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July 20, 2017
Meet the new leader of one of the most popular public schools in Memphis
In a Chalkbeat Q&A, Andy Demster offers his vision for Maxine Smith STEAM Academy — and why he thinks he’s up to the task.
January 14, 2014
How sticky notes help my students read novels independently
In a First Person piece, teacher Ariel Sacks shares a strategy she uses to help her diverse group of students read and understand whole novels on their own — an unusual goal for a middle school class.
January 10, 2013
City might take special ed funding back from schools midyear
Changes meant to help schools overhaul their special education programs have instead left principals scrambling for a budget fix. Middle and high school principals are learning this week that the Department of Education is planning to take back thousands of dollars earmarked to help their schools serve students with special needs — over a budget technicality. "Students with disabilities are the ones who lose out in this — and schools’ ability to provide what [students] need," said a principal whose school faces a cut. The issue stems from a new funding formula adopted this year as part of the Department of Education's efforts to bring students with disabilities out of self-contained classes whenever possible.
December 11, 2012
Middle schools weakest in arts, too, city finds in annual report
The city's Annual Arts in Schools Report shows that fewer middle schools have reported offering each arts discipline every year since 2010, according to the city's Annual Arts in Schools Report. One in five city eighth-graders graduated from middle school last year without completing the state's basic requirements for arts education. That data point is one of many contained in the city's Annual Arts in Schools Report, which tallies arts instruction, staff, and spending. At an event for arts advocates this morning to launch the report, Department of Education officials emphasized that schools' time devoted to and money spent on arts instruction held steady or increased since last year. But they said there remain major areas where improvement is needed. "We have to do more work with middle schools," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott, echoing a sentiment he has expressed many times since launching an initiative aimed at boosting the city's lagging middle schools last year. He said the department would convene a special committee to study arts in middle schools and make recommendations for changes. Just 81 percent of last year's eighth-graders graduated having fulfilled the state's arts requirement of one credit in two different disciplines. In 2010, that figure was 85 percent. And the requirements are weaker than what the state originally set out: Walcott said the city had gotten a waiver from the state to allow dance and theater classes to count toward the graduation requirement, in addition to music and visual art.
October 24, 2012
Even with no model middle school, city expands literacy push
Greg Linton, an 8th grade humanities teacher at M.S. 266, takes notes on his school's literacy data. Nearly a year after beginning their search for an exceptional middle school to lead a push to boost literacy in struggling schools, city officials have concluded that no school is good enough. After the city launched its Middle School Quality Initiative last year, it selected two dozen underperforming schools to receive special training and thousands of dollars in program funding. Then it picked more successful schools to be "anchors" that would teach them. Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School became a model for teacher collaboration, and schools were sent to M.S. 244 to learn about using data to detect signs that students are at-risk. The city also wanted to push the 23 schools on literacy, where their students especially lagged. But officials said they could find no middle school strong enough to use as the emblem of the literacy initiative. "There isn't an anchor we could turn to to say, 'Show us the magic of how it's all done together,'" said Nancy Gannon, the department official overseeing MSQI. Nonetheless, as MSQI expanded from 24 schools at first (six with only partial funding) to 49 this year, the department also expanded the initiative’s literacy program. The schools are getting extra funds and monthly trainings focused exclusively on literacy, in a program that officials consider it the most significant part of the citywide initiative.
October 1, 2012
More schools met threshold for closure on new progress reports
Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky briefed reporters on the new progress report cards this morning. Almost twice as many elementary and middle schools are eligible for closure under the Department of Education’s longstanding rules this year, according to the schools’ 2011-2012 progress reports. Since 2007, the city has given schools a letter grade each year based largely on calculations of their students’ test scores. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or worse can be closed. Last year, 120 schools fell into that category, and the department ultimately moved to close 10 of them. But this year, 217 schools received those grades, suggesting that this year’s closure toll could be greater than in the past. The most dramatic change was a jump in schools receiving their third straight grade of C or below — from just five last year to 114 this year. The striking jump is a late-onset effect of the state’s 2010 decision to raise the proficiency bar on its state tests. In 2009, just two schools had received F’s and 84 percent earned A’s. But that year, most schools saw their test scores fall, and nearly 70 percent of schools saw their progress report grades drop, too. The progress reports released today were the third since the change. Caught in the metrics were some popular schools, such as Central Park East I and the Earth School in Manhattan, as well as 16 of Staten Island’s 52 elementary and middle schools.
October 1, 2012
New progress reports shift some weight from scores to grades
For the first time since introducing school progress reports in 2007, the Department of Education has reduced the weight of state test scores in determining middle schools' scores on their state test scores. The change is slight, allocating just 5 percent of the calculation toward the grades schools hand out, but it reflects a significant shift within the Department of Education. After years of saying that the state's current tests are not the ideal measure of students' abilities, the department is — to a limited extent — putting its metrics where its mouth is. Until now, 85 percent of elementary and middle schools' scores have come from crunching the scores in different ways. But on the 2011-2012 progress reports, which are coming out today, that proportion has dropped slightly for middle schools, to 80 percent. The difference will be made up by schools' course passage rates in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. The change, which the department promised a year ago, makes year-to-year progress report score comparisons hard to make yet is unlikely to dramatically alter schools' scores on its own. Still, it signals that the city is projecting onto middle schools growing concerns about the mismatch between how city students perform on some high-stakes accountability metrics and how well prepared they are to take on more challenging work.
September 19, 2012
Mixed progress in city's latest plans to open, overhaul schools
Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by Chancellor Walcott and principals, discussed the city's school creation efforts during a press conference in April about the opening of 54 new schools. If the Bloomberg administration has executed any education policy promises with fidelity, it has been around opening new schools. But its record on the trickier task of improving existing schools has been more mixed. That trend continued last year, according to our analysis of the city's progress toward fulfilling the education commitments it made during between September 2011 and August 2012. We found that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott are on track to meet most of their school creation goals, but when it comes to improving ones that already exist, their success is less clear. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.) The city did better at fulfilling its school creation and improvement goals than it did at keeping its promises about boosting teacher quality, which we examined earlier this week. In the final part of this series, we will look at whether city officials have kept their word about taking new approaches to handling high-need students and engaging parents. On creating new schools: The city will open 100 new schools before the end of 2013, including 50 charter schools. (Bloomberg's State of the City address, January 2012) The city is so far on track to hit this goal. Fifty-four new schools are opening this fall, bringing the total number of schools that have opened under the Bloomberg administration to 589. Of the newest crop of schools, 24 are charter schools. Fifty new middle schools will open by 2013, of which 25 will be charter schools. (Walcott's middle schools speech, September 2011) The city also chipped away mightily at this number, and depending on the method of counting might be more than on track to hit the total. This year, 18 of the 54 new schools opened with middle school grades, including seven charter schools. Another eight of the new schools, all charter schools, opened with elementary grades but plan to serve middle school students once they are at full enrollment in several years. The city will help high-performing charter networks grow faster. (State of the City) When Bloomberg made this promise, he specifically name-checked Success Academies and KIPP as two networks whose strong performance he would like to see replicated. This year, three new Success Academy charter schools and one new KIPP school opened in the city. All of them had sought to open since long before Bloomberg made the commitment. At least five other local charter schools also replicated this year. The city will bring in charter school operators that run successful schools elsewhere. (State of the City) The city has so far struck out here: Except for KIPP, which has long run New York City schools, none of this year's new charter schools are part of national networks. One operator that Bloomberg specifically mentioned, Rocketship Education, opened two new charter schools in its native California but so far has not opened or even proposed a school for New York. Its CEO has said dozens of districts have recruited the network but he is wary of operating under different regulations in different places.
July 18, 2012
Seven takeaways from a closer look at the state test scores
The state released the results of this year's third through eighth grade tests yesterday, and officials from City Hall to the charter sector lept to celebrate students' gains. Some changes were the focal point of the Department of Education's Tuesday afternoon press conference—like the drop among English Language Learners and the boosts charter schools saw. But they avoided nuances in the results for the city's new schools, which have been at the center of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education reform policies. Beyond first impressions, here are seven interesting takeaways we parsed from the trove of data: Like last year, English Language Learners took a step back. Students who are identified as English Language Learners improved slightly in math, but took another step back from the statistical gains they made on the literacy test (ELA) earlier in the decade, before the state made the exams tougher in 2010. While just under half of the city’s non-ELL students met the state’s ELA standards, just 11.6 percent of ELL students did so. But in math, the percentage of ELL students scoring proficient rose by 2.5 points, to 37 percent. But students in other categories that typically struggle showed improvements. The percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient in math and literacy went up again this year, to 30.2 percent in math and 15.8 percent in English. And although Black and Hispanic students are still lagging behind their white peers by close to thirty percentage points in literacy and math, they also saw small bumps in both subjects. Officials said that new initiatives targeting struggling students, particularly students of color, contributed to the gains.
April 3, 2012
A year in office, Walcott trumpets his middle schools initiative
Efforts to improve the city's middle schools have come a long way since they were announced six months ago, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today in a policy speech delivered days before his one-year anniversary of his sudden appointment. Walcott returned to the same venue where he first announced the middle school reforms — New York University’s Kimmel Center – to deliver the keynote speech at a middle school colloquium hosted by NYU Steinhardt’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools. In his speech, Walcott said the city was in the process of rolling out a host of initiatives that the the Department of Education had either created or expanded since September, all in the interest of improving middle schools, which he said had become his main priority during his tenure. “If we truly care about preparing our students for success in college and careers, middle school needs to be a central focus of our policies,” Walcott said. Walcott announced that the DOE had allocated about $500,000 to develop new training programs for 150 teachers and 10 principals who he hoped would work specifically in middle schools. And he said the city would exceed his goal of creating 50 new middle schools in the next two years. Twenty-six new middle schools, including 14 charter schools, will open next fall and 28 more schools — including another 14 charters — are set to open in 2013.
April 3, 2012
Walcott: "I've never been more hopeful" about middle schools
Revisiting the topic of his first policy speech, delivered in September, Chancellor Dennis Walcott today said efforts to reform the city’s middle schools…
December 8, 2011
In District 2, push to create more schools trumps closure news
Chancellor Dennis Walcott responds to District 2 Community Education Council member Tamara Rowe's questions at a town hall meeting. Parents in Manhattan's District 2 came to a town hall meeting Wednesday night with Chancellor Dennis Walcott with one item at the top of their agendas: plans to manage school crowding. But Walcott wanted to talk about other things. He opened his remarks by talking about the city's scores on a national exam, then segued into announcing that the Department of Education would soon name the schools it wants to close. No District 2 schools are on the city's shortlist for closure. Three high schools located in the district, but not administered by it, are on the list. Walcott was tight-lipped about which schools would receive closure notices over the next two days. But he said department officials had been considering whether the shortlisted schools "have the capacity to improve." And he told reporters that the decisions would support the middle school reform initiative he announced earlier this year. "I made a commitment around middle schools and I intend to adhere to that commitment," Walcott said. "I want 21st-century middle schools that are meeting the needs of our students." Most of the roughly three dozen parents who braved heavy rain to attend the meeting wanted to talk about the demand for new neighborhood elementary schools and the city's recent rezoning proposals.
November 4, 2011
Study: High teacher turnover could trouble middle school reform
More than half of teachers in city middle schools left their schools within three years, and most left teaching altogether, according to a new study that offers little insight about how to stem the exodus. The study was presented yesterday at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management's fall meeting, as part of a panel on teacher turnover. Will Marinell, a member of the Research Alliance, the independent body of researchers given access to city Department of Education data, and Teachers College professor Aaron Pallas conducted the analysis. Mining data about teachers and their paths within the school system, the researchers found that 55 percent of middle school teachers leave their school within three years, higher than in elementary and high schools. They also found that their decision to leave was likely influenced more by their individual characteristics, such as their commute time and race, than by anything about their school. According to the analysis, teachers are more likely to stay in their schools when students disproportionately share their race. In Manhattan, two-thirds of middle school teachers left within three years, the highest exit rate of any borough. Middle school teachers are more likely to consider leaving their school when they have a long commute or are required to teach a new subject. And teachers in schools that suspend many students are more likely to consider finding a new job. "These rates of turnover are likely to make it challenging for middle school principals, and the teachers who remain in their schools, to establish organizational norms and a shared vision for their schools' teaching and learning environment," the study concludes.
September 20, 2011
Walcott's middle school plan puts new spin on old approaches
In his first major policy speech, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called for major changes to the ctiy's worst middle schools. To shake middle schools from mediocrity, the city is turning to school reform strategies it considers tried and true. In the next two years, the Department of Education will close low-performing middle schools, open brand-new ones, add more charter schools, and push more teachers and principals through in-house leadership programs, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today in a 30-minute policy speech, the first of his six-month tenure. For 10 schools, the city will ask for $30 million in federal funds to try a new reform strategy set out by the federal government, “turnaround,” in which at least half of staff members are replaced, Walcott said. The efforts — which the city plans to pay for with a mixture of state and federal funds — are meant to boost middle school scores that are low and, in the case of reading, actually falling. "People have tried and struggled with the complicated nature of middle schools for decades," he said. "But the plan I've laid out is bolder and more focused than anything we've tried here in New York City before." Experts and advocates who helped engineer the last major effort to overhaul middle schools, a City Council task force that produced recommendations but short-lived changes at the DOE in 2007, disputed Walcott's characterization. They said Walcott's announcement reflects a change in style but not substance. "Much of what he said is not new," said Carol Boyd, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has long urged more attention for middle schools. "There is a definite party line, except Joel [Klein] wasn’t able to deliver it with the same believability that Chancellor Walcott does," she said. Boyd sat on the task force. “There’s nothing new [or] interesting about this plan," said Pedro Noguera, the New York University professor who chaired the council's task force and has spoken out against school closures. "It sounds like more of what they’ve been doing, shutting down failing schools."
September 20, 2011
Walcott: 'Bolder & more focused' middle school efforts start now
In his first policy address since becoming chancellor in April, Dennis Walcott vowed today to close some failing middle schools while opening at least 50…
September 19, 2011
In first policy speech, Walcott to focus on moving "the middle"
Since becoming chancellor in April, Dennis Walcott has made many public appearances but few policy pronouncements. That's set to change tomorrow morning, when Walcott is set to deliver the first policy address of his tenure, a speech at New York University titled "Why We Can't Rest: How To Move the Middle." The city is mum on what exactly the speech will be about, but it's clear that Walcott has spent some time talking about middle schools in the last week. On Thursday, he met with roughly a dozen principals of high-scoring middle schools — both district-run and charter — to ask them a question that has long bedeviled educators and policymakers: How to curb the performance drop-off that takes place after students leave elementary school. The 2011 state test scores released last month told a familiar story: Middle school students scored proficient at a far lower rate than students in the elementary grades. “We still need to increase our focus on those years,” Walcott said at the time. It wouldn't be the first time that the city has made improving middle schools a priority.
August 6, 2010
The top and bottom 15 middle schools by test scores
Schools that screen come out on top and schools that take neighborhood students fall to the bottom of our next rankings installment, which tackles middle schools. A few charter schools are also in the mix — both on the top and bottom lists. Unlike our elementary school list, we included charter schools in these rankings. To generate the rankings, we averaged the percentage of students who scored proficient across all the tested grade levels. (We excluded schools that don't include grades six, seven, and eight.) In response to reader requests, we also listed the borough of the school in parentheses after each one. The results contain very few surprises. All of the schools on the top-scoring lists except the two charter schools have a selective admissions process. Students must score high on standardized tests and sometimes pass in-person interviews in order to get into schools like Anderson, NEST+m, and Mark Twain Middle School — all of which rank high on these lists.
February 24, 2009
A flower bed grows in Crown Heights, amid sea of concrete
I stumbled on this display this morning, while walking to a middle school in Crown Heights that seems to be…
October 13, 2008
Kids will be kids? Or is this generation different?
What’s the trick to reaching middle school students? The Tempered Radical says it’s all about turning their weaknesses into strengths. Talkative? Build conversation…
September 10, 2008
The International Baccalaureate program for more city middle schools?
Houston may not be alone in seeing an increase in schools using International Baccalaureate programs. New York's Blueprint for Middle School Success, which identifies "key elements" of successful middle school programs, briefly mentions International Baccalaureate (IB), along with America's Choice and Project Grad, as "protocols, programs, and/or school reform models" that school leaders should consider when developing a college prep curriculum. According to the IB website, few city schools use IB at the moment — Mott Hall Bronx High School, Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, Staten Island's Curtis High School, and Queens' Baccalaureate School for Global Education — and only Thurgood Marshall and the Baccalaureate School have the IB Middle Years Program. Central themes unite 8 subject areas in the Middle Years Program curriculum. What stands out about the Middle Years Program is not the range of subjects taught nor the five themes which unite the student's learning experience, as shown in the diagram above, but the personal project, an in-depth study undertaken by each child, and other innovative approaches to assessment. Teachers develop their own course assignments and assessments, ranging from projects to exams and including opportunities for self-assessment and peer-assessment. Final assessments are not standardized tests or even standardized projects. Rather, teachers administer appropriate sets of assessment tasks and rigorously apply the prescribed assessment criteria defined for each subject group. The type of assessment tools available to teachers include all forms of oral work, written work, and practical work. A school can request that the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) validate students' grades, a review process in which external moderators apply IB standards to samples of student work and compare their grades to the teachers' grades, which helps maintain standards from school to school.
June 25, 2008
Most innovative advertiser in the world: the DOE
It's been a big year for the DOE. In September, it won the Broad Prize, given each year to an urban school district that has improved its poor and minority students' test scores. This spring, students continued on their upward trajectory, at least according to the state math and reading scores that were released yesterday. But the biggest coup may have happened this past weekend, when the DOE, in partnership with the agency Droga5, snagged a prestigious international advertising award given each year to the “most innovative and ground-breaking idea” in advertising. The DOE took home the Cannes Lion Titanium Award for the "Million" Motivation Campaign, which aims to increase students’ engagement with school through the use of cell phones. Through a partnership with Verizon and Samsung, the DOE gave cell phones to 2,500 students in seven middle schools. The number of minutes available to each student depended on their performance in school; a child who successfully completed all of his work, therefore, would have more minutes to use than a lackluster student. When the program launched last fall, the DOE planned to use the phones to deliver motivational text and voice messages, sometimes from celebrities such as Jay-Z; it’s not clear whether that portion of the campaign has been rolled out yet.
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