Parents want just a little diversity

As urban neighborhoods gentrify, “emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries” are increasing, writes Mike Petrilli. Middle-class parents want a little diversity — preferably racial/ethnic but not socioeconomic — at their child’s school, but not too much.

In Brooklyn, a popular elementary school in gentrifying Park Slope, P.S. 321, is overcrowded.  Officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, redistricting some children into a new school that will have more low-income students.

Park Slopers claim to want diversity, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post.  That’s why they didn’t move to the suburbs when their kids neared school age. But people in the 10 blocks that will be assigned to the new school are furious.

Too much “socioeconomic diversity will start to affect the quality of their children’s education,” Petrilli writes. Low-income children start school far behind middle-class children.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the nation’s capital. Wilson High and Alice Deal Middle School, located in D.C.’s tony (and baby-booming) Ward 3, enjoyed massive physical-plant updates recently, with their buildings fully refurbished, expanded, and improved. Now affluent parents west of Rock Creek Park are sending their children to those schools in greater numbers than in decades.

. . .  The schools are getting crowded, and district officials are looking at shrinking their boundaries to address the problem. (Sound familiar?) The outcome is easy to predict: Students who live further away—who tend to be poorer and of minority races—will be rezoned to other campuses, and the Ward 3 schools will become dramatically less diverse.

Petrilli hopes for way to “create (and maintain) racially and socioeconomically diverse schools” in cities.

Richard Kahlenberg writes about “new hopes for school integration” in American Educator.  Economic — not racial — integration matters most, he writes.

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

How schools can keep their best teachers

Rated “highly effective” as a Washington D.C. special-ed teacher, Allison Frieze received a $15,000 bonus, but she quit her low-performing, high-poverty school to teach similar students at a charter school. Here’s how schools can keep their best teachers, she writes in the Washington Post.

“To retain our irreplaceable teachers, we need irreplaceable leaders,” she writes.When she was rated “highly effective,” her school cut off the coaching that had helped her improve.

For the evaluations that followed, I was videotaped, rather than observed in person, and I received my scores in writing, rather than during a feedback-driven conference. As far as my school leadership was concerned, I was a great teacher, but I still felt that I had plenty to learn — and I was no longer receiving opportunities to do so. Instead of feeling valued, I ended up feeling neglected.

. . . superb leaders demonstrate the elusive character trait of grit. That’s a commitment and determination to achieve a goal, no matter what it takes. A principal with grit knows that he or she can’t succeed without a team of great teachers and sets clear retention goals for high-performers. This principal is honest with teachers who are struggling, even when it’s uncomfortable, and does not consider inaction, failure or silence as acceptable responses to ineffective teaching. This principal pushes every teacher to his or her full potential. Finally, this principal asks the best teachers, “What is it going to take to keep you here?”

Can an average principal motivate a high-performing teacher?

And, yes, I’m already getting tired of “grit.”

Is BASIS too tough for D.C. students?

BASIS, which runs very rigorous, very high performing charter schools in Arizona, will expand to Washington, D.C. this fall. The school will start with grades 5 through 8, then add a high school. Fifth graders read Beowulf, sixth graders take physics and Latin, seventh graders take algebra and high school students must pass at least eight AP courses and six exams. Students who fail end-of-year exams must repeat the grade. Critics say it’s too tough for D.C. students.

Among 45,000 kids in D.C. public schools more than 70,000 school-age kids in the city, it’s “bizarre” to think there aren’t at least a few hundred who’d benefit from “a phenomenally challenging academic environment,” writes Rick Hess. Not to mention insulting.

As Skip McKoy, a member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board has said, “I’m all for high standards. I’m all for excellent curriculum. Kids should be pushed. But you have to recognize the population.” Mark Lerner, a member of the board of Washington Latin charter school also argued that BASIS “blatantly markets itself to elite students” and is “a direct affront to the civil rights struggle so many have fought over school choice for underprivileged children.”

So school choice should provide no choices for students who are able to excel?

After conducting a lottery, BASIS has signed up a mix of students, reports the Washington Post: 48 percent are black, compared to 69 percent in D.C. schools, and 54 percent come from public schools.

Already, students are working on study skills, reading and math in a voluntary two-week boot camp before the Aug. 27 start date.

In a math prep session, teacher Robert Biemesderfer gave a class of mostly fifth- and sixth-graders 15 seconds to complete a row of multiplication problems. Mental math ability, Biemesderfer said, atrophies over the summer. “And by the way,” he said, “can anyone tell me what ‘atrophy’ means?”

Behind him, a PowerPoint slide read “Nothing halfway,” which is a Basis aphorism, along with “It’s cool to be smart” and “Walk with purpose.”

BASIS is designed for “workaholics,” not for gifted students, say founders Olga and Michael Block, Czech immigrants who wanted a challenging school for their daughter. Attrition is high in the eight Arizona schools and few special education students last long.

It’s not a good school for every student, writes Hess, but that’s OK. “The notion that families and students in DC shouldn’t have access to a high quality liberal arts curriculum just because many students in DC need something more remedial in scope strikes me as a perverse vision of ‘social justice’.”

 

‘Extreme Makeover’ for teachers

“In deference to a world enthralled by shows like ‘Extreme Makeover’ and ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ the public school district in Washington has hired a reality television company to produce videos intended to improve the skills of its teachers,” reports the New York Times.

The 80 videos, 5 to 15 minutes in length, are peppered with quick jump cuts, slick screen labels and a jaunty soundtrack. In short interviews and classroom snippets, the district’s highest-performing teachers demonstrate how they teach a range of lessons, from adding decimal numbers to guiding students of differing ability levels through a close reading of the Marshall Plan.

. . . “Teachers were saying to us, ‘Just be very clear about what good teaching looks like,’ ” said Kaya Henderson, Washington’s schools chancellor.

Charter school networks, school districts, universities, companies and nonprofits are developing online video libraries showing model teaching, reports the Times. Some are focused on lessons aligned with Common Core standards.

Teaching Channel, a nonprofit, has a collection of more than 500 professionally produced videos of teachers recommended by school districts and other teacher organizations. The University of Michigan is indexing about 16,000 videos of fourth- through ninth-grade English and math teachers in six urban districts shot by researchers financed by the Gates Foundation.

Betterlesson.com, a popular sharing site for lesson plans, is working to develop a video component. And hundreds of amateur clips have been uploaded to YouTube by individual teachers.

D.C. evaluators and principals will recommend specific videos to teachers and set up discussions.

Columbia economist Jonah E. Rockoff predicts watching teaching videos will help mid-range teachers improve but won’t do much for low performers. Teachers, what do you think? Will the videos prove to be useful to most, some or few teachers?

D.C. fires 3% of teachers

Washington D.C. schools fired 98 teachers for low performance on the district’s evaluation system.  That represents less than 3 percent of teachers in D.C. schools.

By contrast, 988 teachers — about a quarter of the teaching corps — were rated highly effective, making them eligible for bonuses of up to $25,000.

Time-wasting bureaucracy expands to charters

The “pathologies and pettifogging bureaucracy that so hinder district schools” are being forced on charters, writes Rick Hess. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education is demanding that 44 charter schools in Washington, D.C. prove they’re training teachers to serve students with diabetes — even if they have no such students.

Schools must provide:

. . . a “specific, narrative response to each of the complainants allegations;” “the school’s policies and procedures on, and narrative descriptions of, the school’s practice applicable to, the care of students with diabetes, including all relating to the provision of diabetes-related services;” “a description of–and all methods relating to–the method by which the school identifies students who have diabetes;” “copies of the section 504 and all other health plans for each school student with diabetes;” “the number of school staff knowledgeable about diabetes, including registered nurses, who are present at the school and the settings in which such staff are required to be present;” “diabetes-related training the school has provided or arranged for school staff during the 2010/2011 and the 2011/2012 school years;” and oodles more. The complaints included allegations that some schools did not have “adequate numbers of properly trained staff to monitor and administer medication” to students when they’re transported to and from school or during extra-curricular activities and field trips.

It’s usually safer to let juvenile diabetics manage their own medication than to let an unfamiliar adult take over. But this isn’t just about diabetes, Hess writes.

. . . multiply this little Kafkaesque exercise by all the imaginable complaints about every category of special need, every statute and regulation relating to public funds, every conceivable complaint that some special interest or grudge-holding group can surface, and expect schools to bulletproof themselves against all of that, and you realize how easy it is to prevent educators from actually focusing on education.

Compliance isn’t really about safety. If teacher training doesn’t guarantee teachers will  be prepared to teach multiplying fractions, I doubt spending some of that time training on diabetes, asthma, allergies, juvenile arthritis — and all the other medical conditions that might or might not occur — will turn teachers into competent paramedics.

D.C. spends $29,409 per pupil

In 2009-10, Washington D.C. public schools spent $29,409 per student, according to the Census Bureau, points out Andrew Coulson at Cato @ Liberty. “This spending figure is about triple what the DC voucher program spends per pupil — and the voucher students have a much higher graduation rate and perform as well or better academically,” he writes.

D.C. spends much more per student than Cleveland and Atlanta, which enroll demographically similar students and earn similar NAEP scores, notes Michael McShane of AEI. (He divides revenues by students for an average of  $27,263 per student in D.C. In a comment, Coulson says D.C. spent more than its revenues, so his figure is correct.)

Per student, DC has the most teachers, the most instructional aides, the most instructional coordinators, the second most administrators, and the second most administrative support staff.

DC also pays their teachers more, with a starting salary for a first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree set at $51,539 a year and a teacher with a Master’s degree and 21 years of experience earning $100,839 per year. In Atlanta (according to the district’s website), it’s $44,312 and $69,856; in Cleveland (according to its union contract) it’s $36,322 and $70,916. Note: all of these figures are simply salary, these do not include benefits.

. . . Atlanta gets slightly better test scores with slightly poorer students at 60% of the cost of DCPS and Cleveland does about the same with slightly less poor students at 68% of the cost.

Despite DCPS’ reputation for bureaucratic bloat, Atlanta has many more administrators. Cleveland has relatively few.

Bloomberg’s $20,000 teacher bonus

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposes a $20,000 salary increase for teachers rated highly effective two years in a row, reports the New York Post.

If they ever get to vote, city teachers would approve merit pay even if their union opposes it, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.

“Will the teachers union stand in the way of their most effective members being rewarded for all of their work?” Bloomberg asked during his speech before the US Conference of Mayors in Washington.

Washington, D.C. teachers rated “highly effective” are eligible for annual bonuses of $2,400 to $25,000 a year.

Merit pay doesn’t work, responded Mike Mulgrew, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers.

Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students at Francis Lewis High School, says no to Bloomberg’s bonus in the New York Daily News.

The bonuses will reward teachers who teach to the test and never challenge their principals, Goldstein argues.

Whatever happens, teachers like me — who advocate for kids, who have no qualms about making the odd phone call to an education reporter, who care about honest education more than test prep — are never going to get merit pay.

. . . We are role models. We inspire kids. We teach them to speak out, stand up, to express themselves. That will be particularly tough if we’re all placing knives in one another’s backs chasing bonuses.

We are not wait staff, and I know of not one teacher who got into this to work for tips. More importantly, I refuse to believe that teachers who don’t get merit pay are without merit. If, in fact, we do not have merit, we should never have been hired in the first place.

Margaret Coppolo, a middle school teacher in Manhattan, thinks the $20,000 offer is “worth seriously considering,” if the city can work out a fair way to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness.

We need to keep our best teachers in our most struggling schools and compensate them for their dedication.

The merit pay “efforts that have failed either didn’t offer a compelling enough incentive or linked bonuses to school-wide results and not individual performance,” writes Coppolo.

In Washington, on the other hand, where significant raises are tied to an individual teacher’s effectiveness, early results show improvement in teacher retention and achievement.

In my newspaper days, I was a member of the union, the Newspaper Guild. We received higher pay for up to six year of experience. After that, experience didn’t matter. We got small bonuses for working a swing or night shift and for certain jobs, such as copy editing or editorial writing. Beyond that, an individual could try to negotiate merit pay, known as overscale, with his or her boss. I never thought of merit pay as a tip. It was a recognition of the value I added to the newspaper.

D.C. may require college application for all

All Washington D.C. students would have to take the SAT or ACT and apply to college, proposes Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. Even students who don’t plan to go to college would have to go through the motions, reports the Washington Post.

Brown said it’s imperative that D.C. public schools, with a drop-out rate of 43 percent, standardize how students view post-secondary education. . . . ”I’m not saying everyone should go to college, but my goodness, we have to get more young folks prepared to go to college if they want to go to college,” Brown said in an interview. “A lot of them don’t even know how to prepare and apply to college.”

Eleven states now require high school students to take  the SAT or ACT, Brown said.

It’s a win for the college-industrial complex, writes Jonathan Robe.

Come to think of it, perhaps the way Brown could improve the idea is to force all colleges and universities to be open-enrollment and then mandate all persons apply to college and finally require all colleges to graduate any and all students who enroll. Voilà! Completion problem solved! It all reminds me of the joke that the best way to cure unemployment is to make it illegal to be unemployed.

D.C. hasn’t persuaded all students that it’s important to finish high school.