NYSED Again rejects application for ELL Charter School in Queens

18 Aug

The NY State Education Department declined to authorize the charter of a school geared towards ELL students in Queens. The school, Dignitas Academy Charter (DACS), applied for authorization last year with the name Phoenix Academy Charter.

Advocates of DACS cite the low and decreasing scores by ELL students on statewide English Language Arts exams as evidencing a need for a school with a focus on English Language Learners. With widespread community support, many are unhappy to see the school’s application fail a second time.

For NYC charter consultant, Vander Ark City Prep mess is like deja-vu

15 Jul

The former executive director of the Gates Foundation, Tom Vander Ark has decided to simply walk away from a project to open a school in Brooklyn and two in Newark after over three years and over $1.5 million. The story appears in today’s NY Times.

Because the charter process was so far along, hundreds of eighth graders had submitted applications to the schools. The story does not delve into details about whether an when the students and their families were informed and what they will do now.

Vander Ark had hired Joshua Morales, a former NYC Department of Education staffer to assist with the execution and management of the charter schools. Morales seems to have been completely taken aback by the complete dissolution of the plan. He is quoted in the article as saying Vander Ark is “flying 30,000 feet on the air but can’t do it on the ground.”

Morales has had a streak of misfortune with over zealous but dysfunctional charter school visionaries who clash with his by-the-book ethics. In September of 2009, Morales was let go by Eddie Calderon Menendez, the Chief Executive Officer of another troubled Brooklyn CMO, Believe High Schools Network.

Believe High School management has been embroiled in sandal since shortly after the establishment of its flagship school, Williamsburg Charter High School in 2004. It was the target of local coverage for allegedly retaliating against a teacher who was attempting to unionize. Last summer surveillance photos emerged showing Williamsburg students walking to classes at an industrial office space not approved by the NYC DOE for student instruction for art classes and counseling sessions.

Believe is now under investigation for possible mismanagement of public funds and also because the schools it manages violate their charter by engaging in an administrative contract with Believe.

Save Our Schools March to Take Place this Month

3 Jul

At the end of this month, the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action will be held in Washington, DC. The event will consist of a two-day conference, a march to the US Department of Education, and a leadership congress. The Saving Our School’s March (SOS), is organized in response to the current education reform movement.

The SOS’s Guiding Principles are as follows:

Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • Equitable funding across all public schools and school systems
  • Full public funding of family and community support services
  • Full funding for 21st century school and neighborhood libraries
  • An end to economically and racially re-segregated schools
  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

The use of multiple and varied assessments to evaluate students, teachers, and schools

  • An end to pay per test performance for teachers and administrators
  • An end to public school closures based upon test performance
  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

Educator and civic community leadership in drafting new ESEA legislation

  • Federal support for local school programs free of punitive and competitive funding
  • An end to political and corporate control of curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions for teachers and administrators
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Support for teacher and student access to a wide-range of instructional programs and technologies

  • Well-rounded education that develops every student’s intellectual, creative, and physical potential
  • Opportunities for multicultural/multilingual curriculum for all students
  • Small class sizes that foster caring, democratic learning communities

Atlanta Cheating Conspiracy

12 Oct

The newest national scandal to hit the education scene is the discovery that primary students in the Atlanta public schools system changed their answers from incorrect choices to correct ones in excess of 250,000 times on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test. The CRCT is a standardized test administered to gauge compliance with federal No Child Left Behind requirements. The exam erasures represent a rate of answer changes well in excess of the norm for this test.  A single fourth grade class managed to change its answer choice to the correct one an average of 27 times.

Fifty-eight Atlanta schools were flagged for possible cheating. The school district launched an investigation which looked into the matter at just the dozen schools with the highest erasure rates. The investigation ultimately found that there was no concerted effort to boost scores. Since the release of this report in early August, the Governor of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Education have stepped in to conduct their own evaluations.

A major underlying issue here is to what extent Atlanta schools will be eligible to receive Title I money when the investigations are complete. Title I is federal money given by the federal government to states to distribute to schools with a higher population of indigent students. Any school with 40% or more student qualifying for free or reduced price school lunches is eligible for Title I grants. However, schools that receive the designation of “distinguished” may qualify for additional grant money. This designation requires improvements on the CRCT assessments and attendance over the previous three consecutive years. Of the 57 schools which received the designation for the 2009-2010 year, 39 were flagged for excessive exam erasures. Unfortunately it appears this issue may not be isolated to just this year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported on statistically unlikely increases on the CRCT assessments in both 2008 and 2009.

NYC Teacher Tenure, an education

29 Sep

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced his plan to change teacher tenure for public school teachers in New York City. He made the announcement as part of the Education Nation summit organized and broadcast by NBC to promote education reform efforts by local and national political and corporate leaders. In his speech, the Mayor revealed serious misgivings about the origins and purpose of tenure.

Tenure, as applies to New York public school teachers simply means that as part of a termination, a hearing will take place. Tenure does not mean “a job for life,” whether in literal or practical terms. A teacher can, at any point, be terminated for cause.

The Necessity of Tenure

The very first U.S. public school teacher tenure law enacted in the New Jersey. The intent of the law is to prevent the capricious and nefarious termination of undeserving teachers on the basis of nepotism, political favoritism, and otherwise arbitrary dismissals. (Citron 1985). While the tenure law removes discriminatory and subjective terminations as an option, there is still a bevy of grounds available to a principal or superintendent seeking to remove a teacher that is not fit for their position. The grounds listed below are those outlined in the NYS Education Law § 3012:

  1. Insubordination
  2. Conduct unbecoming a teacher
  3. Inefficiency
  4. Incompetence
  5. Physical or mental disability
  6. Neglect of duty
  7. Failure to maintain certification
  8. Immoral character

The argument against tenure is that it allows for the perpetual employment of ineffective and incompetent teachers. However, under the current law, those grounds are exactly that which would constitute just cause in the termination of a teacher. All a superintendent would have to do to effectuate the termination is prove the allegations.

The anti-tenure argument then becomes that the hearings required to prove the allegations are lengthy and costly. Public school teachers are not to blame for this bureaucracy and inefficiency. It seems scarcely just that they, as a profession, should be forced to relinquish rights for circumstances beyond their control.

How Tenure is Earned

The granting of tenure requires that a teacher hold a valid teaching certificate. Acquiring a valid teaching certificate usually requires thirty or more credits in one’s subject area at the undergraduate level, a master’s degree in education which provides a specific amount of credit hours in both the subject area and instructional methods. Then there are other requirements such as a background check, successful completion of three or more required examinations, and child abuse prevention workshops. These requirements are only for an initial teaching certificate. The initial certificate expires after a couple of years and before a teacher has taught the three years required before they are eligible for tenure, they must complete even more training to obtain a professional certificate.

As described by the 2010 UFT New Teacher Handbook:

the process for determining whether or not you will get tenure is rigorous, and tenure is not automatic at the end of the probationary period. You must: Complete all your state certification and city licensing requirements, file an application and receive professional certification. Have a record of satisfactory service during your probationary period. Be recommended for tenure by your principal.

Bloomberg on Tenure

On Tuesday’s episode of Brian Lehrer on WNYC, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the UFT suggested that Bloomberg may be understating his contribution to the “rubber stamp tenure” status quo to which he is so vehemently opposed. Bloomberg has had control over the New York City school system for approximately a decade, but seems to have chosen now as the time to address teacher tenure. Further, his attacks on tenure advocate changes to the system which are not changes at all as there are mechanisms to prevent the harms he insists need to be avoided. Specifically, those are that only good teachers receive tenure and that teachers should not be guaranteed a job for life.

I look forward to hearing from Mayor Bloomberg a specific actionable plan for how tenure can actually be changed. And because we must pander to the whims of education reformers by allowing them the benefit of backwards induction, I would further challenge the Mayor to produce evidence of correlation between any proposed real changes to the current tenure system to actual benefits to students and student learning. Without such hard evidence Bloomberg’s position appears irrational and raises questions about his credibility and ability to lead.

Shame on LA Weekly

27 Sep

A blog on the LA Weekly website posted an entry earlier today supporting the belief that the suicide of Rigoberto Ruelas, a Los Angeles elementary school teacher, was not motivated by the L.A. Times value-add analysis published weeks ago. The author of the post, J. Patrick Coolican, belittles Officer Tony Mendez who believes Ruelas’s suicide may have been motivated by the poor evaluation he received in the L.A. Times analysis, ridiculing Officer Mendez for not having a degree in psychiatry. And as any zealous truth-seeking reporter, Coolican is not deterred by the delicate nature of the subject matter. No sir, he further rails on Officer Mendez because “as in any suicide, there are many questions unanswered: Did he suffer from a history depression?  How was his family life? What kind of life did he lead outside work? Dr., er, Officer Mendez offers no clues to any of these questions.”

…luckily we have Dr., er…, Reporter Coolican to enlighten us that perhaps contrary to what Officer Mendez believes, “[s]uicide is one of the most mysterious of all human mysteries.” Coolican also provides overwhelmingly enlightening insight into Ruelas’s psyche by indicating that “to pin the blame on what amounts to a bad performance review at work is quite a thing.” Except that, as Coolican fails to recognize or acknowledge, most bad performance reviews are private, the results shielded even from immediate colleagues. They do not usually reach well over a million people in print, with the potential to reach several millions more via a freely accessible website for weeks after the issuance of the review. Coolican also readily ignores that anyone could be so serious about their profession especially since “Ruelas was named along with hundreds and hundreds of other ineffective teachers among the 6,000 the Times scored in its series.”

Yes, apparently Mr. Coolican has vanquished Officer Mendez’s claims by showing how ridiculous it was for him to delve so deeply in Ruelas’s personal motivations and psyche. Its not like his part of his job is to help determine the cause and nature of deaths of persons in his jurisdiction, or anything… oh wait. How silly indeed for one man to publicly proclaim he might even begin to understand why another has been moved to take his own life…


27 Sep

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan announced today on MSNBC’s Education Nation event a new website to promote the teaching profession. The website leads users through a flowchart outlining a potential path to teaching. It lists scholarships and grants available and expects to list teaching job openings in the near future.

The website is a nice introductory resource for anyone looking into teaching as a potential career path, unfortunately however the truth of the matter is that many schools and school districts simply cannot afford to hire at this time. Also at Education Nation, Secretary Duncan urged that we focus on the big picture and that he expects five million new teaching jobs will be available within the next five years.