Tag: New York State Education Department


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Read: Jean Beliveau Edition


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While your editor makes a rare indulgence into his  fascination with all things hockey (and joins others in wishing a legendary rink rat a speedy recovery), read what’s going on…

Not the way to treat a Ranger. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

While your editor makes a rare indulgence into his  fascination with all things hockey (and joins others in wishing a legendary rink rat a speedy recovery), read what’s going on in the dropout nation:

  1. While Race to the Top has captured the headlines everywhere, it is especially becoming a point of discussion in the city of Blue Suede Shoes, where at least eight schools will likely be seized from the control of Memphis Public Schools and put into turnaround. Tennessee State Sen. Reginald Tates provides some insight on how the city’s school district (and its children) will benefit from this effort in the Tri-State Defender.
  2. Meanwhile there is more going on in Memphis, from battles over school funding to questions as to whether the school district will be allowed to form its own police force. All this, along with the Gates-funded teacher quality effort under way, may make Memphis an interesting place to watch among school reformers.
  3. At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s black studies blog, Professor Howard Ramsby writes about the need to mold young black men into strong, learned role models. Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that parents have to often find themselves disliking their parents (in that selfish-child-way) as part of the process of becoming a moral adult who can stand on his own two feet.
  4. The headshaker of the week appeared earlier this month, but it’s still a headshaker: Some Harvard ed school grads wrote an “open letter” to its administrators. They are demanding that the ed school speak out “against the unprecedented attack on public education.” What, dare say, is this attack? Start with “the over-testing of students” to their contention that performance pay plans “deny and undermine the essentially collaborative nature of teaching.” As if teachers spend all that much time teaching joint classes with their colleagues. Sure, I understand what they mean by this. But honestly, the current system of rewarding all teachers, regardless of the quality of their work, with tenure and raises based on little more than seniority and number of degrees awarded does little to improve the quality of education for the children in their care. Dear letter-writers: The grade for this letter is an “incomplete.” Try again.
  5. Another headshaker: This time, it’s a Web site: Stop Homework. No comment.
  6. In his Centraljersey.com piece, Hank Kalet makes clear that he is apparently afraid that new New Jersey education chief Brett Schundler will make his advocacy for school vouchers a centerpiece of his reform. Given the low quality of so many of the Garden State’s urban and suburban districts, are vouchers and charters still such an anathema?
  7. Yes, according to a recent poll by Quinnipac University’s pollsters. Given that New Jersey is that rare instance of a mostly-suburban state with powerful unions and parents loyal to traditional public school districts, this isn’t so surprising.
  8. In South Carolina, a state where arguments over the state’s abysmal graduation rate is just beginning to reach the levels seen in Indiana four years ago, a school choice supporter is entering the race for the education superintendent’s post, according to WACH-TV. Meanwhile Palmetto State school districts are still struggling to make Adequate Yearly Progress, reports the Sun News.
  9. In Maryland, the state schools superintendent wants to actually subject teachers to performance management, according to WBAL-TV. By using student test scores no less. And, by the way, wants to make probationary teachers wait four years before gaining tenure. Sure, not all that radical compared to what Jason Kamras and Michelle Rhee are trying to do in D.C. But this is Maryland, not exactly friendly territory for school reform.
  10. Speaking of Kamras: Yesterday’s video report has garnered some strong responses. Feel free to read and join in.
  11. Meanwhile, in New York, the state education department has named 34 New York City schools that should either be overhauled, shut down or doe-see-doed, according to Gotham Schools. Joel Klein and company already has most of that handled. Of course.
  12. When she was Indiana’s state schools superintendent, Suellen Reed was, well, underwhelming. Or as I put it back in 2004, she needed to hand in her walking papers. So Reed must be a tad saddened that her successor, Tony Bennett, seems to have gotten more done in less than one year in office that she did in 16.

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Race to the Top: The Battles to Come


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Battles in Massachusetts and New York previews the next phase in Race to the Top.

All's quiet on the Massachusetts front -- tonight at least. Photo by PhilPie

All's quiet on the Massachusetts front -- tonight at least. Photo by PhilPie

Last month, I noted how states such as California and Tennessee have pushed to qualify for federal Race to the Top funding by passing measures lifting caps on the number of charter schools and allowing the use of student test data in measuring teacher performance. Now, New York and Massachusetts are trying to get into the act. And unfortunately for school reformers in those states, not even federal money is enough to gain traction.

Tonight, senators in the Bay State passed a reform measure by a vote of 28-11 after hours of debate and some 100 proposed amendments. The bill does lift the cap on the number of charters the state can authorize, but it also restricts the presence of charters to areas of the state where traditional public schools are in pervasive academic failure. Charter school advocates weren’t satisfied for several reasons, including the fact that the requirement that the first three schools authorized had to be located in the worst-performing districts; since only three charter schools are approved annually, the advocates fear that charter school expansion is just smoke.

Opponents of charter school expansion may figure out a way to kill the bill in Massachusetts’ lower house. One legislator, Liz Malia, has already told the StateHouse News Service that: “Charter advocates did a lot of things very quietly… and they got too much of the pie.” The bill may not even be passed this year.  

Meanwhile in the Empire State, the New York State United Teachers — an affiliate of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — is already bearing its teeth in opposition to a set of proposals from state Assemblyman Sam Hoyt to end the state’s ban on using test scores in evaluating the performance of probationary (pre-tenure) teachers and lift the cap on charter school expansion.  The state Education Department and Board of Regents also wants to bring back the use of test scores in evaluations. Given that United Teachers successfully brought the ban back to life last year after it was ended in 2007, the likelihood of tying student and teacher performance may be a dead horse not worth the time for legislators — thinking about their re-election efforts — to kick.

New York State officials also remain stubborn about addressing other changes needed to qualify for Race to the Top. Lame duck Gov. David Paterson (yes, he’s running for election, but he’s unlikely to win) hasn’t been willing to exercise any of the pluck he has shown in battling the legislature over the state’s fiscal morass. The new state education commissioner, David Steiner, also seems less interested in reform than even his predecessor, the much-lauded (and also, much-bemoaned and often spendthrifty) Richard Mills.

These battles do show the limits of federal government-led reform initiatives even when the dollars are attached to the effort. That the final Race to the Top rules hardly touch teacher quality reform — among the most-important issues in achieving true education reform — also makes the opposition among traditional education supporters at the state level seem rather, well, ridiculous. After all, allowing parents additional school options — and thus, making them true partners in education decision-making — should be embraced by every educator. And test score data is certainly far more objective than the standards used in private-sector performance reviews (which, by the way, use plenty of subjective multiple measures).

School reformers have clearly won the battle for the hearts and minds of leaders at the federal level; they have certainly won the day in states such as Indiana and Colorado, where legislators and governors have reached agreement some agreement on the need for overhauling public education. Even California, who may find itself replacing one reform advocate (Arnold Schwarzenegger) with another (former Gov. Jerry Brown) after 2010, may actually move towards meaningful reform.

But in states where systemic political dysfunction is the norm, teachers unions and other defenders of traditional public education can rally supporters on their behalf.  They can count on  some of their longtime critics on issues such as the expansion of charter schools. There is also the skepticism of school reform among suburban parents, who may realize public schools are in atrocious shape, but also have a relationship with schools and teachers that few school reformers (save for the Steve Barrs and Geoffrey Canadas) have dared to match.

The relationships between parents, traditional public school officials and teachers are, for the most part, superficial; the latter two are disinterested in any active parental involvement outside of the traditional jobs of supervising homework and attending field trips. They don’t want parents to be full partners in decision-making. But like any, dare one say, abusive relationship, the parents are more than willing to play along . And together, this trinity is formidable against school reform. In those states, school reformers must move themselves out of the Beltway and into the grassroots in order to win the day.

Given the influence of state legislation on local reforms and on national efforts, these battlegrounds will loom larger in school reform discussions.

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This is Dropout Nation: Liberty, New York


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One wouldn’t think this town, two hours north of New York City, would be swamped with a dropout crisis. As a district bordering between farming country and suburbia, just 32…

The Town & Country Building is tackily tasty. But the school district isn't. Courtesy of Agilitynut.com

The Town & Country Building is tackily tasty. But the school district isn't. (Courtesy of Agilitynut.com)

One wouldn’t think this town, two hours north of New York City, would be swamped with a dropout crisis. As a district bordering between farming country and suburbia, just 32 percent of the Liberty Central Schools District’s enrollment are Latino, black or Native American; the remaining 68 percent are white.

The district and its only high school, however, is as much a dropout factory as the collection of high schools that make up the far larger — and more diverse — Gotham system.

Fifty-six percent of the freshmen entering high school in the Liberty district actually graduated in four years, according to the New York State Education Department. Even worse, the problem isn’t simply among the few students with disabilities, whose graduation rate is an abysmal 21 percent. A mere 63 percent of Liberty’s freshmen in the general population garnered a sheepskin; two out of every five students either likely dropped out, failed to garner enough credits for graduation (which will likely lead them to leave without a diploma) or transferred to other school districts (from which they will likely drop out).

This isn’t a new trend. Just 56 percent of the 8th-graders who made up the district’s class of 2005 two years ago actually graduated in five years, according to an analysis of data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education; a mere 53 percent of the district’s freshmen walked away with a sheepskin in four years. This despite the fact that a not-so-great 74 percent of students were promoted from 8th-to-12th grade during that period.

What’s wrong with Liberty? The problems begin early. Just 13 percent of 4th graders scored in the Level 4 (r top percentile) range on the state’s standardized test, while 41 percent of Liberty’s 4th-graders had scores in the lowest levels of the test; the statewide average is, respectively, 21 percent and 41 percent. Twenty-one percent of Liberty’s 4th-graders scored in the lowest two levels of the math portion of the exam, higher than the 17 percent statewide average. Meanwhile, 64 percent of the district’s 8th-graders scored in the bottom two levels of the state’s English exam; only a merely attrocious 53 percent of the state’s 8th graders overall scored that low.

These are students woefully prepared to stay in school, much less graduate. Proving once again that the ills of dropout nation aren’t limited to the heart of Urban America.

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