Hill: Don’t ditch NY City’s ed reforms

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education plan has raised graduation rates and created more high-quality schools, argues Paul T. Hill in The Atlantic. “Don’t ditch it,” writes Hill, who directs the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

Bill de Blasio, the likely next New York City mayor, has made a lot of promises about public education. No additional charter schools; no free space for many charter schools educating city kids; less reliance on student test performance to judge schools; and a moratorium on the closure of low-performing schools.

If the new mayor follows through, he’ll dismantle Bloomberg’s Children First reforms, writes Hill. That would be bad for students.

When Bloomberg became mayor, less than half the students in New York City’s high schools graduated in four years.  Today, nearly two-thirds graduate on time. Every year, more than 18,000 young people graduate high school than would have been expected in 2002. The percentage of graduates who enter college without needing to take remedial courses has doubled since 2001.

Furthermore, “new small high schools started during the Bloomberg administration are more effective than the schools they replaced,” writes Hill.

On campuses where new small schools replaced large underperforming high schools, the overall graduation rate increased from 37.9 percent to 67.7 percent. . . . Students who entered the new small schools with the lowest test scores benefited from them the most.

New York City charter students are learning more than their counterparts in traditional schools, according to the most recent CREDO study. That’s especially true for low-income minority students and special education students.

Across the city, in new schools and old ones, the trends are positive, writes Hill. New York’s next mayor should commit to key parts of the Children First agenda:

 Keep pupil-based funding. Continue to increase the share of total funding that goes directly to schools. The students most in need benefit most from pupil based funding.

Preserve gains in the teaching force via recruitment from many sources, rigorous tenure processes, and mutual consent hiring at the school level.

Keep opening new schools especially in neighborhoods where there are few or no high performing schools. Don’t cut off chartering as one route to creating effective new schools.

Preserve gains in the quality of principals via rigorous selection and training and by maintaining principals’ control over their school’s staffing and spending, in-service teacher training, and purchases of assistance.

Perfect, don’t scrap, reporting on student gains by school.

Keep performance based accountability and continue re-staffing and closing/replacing persistently ineffective schools.

Continue the iZone experiment with new uses of money and technology, and help all schools use ideas that are emerging.

Is there a good old days of public schooling to which New York City could return?

Teens learn to code an app — and sell it

GenTech NYC teaches New York City teenagers to design, code and sell mobile apps in a summer program.

Why the special ed gap?

Some 13.1 percent of New York City charter school students receive special education services compared to 16.5 percent in traditional public schools. That’s because special-ed students are less likely to apply to charters, concludes Why the Gap?, a study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In addition, charters are less likely to place students in special education and more likely to “declassify” them.

There’s no evidence charter schools refuse to admit or “push out” disabled students, writes Marcus Winters, the lead researcher, in the New York Daily News.

Parents of students with special needs are less likely to choose to apply to charter schools, especially autistic students and students with a speech or language disability.

The reason isn’t clear. Disabled students enrolled in special preschools that feed into district schools may be inclined to stay within the system.

The gap grows by another 20% as students progress through the third grade. Nearly all of this growth occurs in the mildest and most subjectively diagnosed category of student disabilities: specific learning disability. That’s important because specific learning disability is a category widely recognized to be over-identified among low-performing students.

On average, students attending New York City’s charter schools “learn more than they would have in a traditional public school,” Winters writes. “Thus, it is possible that some students avoid the disability label because they perform well academically.”

More special-needs students enter charter elementary schools than exit, Winters writes.

The difference is that when charter school students with disabilities move, they usually end up in a traditional public school — perhaps because there are more of them, or perhaps because charters accept relatively few students in non-gateway grades — thus reducing the percentage of students with disabilities within the charter sector.

Mobility is high for special-needs students. They are somewhat more likely to leave a traditional public school than a charter.

New York now requires charter schools to set enrollment and attendance targets for students with disabilities, Winters writes. Bill de Blasio, who’s likely to be New York City’s next mayor, advocates requiring charter schools to serve students with special needs at the same rate as traditional public schools.

It would be easy to do: Just hand out more learning disability diagnoses and keep students from leaving special ed. But it wouldn’t be good for students.

A study of Milwaukee charters found similar results, writes Jay Greene. Charters there also were less likely to classify students as learning disabled. He thinks funding incentives are driving special ed placement.

A school that puts physical education first

Physical education comes first at Urban Dove Team Charter School in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood, reports CBS News. High school students spend the first three hours of every day working out with their team mates and coaches.

They play basketball, lift weights, jump rope, use punching bags, ride bikes, and do yoga. Students rotate sports depending on the season.

. . . When kids go to Social Studies, English and Math, their coaches go with them . . . sitting in class, helping with homework, and sorting out problems.

If a student walks out of class, coach Alana Arthurs follows to ask “What’s wrong?” She wants to know “how can I get you back in the classroom so you can continue to learn.”

Ninety-three percent of students come from low-income families; one third are in special education. The school recruits “overage/under-credited students” with poor attendance records.

Jai Nanda developed the school after running an after-school sports program for inner-city kids, Urban Dove. He saw teens who’d attend school only if they were playing on a sports team. When the season ended, they stopped showing up.

Three hours a day for sports is an awful lot, but nothing else has worked for these kids.

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.

NYC will subsidize preschool loans

Should Upper Middle Class Tots Get Subsidized Student Loans for Pre-School? asks the New York Observer.

I thought it was a joke, but no.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who’s running for mayor, announced a council initiative to offer middle and upper-middle class parents subsidized loans for daycare and preschool.

“Early childhood education is one of the most important investments a parent can make,” said Ms. Quinn in a statement about the program. “But too often, quality child care is out of reach for middle class families. The Middle Class Child Care Loan Initiative is a smart program that will help parents pay for child care and give New York City’s next generation a jump start on their education.”

Families earning $80,000 to $120,000 a year will be able to borrow up to $11,000 a year at 6 percent interest for kids between the ages of two and four. In theory, less affluent parents can access subsidized child care, but the cutoff is $53,707 for a family of three and $64,762 for a family of four,  according to the Observer.

There’s also the question of whether giving a family earning $190,000 a year a pre-school subsidy will level the playing field, or make it even more unequal. Ostensibly, rather than making the difference between sending a child to preschool or keeping him at home, such loans might be used more to help the middle class’s upper crust pay for elite preschools, putting more distance between very young children in a city that is already plagued by income inequality and where competition for gifted and talented slots is incredibly fierce and many would argue, unfair, given the intense coaching and drilling engaged in by families who can afford it.

Preschool doesn’t teach children from educated families anything they’re not already learning at home. It’s fun for most kids to play with others. But it’s not the difference between academic success and failure — or even between the Ivy League and State U.

In San Jose, Harker, a high-achieving private school, is opening a preschool that will charge $22,000 a year. The Mercury News story gushes:

A mural-and-mosaic entrance, multicolored floor tiles and light-filled rooms welcome families. And of course, this tiny-tot heaven features a sandbox, play kitchen and lawns wide enough to do, perhaps, 75 somersaults in a row.

. . . preschoolers will choose from an array of activities based on their interest at the moment. As kids explore, teachers facilitate social skills and encourage curiosity, discovery and problem-solving.

I’ve never seen nor heard of a preschool that didn’t encourage play, exploration, creativity  and learning how to get along with others. This one will have lovely facilities, teachers with advanced degrees — and the children of highly educated, well-to-do Silicon Valley parents, who hope preschool admission will help their kids get into Harker.

City schools dispense morning-after pills

Pregnant girls can get Plan B “morning after” pills at more than 50 high schools, reports the New York Times. Nurses dispense the pills, at no cost, after checking to see if a parent has signed an opt-out form.

After that first time, the girl took Plan B at school two or three more times. She said her mother had not signed the opt-out form, because she had wanted to have sex and so had never given it to her. “My mom, she doesn’t even know they have this stuff,” the girl, a junior from Coney Island, said.

If an independent provider, such as a clinic or hospital, dispenses contraceptives then no parental permission is needed.

Until recently, only those 17 and older could buy Plan B over the counter. But schools in New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland and Colorado let high school girls of any age obtain the drug in school health centers or nurse’s offices.

By contrast, “half of all school-based health clinics are prohibited from handing out any contraception, including condoms,” according to the School-Based Health Alliance.

Critics say the morning-after pill encourages teens to have sex. A Brooklyn 17-year-old who’d used Plan B “less than five times” this year, thinks it does. Like several other students in the Times story, she did not give her parents the opt-out form. She blames two of her pregnancies on her mother, who took her birth control away. Mercifully, the school nurse set up an appointment for her to have an intrauterine device implanted.

Researchers say the morning-after pill doesn’t increase sexual activity, but also doesn’t decrease the pregnancy rate. Teens have unprotected sex, get pregnant, take Plan B, go out and have unprotected sex again, get pregnant again and say, “I just didn’t think I would get pregnant,” says Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, senior medical associate with Gynuity Health Projects.

At Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, a 17-year-old junior from Crown Heights said she had taken Plan B at school three times this year. Despite the threat of disease, which is drilled into students during sex education courses, she was less likely to use condoms because she knew she could get the morning-after pill, she said.

Girls who lack the maturity or intelligence to understand the consequences of their actions aren’t likely to become competent mothers. It’s good these girls are deferring motherhood. But why can’t they use Norplant, an IUD or some other form of reliable, long-term birth control?

Is it English? Or social studies?

Mark Bauerlein helped develop the Common Core standards in English. Now he fears the critics are right to say “high-quality fiction, poetry, theater and other imaginative texts” will be crowded out by non-fiction.

Only three literary works – Romeo and Juliet, T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men and a short poem about Gandhi by Langston Hughes — appear in the New York City Education Department’s 13 recommended units of study in English Language Arts/Literacy at the high school level, writes Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory.

Meanwhile, the site offers units on DNA and crime detection, “vertical farming,” digital media, European imperialism, great speeches and two on the civil rights movement.

The assigned texts include a speech by Bill Clinton, a Los Angeles Times story on teens and social media, the “Complete Personal Finance Guidebook,” photographs by Walker Evans and an entry on imperialism in the New Book of Knowledge.

Even when a topic is disposed to abundant and superb literary works, the Education Department has failed to include them. The unit on “Rites of Passage” — supposedly to be used in English classes — doesn’t opt for great tales of youth and adulthood such as “Jane Eyre,” “The Red Badge of Courage” or Richard Wright’s “Almos’ a Man.”

Instead, it chooses 10 pieces on teen rituals from The New York Times, USA Today, Fox Business, NPR and other news outlets.

The new standards’ framers wanted students to have “more general background knowledge, more broad familiarity with history, science, art and ideas — all of which would, among other things, enhance literary study,” writes Bauerlein. They called for teaching “foundational works of American literature.” Instead, he charges, New York City’s curriculum designers are turning English into a social studies class.

‘Converted’ school fires activist teachers

Half the teachers at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles were fired this month as part of the latest plan to turn around the low-performing school, writes Dana Goldstein. The “conversion” got rid of Alex Caputo-Pearl, an activist teacher and reform leader. One of the first Teach for America recruits in 1990, Caputo-Pearl taught in high-poverty Los Angeles schools for more than two decades. He helped design the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which drew federal and philanthropic dollars to the troubled high school. He led Crenshaw’s Social Justice and Law Academy, a small school within the school with high expectations.

For their final project, (10th graders) had to analyze a data set that included test scores at various schools; neighborhood income levels; school truancy rates; and incarceration rates.

In math, students graphed the relationship between income and social opportunity in various south L.A. neighborhoods. In social studies, they read conservative and liberal proposals for school reform and practiced citing data in their own written arguments about how to improve education. In science, students designed experiments that could test policy hypotheses about how to improve education. And in English class, they read Our America, a work of narrative non-fiction about life in the Ida B. Wells housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.

Some Crenshaw students were placed in paid community-service internships. Others worked with local colleges to conduct research in their neighborhoods.

With 30 different administrators in seven years, Crenshaw relied on teachers to lead the reform effort. Test scores began to grow, especially for African-American and disabled students, Goldstein writes. But the district has rejected teacher-led reforms at Crenshaw.

Superintendent John Deasy announced in November that Crenshaw would be reconstituted with three new magnet programs on the arts, entrepreneurship, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There will be more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings and no Social Justice and Law Academy.

Teacher had to reapply for their jobs. Cathy Garcia, the teachers’ union chair, charges the district targeted reform leaders, Social Justice teachers and experienced black teachers who live in the neighborhood. She lost her job too.

Cities are breaking up large comprehensive high schools across the country, Goldstein writes. In New York City, the small specialty schools are superior to the big high schools, according to research from the New School. But who gets to go?

. . . students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a “domino effect,” in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.

. . . only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation.

Smaller, themed schools seem to be better for kids, Goldstein writes. But the transition may leave behind the students who need help the most.

At Crenshaw, a “politically and intellectually challenging” themed school-within-a-school reform was dumped and its leaders dispersed. That’s “discouraging,” Goldstein writes. It certainly doesn’t encourage the remaining teachers to become leaders.

School cafeteria goes all-vegetarian

A Queens public school is serving all-vegetarian menus for breakfast and lunch, reports Metro. PS 244, the Active Learning Elementary School, now serves “black beans, red roasted potatoes, falafel and brown rice for lunch.”

Principal Robert Groff said the school is trying to encourage healthy lifestyles. “It is about educating their mind, body and character all together.”

What about separation of idiots and state? asks Stephen Kruiser on PJ Tatler.

This isn’t about children’s health, it’s about indoctrination in a fringe lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with vegetarian options for children whose parents have chosen to raise them that way.

. . . This is a decision that is one for the parents to make, not for school administrators who seek to undermine the role of parents, which is what’s really going on here.

My nutritionist stepdaughter designs school lunches for a nonprofit. She says it’s hard to comply with very detailed federal guidelines, use affordable ingredients and produce a lunch kids will eat.

New York Mayor Bloomberg was refused a second slice of pizza at a New York City restaurant in a protest against  his ban on large sodas, reports the Daily Currant. It’s a satire site, but some readers thought it was for real. It’s hard to tell the difference these days.