NYC union’s failing K-8 charter will close

Running a charter school is harder than the United Federation of Teachers thought. The New York City union will close its failing charter school’s elementary and middle school, but ask for authority to continue its high school.

Students read at UFT's charter school in 2013. Photo: Geoffrey Knox

A reading class at UFT’s charter school. Photo: Geoff Decker

“When the school opened in 2005, then-UFT President Randi Weingarten said its success would demonstrate that unions could play a starring role in efforts to improve the school system,” write Geoff Decker and Sarah Darville on Chalkbeat NY. Weingarten also hoped to show that a union contract was not an “impediment to success.”

The UFT Charter School has been one of the lowest-performing charters in the city.

“Under Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s new school-grading system, the school earned the lowest of four marks in all four categories, including the school environment and its success at closing the achievement gap,” write Decker and Darville.

Curiously, only 2 percent of the school’s students are English Learners and 10 percent –below the public-school average — have an Individual Education Plan.

Unions and charter schools don’t mix, writes Darren. Two California charters run by schools of education — UC Davis and Stanford — also closed due to poor performance, he observes.

Singing their way to academic success

At Voice Charter School in Queens, K-8 students learn to read music, play a little piano, harmonize and “sing, sing, sing,” reports the New York Times. Voice students do significantly better in math and somewhat better in reading than the New York City average.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voices Charter School in Queens.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voice Charter School in Queens.

Seventy percent of Voice students qualified for free lunch last year. All are admitted by lottery. No one auditions.

Teacher Kate Athens said skills learned in music class translate to her fourth-grade classroom. “They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”

Younger students at Voice usually have music twice a day, and older students once, on average. To make time, the “school day is unusually long, from 7:55 a.m. to 4:25 p.m., which can be hard for small children,” reports the Times.

Twenty percent of the city’s public schools have no arts teachers, and low-income students are the least likely to be taught art and music, reports the Times. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has increased funding for arts teachers.

‘The talk’ about how to deal with police

The act of scholastic disobenience was organized by Ines Anguiano, 16, a senior at Brooklyn Preparatory High School.Brooklyn Prep students walked out to protest (Photo: Caitlin Nolan, New York Daily News)

Eric Garner’s death — and a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who choked him – is a call to action for some New York City high school students, reports WNYC.

“This can happen to any one of us,” said Christine Rodriguez, a 17-year-old senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice. “I live in Bushwick, and on every block I see police cars. I worry about my friends, my peers, my family, strangers.”

Seventeen-year-old Malik James, who attends the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, is part of a youth leadership group that looks into policy issues.

“As a young black male who’s part of the demographic of those affected,” he said he felt “something between anger and desperation.” His coping method was research.

James has been scouring the Internet to understand the facts of the Garner case, looking for some sensible explanation for the grand jury’s decision. He’s hoping to figure out “what is it that I don’t know, what is it that I still don’t understand about the case, why he cannot get an indictment.” So far, he has determined that the system offers too many protections to police officers and that prosecutors are too closely tied to the police department.

Democracy Prep Charter High in Harlem stresses citizenship. Students told WNYC their parents had given them “the talk” about how to deal with the police.

Eleventh grader Jeff Agyapong said his mother warned him not to challenge the police.

“When police approach you, no matter what, don’t say anything, follow their directions no matter what because your parents will come down to the precinct and everything will get straightened out peacefully,” he said. “The contradiction in the black society is ‘should I stand up for myself because I know I didn’t do anything wrong?’ or ‘should I follow what everyone wants me to do?'”

“I don’t think black communities should be teaching their black boys to be afraid of cops,” Jaylene Paula said. “If we’re passive in these cases, then this passivity is going to encourage what happened in Ferguson and what happened in Staten Island.”

The parents of 16-year-old Anthony Ayba said, “They just think right now you need to be safe, don’t worry about your rights, just make sure you’re alive.”

Nashville teachers recruit students

In East Nashville, District school principals are asking teachers to go door to door to recruit students, reports Nashville Public Radio. It’s standard practice for charter school staffers.

“I think we’re just moving to the place where we do have to sell ourselves,” said LaTonya White, principal of Rosebank Elementary School.

Nashville has open enrollment. Per-pupil public funding of roughly $10,000 follows the student to the school of choice.

East Nashville has a number of “struggling, under-capacity schools.”

Half-a-dozen Rosebank teachers showed up  on a Saturday to canvass for students. Many teachers don’t think marketing is their job, said Carla Douglas, an art teacher who donated her time.

Bad choices in Detroit

Detroit parents have lots of school choices — most of them bad, conclude Center on Reinventing Education researchers in Education Next.

Excellent Schools Detroit, a coalition of philanthropic, education, and community leaders, gave only 16 percent of the city’s public schools (district or charter) a C+ or better in 2014, based on academic status, progress, and school climate measures. Some neighborhoods have no schools with a passing grade.

Half of charters are no better than DPS schools and the rest are only slightly better, the report concludes.

There may be 20,000 to 30,000 more seats than students in traditional and charter schools, so competition for students is fierce.

But parents “struggle to navigate the city’s complex education marketplace and find quality options for their children,” researchers write.

Parents “cite safety issues, lack of transportation, and lack of information as serious barriers to finding a good school.”

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) lost two-thirds of its enrollment between 2005 and 2012. The city’s population has declined and remaining families are turning to charters and schools in neighboring suburbs.

“No one in Detroit is responsible for ensuring that all neighborhoods and students have high-quality options or that parents have the information and resources they need to choose a school,” the researchers write.

“It’s a free-for-all,” one observer said. “We have all these crummy schools around, and nobody can figure out how to get quality back under control…. Detroit hasn’t set the conditions to make school choice work for families and kids.”

In 2013, 4 percent of Detroit’s 4th graders were proficient in math and 7 percent in reading on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. It makes cities like Chicago and Cleveland look good.

Teachers in charge

Teacher-led schools are challenging the need for a strong principal, reports Matt Collette on Slate.

A growing number of schools –70 now and more in the works — operate “more like worker cooperatives than traditional top-down schools,” he writes.

At Brooklyn’s Professional Prep charter school, Rafiq Kalam Id-Din is one of three “managing partners.”

Id-Din spends most of his time teaching fourth graders, rather than handling the “day-to-day administrative issues — hiring, discipline, staff and parent meetings — a typical principal might handle.”

Professional Prep is  modeled on corporate law firms. Other teacher-led schools hire a “principal,” but let teachers decide on policy and hiring. That’s how it works at Renaissance Charter in Queens.

Teacher-led schools “often find themselves trading convenience and clarity for flexibility and inclusion,” writes Collette. And sharing the principal’s job is more work for teachers.

Status quo wins in California

Triumph of the Status Quo is Ben Boychuk’s look at the California superintendent’s race.

. . . reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. . . . the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The California Teachers Association spent $11 million “touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck,” while the challenger raised nearly $10 million from “well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,” writes Boychuk in City Journal.

Tuck attacked Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v.California, the class-action lawsuit that threw out California’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules.

Surveys after the ruling showed strong support for dumping “last hired, first fired” rules, writes Boychuk. But “nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms.

. . . The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.”

Their attacks worked, concludes Boychuk.

Immersed in Mandarin

A Mandarin immersion charter school is proving popular in Minneapolis, reports the New York Times.

Yinghua Academy teaches all academic subjects in Chinese through fourth grade before moving to a half-English model for grades five to eight. That creates cultural understanding and “real bilingualism,” says Luyi Lien, the academic director.

The academic director leads Chinese-style morning calisthenics. Photo: Jane Peterson

“We bring together both East and West traditions,” says Lien, who tries to balance Eastern discipline with Western fun.

Just ahead of snack time in kindergarten, the teacher, who speaks only in Mandarin, thrusts an orange plastic disk in the air and 28 little hands shoot up. She points to one girl who answers correctly — “chengse” — before dashing to the nearby sink to wash her hands. In just minutes, all the students have identified a color and are happily tearing open their snacks. One 5-year-old asks, “Can you open this?” The teacher replies, “bangmang dakai?” On cue, the child repeats and then says, “xie xie” — thank you.

Yinghua, which was started in 2006, has ranked within the top 15 percent of all Minnesota public schools for the past three years on multiple measures.

Parents who choose immersion tend to be well-educated and committed to their children’s education. Forty-seven percent of students are Asian-American and 46 percent white.

Math results, which are particularly strong, are partly attributed to the Singapore Math curriculum and its eight-step approach to word problems, as well as the Chinese-educated teachers who move through material more quickly than their American peers.

Mathematical terms in Mandarin are also clearer. The word for “triangle,” for instance, “sanjiaoxing,” means three-sided. And when counting to 100, the Chinese use only 10 numbers to build all others; 71, for instance, is written 7-10-1.

China’s Ministry of Education pays for two instructors at the school as part of a campaign to support the teaching of Mandarin and Chinese culture.

Teacher-centric charter raises scores

At The Equity Project, a charter school for grades 5 through 8 in New York City, teachers start at $125,000 with a chance to earn a $25,000 bonus. They have none of the traditional job protections. The idea is to attract and develop exceptional teachers to work with disadvantaged students.

Kadeem Gill teaches sixth-grade math at The Equity Project.

Kadeem Gill teaches sixth-grade math at The Equity Project.

After four years at the school, eighth graders have learned significantly more — especially in math — than similar students in district schools, concludes a Mathematica study.

TEP students “had test score gains equal to an additional 1.6 years of school in math, an additional 0.4 years of school in English language arts, and an additional 0.6 years of school in science,” Mathematica reported. That closed 78 percent of the Hispanic-white achievement gap in math, 17 percent in English language arts, and 25 percent in science. (Nearly all of TEP’s students are Hispanic.)

The founder and principal, Zeke Vanderhoek, earns $94,000 a year, less than his teachers, notes the Wall Street Journal.  The “charter has a lean administrative staff and slightly larger classes—31 students compared with an average of about 26 or 27 in district schools—so it can pour resources into teacher pay and training.”

Job applicants submit video of their teaching styles and evidence of their students’ growth. If invited for an interview, they have daylong auditions, leading classes under scrutiny of the staff.

Teachers are observed by colleagues and get feedback weekly, and they have four weeks of full-day professional development each year. Days are long, with teachers at work from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and students attending from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Many teachers don’t last. Of 43 hired during the four years studied, 47% didn’t return for a second year, in most cases because they weren’t asked back. That is higher turnover than in district middle schools, where 27% don’t come back for a second year, the study said.

The charter’s students resemble students in district schools in their academic backgrounds and attrition rate, the study found. TEP did not expel any students. In 2012-13, about 21 percent of the charter’s students were English language learners and 21 percent had special needs, city data show.

“While the charter’s students showed more growth, many still struggled,” the Journal reports. Forty-three percent of TEP eighth graders passed state math exams in 2013, compared to 28 percent citywide.

Higher pay lets the school pick from a large pool of applicants. But is the key to success the intensive training and feedback? Or just the willingness to fire teachers who aren’t quite good enough?

Chalkbeat New York looks at teacher Kadeem Gill, who grew up in public housing projects in the city. He got a scholarship to boarding school, then went to Princeton. His brother, who had behavioral and emotional problems, dropped out at 16. His half-brother was shot to death.

Apprentice teachers learn what works

Bianka Mariscal with a student at Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School (Jim Wilson/New York Times)

After a one-year apprenticeship, new teachers learn what works in the classroom, reports the New York Times.

Aspire Public Schools, a charter system with schools in California and Memphis, pays teacher residents a stipend while they’re learning their craft. “Mentors believe that the most important thing that novice teachers need to master is the seemingly unexciting — but actually quite complex — task of managing a classroom full of children.”

At Aspire, where most students come from low-income families, residents spend four days a week in a single classroom working with a mentor from late summer through the end of the school year. On the fifth day, they take seminars, role-playing typical situations and deconstructing videos while practicing almost scripted approaches to teaching. If they complete the program, they each earn a master’s degree and a teaching credential through a partnership with a local university.

David Nutt, 26, a Dartmouth graduate who’d taught Palestinian fourth graders in the West Bank, started out in a high school science classroom, but struggled to learn the material while also learning how to teach. In mid-year, he transferred to an Oakland elementary school. That proved to be a good fit.

One March morning, Mr. Nutt jotted division equations on a white board and the students eagerly volunteered to check the work using multiplication. (Mentor Rebecca) Lee, who had gone through a residency herself, filmed him on a Flip video camera and an iPad Mini.

After school, Ms. Lee showed Mr. Nutt the videos. He realized he had dominated the lesson and needed to give the students more time to grapple with math concepts on their own. The pair worked on a plan to double the student talk time.

After his year-long residency, Nutt was hired as a third-grade teacher.

Bianka Mariscal 22, the first college graduate in her family, returned to her old K-8 Aspire school in East Palo Alto as an apprentice — and now a first-grade teacher.

Aspire pays “residents” $13,500 and spends another $15,000 on their training and benefits, reports the Times.  It sounds like a good investment.

The U.S. Education Department is putting some grant money into teacher residency programs.