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.

Differentiation is a failure

Differentiation is a failure, a farce, and the ultimate educational joke played on countless educators and students,” writes James R. Delisle in Education Week. A consultant on gifted students and a part-time teacher, Delisle is the author of Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (And What We Can Do to Fight Back).

Differentiation sounds great, but “is harder to implement in a heterogeneous classroom than it is to juggle with one arm tied behind your back,” he writes.

Toss together several students who struggle to learn, along with a smattering of gifted kids, while adding a few English-language learners and a bunch of academically average students and expect a single teacher to differentiate for each of them. That is a recipe for academic disaster . . .

. . . the only educators who assert that differentiation is doable are those who have never tried to implement it themselves: university professors, curriculum coordinators, and school principals. It’s the in-the-trenches educators who know the stark reality: Differentiation is a cheap way out for school districts to pay lip service to those who demand that each child be educated to his or her fullest potential.

Dismantling special classes for gifted kids, struggling learners and disruptive students has “sacrificed the learning of virtually every student,” argues Delisle. 

I volunteered in my daughter’s classrooms when she was in elementary school in Palo Alto. Nearly all the students were being raised by highly educated white or Asian-American parents. Yet, in what may have been the least diverse school in California, there was enormous variation in children’s abilities to sit still, pay attention, follow directions, write letters, read fluently, etc.

I predict “blended learning” — using technology to personalize instruction — will expand rapidly as a way to help teachers manage classrooms in which students have a wide range of skills. But it has its limits.

Here’s another hit on the myth of learning styles.

Most ‘English Learners’ are born in U.S.

Most English Learners — students who aren’t proficient in English — were born in the U.S., notes the Education Writers Association. While 4.7 percent of students were born abroad, 9.1 percent are classified as English Learners.

The category includes many who speak “playground English” but test below grade level in the subject. It’s assumed they lack “academic English” proficiency.

Image of In U.S., Students Struggling with English Outnumber Kids Born Abroad

When English Learners don’t learn English

Parkview Elementary in El Monte

California schools are focusing attention on “long-term English Learners,” students from non-English-speaking homes who never reach proficiency in reading and writing skills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Many were born in the U.S. They speak and understand English, but they test below grade level on state exams. Is it their English skills? Or, are they just below-average students?

Fairfax High Principal Carmina Nacorda said, more than 70 percent of her 125 long-term English Learners have educational disabilities.

Dasha Cifuentes, an English Learner from kindergarten through 10th grade, appreciates the slower pace of new classes.

On a recent morning, she and her classmates watched a “60 Minutes” documentary on Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin. Her teacher, Serafin Alvarez, then peppered the students with questions about it to check their understanding. What inspired Lin to play basketball? How many colleges offered him scholarships? What helped him succeed?

Few of the 10 students answered the questions correctly, but it was unclear whether they didn’t understand the documentary or didn’t care to pay attention. Alvarez said student apathy is one of his biggest challenges in teaching the more sophisticated language needed for college and careers — a recent vocabulary list included “mandated,” “effective,” “interact” and “discipline,” words few of the students hear at home, he said.

Dasha admits she didn’t read books or use the dictionary, as her teachers and parents advised. She didn’t ask for help. Now she talks about her problems with a mentor teacher.

At Parkview Elementary in El Monte, a language development program “pushes students in preschool through third grade to use richer language in curriculum incorporating literature, social studies and science taught through such popular themes as animals and the solar system,” reports the Times.

Teachers use “collaborative conversation” between pairs of students to develop oral skills, vocabulary charts and frequent writing assignments.

Half of school staff aren’t teachers

Half of school employees aren’t teachers, reports The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach.

The U.S. spends a much larger percentage of education funding on non-teaching staff than other countries, more than double the spending in Korea and Finland.

Teacher aides represent the largest growth category over the last 40 years. “From 1970 to 2010, aides went from nearly non-existent to the largest individual staff position, outside of teachers,” according to the Fordham report.

Teacher aides have little, if any, positive effect on students’ academic achievement,” concludes an analysis of Tennessee’s Project STAR. Decreasing class size to 14 to 17 students in the early grades raised achievement significantly, especially for black students.

School staffing has increased by nearly 400 percent since 1950. Much of the growth occurred from 1970 to 1980. “Passage of several pieces of federal legislation — such as Section 504, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and Title IX (Equal Opportunity in Education Act) — likely played a big part in changing the makeup of schools.”

Aides often are hired to work with special ed or English Learner students. That is, the adult with the least training works with the kids with the most needs.

Core math demands more English

Under Common Core standards, math will require more English fluency, writes Pat Wingert on the Hechinger Report.

At Laurel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, 90 percent of students get a subsidized lunch and 60 percent aren’t yet fluent in English. Yet 83 percent scored at proficient or higher on a recent state language-arts exam, and 91 percent scored that high on the math test.

Laurel Street kids can excel in math while still learning to read and speak English, said fourth-grade math teacher Angel Chavarin. This year, teachers worry the new standards require more sophisticated vocabularies.

“The language demands of the Common Core are enormous,” said Ben Sanders of the California Office to Reform Education. “This is absolutely going to be a big challenge to English learners.”

Common Core emphasizes complex word problems and requires students to explain in writing how they solved the problem, writes Wingert.

Third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy, who was born in Chile, started a lesson on “repeated addition” with a vocabulary lesson.

“There are very important words you need to know,” she told her class. “If you’re doing a multiplication problem — 3 x 4 = 12 — the numbers `3’ and ‘4’ are the FACTORS and the ‘12’ is the PRODUCT. All the numbers and symbols together—3 x 4 =12—is a “MULTIPLICATION SENTENCE.”

“What is this?” Monroy asked, pointing to the equation.

“A multiplication sentence,” the class echoed back.

Next, Monroy stressed that repeated addition involves “patterns,” in this case, 4+4+4 = 12

We need to know that a pattern is a regular or repeated sequence,” she said. “A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue, right? A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers—2-4-6—you’re doing a PATTERN.”

Laurel Street’s district uses a structured curriculum adapted from Singapore Math by a local teacher.

 To determine if the changes they’re making are on the right track, Laurel Street teachers monitor their kids’ performance in class and on weekly assessments that grade-level teams create together. Each student’s score is then added to a spreadsheet and scrutinized by the principal, all the teachers and even parents and students.

If one class gets better scores than the others, teachers don’t hesitate to compare notes and incorporate the most effective strategies into their own lesson plans, said fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Harris. It’s about collaboration, not competition, she said. “We learn from each other.”

“We do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t work,” says Principal Frank Lozier.

Small school students show gains

New York City’s small public high schools are producing gains for disadvantaged students, according to a new MDRC study, Sustained Progress.

Students who win the admissions lottery to these schools are significantly more likely to earn a high school diploma (70.4 percent) than applicants who lost the lottery (60.9 percent) than lottery losers. Small schools  increased the graduation rates of special-education students by 13.8 percentage points and of English Language Learners by 4.9 percentage points, MDRC suggests, though the sample size is small.

Teaching English Learners

The new American Educator features articles on teaching English Learners to master new standards.

American Educator, Summer 2013 cover

CREDO: Charters do better in reading

Charter students show greater learning gains in reading and similar gains in math compared to students in traditional public schools, concludes the National Charter School Study 2013 by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

The neediest students show the strongest gains: Low-income students, blacks and English Learners “gain significantly more days of learning each year in both reading and math” if they attended charter schools rather than traditional public schools, the study found.

More charter schools are high performers and some underperforming charters have closed, concludes CREDO, which analyzed data from 26 states and New York City.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students,” says Dr. Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO.

Charter school enrollment has grown among students who are in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students, the study found.

Charters do the best for the worst students, according to an MIT analysis reported by the Boston Globe.

Lower-income students who performed poorly on tests while attending traditional public schools did much better after enrolling in charter schools. Moreover, their improvement was greater than fellow charter students who had previously tested well in traditional public schools.

In other words, those most in need of educational improvement tended to benefit the most from charter schools.

A string of recent studies have found urban charter schools produce learning gains, while suburban and rural charters have mixed results.

Poor English skills cost adults $3,000 a year

The 16.5 million Spanish-speaking adults who aren’t proficient in English forego $37.7 billion a year in earnings, estimates the Lexington Institute. That’s about $3,000 a year in earnings per worker.

Up to 59 percent of California’s English Learners — students who don’t test proficient in English — have been enrolled in U.S. schools for six years or more, according to Californians Together. California is now focusing on “long-term English Learners.”