when it applied for federal Race to the Top funding. Among the group of five observation tools the foundation studied is the rubric now being piloted in New York City classrooms as part of stalled efforts to implement the changes to teacher evaluation, Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Effective Teaching. Through all five lenses, instruction looked mediocre in an overwhelming majority of more than 1,000 classrooms studied, the report concludes. There were some bright spots. Many teachers were scored relatively well for the aspect of teaching known as "classroom management" — keeping students well-behaved, making sure they are engaged. But teachers often fell short when it came to other elements of teaching, such as facilitating discussions, speaking precisely about concepts, and carefully modeling skills that students need to master. These higher-order skill sets, the report notes, are crucial in order for students to meet the raised standards outlined in the Common Core.
New York

New hire a first step in effort to bridge district, charter divide

An initiative designed to ease tension between district and charter schools in the city has moved slowly and largely under the radar this spring. In December, then-Chancellor Joel Klein joined 88 of the city’s charter schools in signing on to a District-Charter Collaboration Compact, which mandates that charter schools “fulfill their role as laboratories of innovation” and requires the Department of Education to support city charter schools. The compact, which the Gates Foundation urged and is funding, emphasizes collaboration around issues of enrollment, space allocation, and instruction. But after more than six months — which were bookended by Klein’s sudden departure and a contentious lawsuit over charter school co-location — little progress has been made toward fulfilling the compact’s requirements. In June, the New York City Charter School Center took a first step by hiring Cara Volpe, a former Teach for America employee, to be the city’s first district-charter collaboration manager. Later, a not-yet-formed advisory council of district and charter school employees will help Volpe set priorities, according to city and charter school officials. Volpe “will be expected to implement the council’s vision for identifying, establishing and implementing the partnerships, policies and programs that will help tear down the boundaries between great district and charter schools,” according to advertisement for the position, which the charter center posted online at GothamSchools’ jobs board, Idealist, and elsewhere. Volpe’s work will come at a time when tensions around charter schools are at an all-time high.
New York

Challenge for schools tied to colleges: Locating near a college

The ongoing plight of parents at a Bronx secondary school could augur the future for a new Gates Foundation education initiative. Last week, the Gates Foundation announced that it would pour $6 million into opening new early college schools in New York State. It's not clear how many, if any, of the programs will be in New York City, but any that are could face the same problems as Bronx Early College Academy, a three-year-old school that is being moved far away from the college with which it's ostensibly linked. Parents at BECA have been lobbying all year against the move, which they say will make it harder for the school to carry out its mission of providing students a college experience while they're still in high school. I wrote about Annabel Wright, a BECA parent leader, back in May, and now she has published an open letter to President Obama about the school at the NYC Public School Parents blog. Writes Wright: Parents believed in the academic program and the mission of BECA enough to look beyond what we did not have. We held on to the promises made by DOE officials that they would find us a suitable site near to Lehman or on the college campus itself, with all of the amenities that a high-tech, early college program should provide - as well as a site that would allow our children to easily attend college classes during the school day when they reached 9th grade. Yet now, the school is being moved six miles away to the South Bronx --even further away from Lehman. The pattern is a familiar one for early college schools, which aim to offer a college experience while students are still in high school. Several of the city's early college schools have had seen their CUNY collaborations erode over time because of space constraints and the colleges' competing priorities. I wrote about the trend in April in the Village Voice.
New York

Klein: Small high schools still succeeding, and more are coming

New York

Foundation-, union-led "innovation fund" is seeking grantees

Four major foundations that have for years poured resources into growing charter schools this week announced that they are also giving money to the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union. Their donations are paying for an "Innovation Fund" that would let teachers pilot reforms in their own schools. Along with representatives of the Gates, Broad, Ford, and Mott foundations, Randi Weingarten announced the fund's creation at an event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Weingarten is the head of the AFT as well as New York City's local union.)  An informative video the AFT produced from the event is below the jump. Contrary to what some critics have charged, unions are a natural engine for innovation because they can insulate their members from retribution if their risks don't pan out, Weingarten said on Tuesday. "Collective bargaining allows teachers to take well-considered risks," she said. "If teachers are afraid to do something outside the norm because their evaluations or their jobs are on the line, they may be less inclined to give change a chance." Now, the AFT is asking local affiliates to suggest projects for the first round of Innovation Fund grants. Priority will go to projects that aim to develop new compensation and evaluation systems for teachers, or projects that extend learning time for students. If I know nothing else, I know that GothamSchools readers are full of ideas about how to improve schools. What do you think the Innovation Fund should support? Leave a comment with your suggestions.
New York

At a city school, Stephen Colbert earnestly reports on new grant

Stephen Colbert appeared at Manhattan Bridges High School this morning to announce a $4 million grant that will help teachers buy supplies. The comedian Stephen Colbert took time out from his regular ranting to conduct a polite, earnest interview at a Manhattan high school this morning, in an appearance meant to announce a new "citizen philanthropy" project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is giving $4.1 million to a Web site that connects private donors with classroom teachers who need extra supplies,, . Colbert, who sits on the site's board, made the announcement in the style of his televised interviews, before an audience of students at Manhattan Bridges High School, but without any of his usual mean comments. (He did draw laughs with an awkward attempt to use Spanish, the native language of many Bridges students, to explain that he was a "perdedor gigante," or giant loser, when he was in high school.) The panel he interviewed included Vicki Phillips, the head of Gates' education division; DonorsChoose founder Charles Best; and a Manhattan Bridges English teacher. The Gates money will be disbursed to teachers who apply for small grants through DonorsChoose's existing "Double Your Impact" program, which allows foundations and companies to earmark donations for specific kinds of projects. When a DonorsChoose user views projects that fall into that category, they appear as already being 50 percent funded. The Gates Foundation money will go to support as many as 17,000 projects that are identified by DonorsChoose as boosting students' readiness for college, one of the new goals the foundation adopted after it re-considered its mission last year.
New York

As school year began, officials retreated north to discuss future

From an invitation advertising the retreat. Here's an interesting picture of how things happen at the Department of Education. A while ago, a source told me about a retreat he attended at a hotel in Westchester, where the Department of Education invited a bunch of education people — especially small school and charter school leaders — to a hotel for a two-day community-building experience. An invitation had promised discussion of "The Future of Our Work," including a run-down of the successes and challenges of the Bloomberg administration's school efforts. Successes included the fast expansion of small and charter schools, which the invitation concluded are out-performing traditional district schools and the reorganization of the school system with "schools at the center." Challenges included the financial "sustainability" of partner groups that assist the schools; the requirement of sharing facilities with traditional public schools; and "Human Capital development." There was also a lot of worrying about what is probably a bigger potential obstacle: The possibility that, come 2009, when the state Legislature votes on whether to keep, abolish, or alter mayoral control of the public schools, the system could be organized in a completely different way. There was no question on which side the Department of Education stood. At the end of the first day, a group that is fighting for the preservation of mayoral control of the public schools, but which has said it has no formal ties to the Bloomberg administration, spoke about its political plans. Chancellor Joel Klein also gave a speech passionately declaring that the successes that have happened would endangered if mayoral control was abolished.