New York is quietly preparing to open another "Silicon Alley" high school — this time inside some of the informal offices that are turning the city into a haven for technology entrepreneurs.
The Department of Education is currently planning a six-year high school called iZone Academy that would open in 2014 without a space of its own. The school would operate out of multiple sites in “co-working space” with start-ups, according to internal flyers and Next Generation Learning, which has given the Department of Education's private fundraising arm $100,000 to plan iZone Academy.
According to the grant announcement, a goal is to "disrupt the systemic structures of age-based cohorts, scheduling, space, grading policies, and more” with an emphasis on blended learning, which combines online and face-to-face teaching. The proposal indicates that the school would focus on outside work experience and business partnerships, like P-TECH's with IBM.
“Removing the barrier of a single building and the standard use of time will open opportunities for authentic learning,” one document says.
Much about the model remains unclear, though. How would hundreds of students share space and projects with professionals? Who would the shared space belong to? What would happen to non-academic experiences high schools typically provide, such as sports or lunch periods? And, how (and how much) would students interact with teachers?
Superintendent Seth Andrew at a 2012 Democracy Prep admissions lottery event.
When the city announced last week that a kindergarten admissions website would link to the charter school application, it took a small first step toward unifying charter and district school applications. But there appears to be little local enthusiasm for a fully unified enrollment process—something that many of the nation's other large school districts are working toward with urgency.
In Denver, parents can apply to every charter and district school through one form and a single process. In New Orleans, the same is possible, with the exception of some of the city's highest-performing charter schools. Newark is well on its way, as is Chicago, and similar discussions are taking place in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
But while there hasn't been any significant movement on that front yet in New York, city officials have indicated it's a long term goal. "Eventually, we plan to streamline the application process to allow parents to apply to many types of public school programs in one place – be they district, charter, gifted and talented, or otherwise," department spokesman Devon Puglia said.
Pushing for an integrated enrollment system could help cement charter schools' place in the city's school system at a time of political uncertainty for the charter sector. But city charter school advocates have indicated that they are focused on other issues.
The ink was barely dry on New York's agreement with an organization that is building an interstate student data project when parents and advocates raised concerns about it this weekend.
The parents and advocates held a press conference Sunday about a letter that they sent Friday to the state's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. The letter asked the officials to halt New York's participation in the Shared Learning Collaborative until the state assures them that student information will be secure.
But the state only finalized its agreement with the SLC, a nonprofit group that aims to help state avoid building duplicative data systems, on Thursday, according to a signed agreement that state officials provided to reporters this weekend. The officials said the terms of the agreement should quell privacy concerns about the system, which each state will use and augment independently.
Some of the parents' and advocates' allegations — they suggest in their letter that the state might be preparing to sell student data to for-profit companies — are simply incorrect, according to Ken Wagner, a State Education Department associate commissioner. But he said today that other concerns raised in the letter reflected important questions about privacy and security that the department had previously not answered publicly.
"They were right to raise those issues, but we believe those issues have been addressed in our agreement," Wagner said.
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."
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.
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.
A reader points us to another sign that New York's teacher tenure law might hurt the state's Race to the Top chances: In a memo released in September, the Gates Foundation removed New York from a list of states able to receive help building its application.
The memo specifically named the tenure law, which bans school districts from using student data as a factor in teacher tenure decisions, as the reason New York was struck from the list.
The foundation had vowed in August to give 15 states $250,000 each to hire consultants to help with applications, and New York was on the official list. But when the foundation extended its offer of aid to any state meeting its criteria, Gates director of education Vicki Phillips said New York would no longer be eligible until it makes "explicit progress on...removing barriers to linking student and teacher data."
UPDATE: Christopher Williams, spokesman for the Gates Foundation, told me Phillips' memo referred to New York's chances at future foundation initiatives. "It means we probably won't be making a lot of grants unless the law is changed," he said. But the foundation is not cutting the state off from the aid it is receiving to help build its Race the Top application, he said.
A two-year project to study what makes a teacher good or bad is taking root in some of the city's schools after struggling to bring teachers on board.
The United Federation of Teachers and the city's Department of Education announced in September that they had joined forces to promote a study of teacher effectiveness paid for by the Gates Foundation. The $2.6 million project, called Measures of Effective Teaching, will look at ways of measuring teacher quality beyond using test scores.
A UFT special representative, Joseph Colletti, said 96 schools, most of them high schools, have signed onto the project. The goal is to have 100.
"They run the gamut from very high performing schools to schools that are challenged, from senior staff, to new staff," Colletti said.
Though UFT president Michael Mulgrew enthusiastically supported the project, his eagerness took some time to trickle down to the union's membership. The DOE changed its mid-October deadline for applications to a rolling deadline after too-few teachers applied.
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.
The high school report released today shows that the Gates Foundation's support for small schools was worthwhile, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.
His statement contrasts with the foundation's own evaluation of its small schools spending, which it said last year had not produced the academic gains it had hoped. Bill Gates himself said in November that while New York City's small schools have done better than others his foundation started, the schools still do not adequately prepare students for college.
Delivering introductory remarks before a panel discussion about small schools this morning, Klein said the Center for New York City Affairs report "confirms the work of the Gates Foundation," which provided much of the funding that allowed the city to open small schools.
Today's report "carefully documents" that the schools have gotten better results than the large schools they replaced, Klein said — and with the same type of students, contrary to the charges by critics who say the small schools' students start off better prepared. (In the schools' early years, they enrolled students who were slightly less at-risk, but they now admit their fair share of overage students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English, the report concludes.)
Despite his generally favorable review, Klein disputed some of the report's findings, especially around graduation rates.
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.
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, DonorsChoose.org, .
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.
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.