In reflecting on transparency in government, I thought I'd take a look around the country at a few other urban school districts to see how they make data available to the public. Are there school districts out there that are models for all in terms of making data accessible? Today, LA, Denver, and Houston. Tomorrow, DC, Chicago, and Baltimore. If there are other cities you think I should look at, leave a comment. Next week, we'll see what users in each of these cities have to say about the availability of data - if you're from one of the featured cities and can provide perspective, please email me. Also, what tools would be most helpful to you as someone interested in education? In exploring each site, I looked to see what information is available, in what format, how quickly I found it, and whether special tools were available to help me navigate the data and answer my own questions. Please keep in mind that since I'm not from these other cities, I'm a "naive user" of these sites, perhaps similar to a parent or community member interested in but not expert at finding what's out there. If I've missed anything on any of the sites I visited, let me know so I can update this. Screenshot of California's STAR system Starting out west, I spent a few minutes at the LA Unified School District homepage, which relatively quickly led me to the California Department of Education's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) system, a tool that allows you to search at different levels (county, district, school), by subgroup, and view or download tables of information. Both mean scale scores and the percentage of students at each proficiency level are reported. What's problematic is that to compare subgroups or years, you have to create separate reports for each category you want to compare (e.g., first request 2006 data, then request 2007 data, then compare on your own); the tool would be immensely more powerful if it allowed you to select two or more subgroups or years for comparison. Summary tables comparing different subgroups and different years are available with the 2007 press release, but only for some kinds of data (proficiency statistics are compared but not scale scores, for example).
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at yesterday's rally. The atmosphere at the rally for a new middle school at 75 Morton St. yesterday was more like that of a festival than a protest. Supporters arrived on stilts, manned a lemonade and cookie stand, and tied balloons to their wrists as they celebrated the city's announcement that it would seek to preserve 75 Morton St., a fully handicapped-accessible state-owned building, as a public middle school. "I'm confident that ... very soon, we will be standing outside of this building in a different way, welcoming students," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the crowd of parents, community leaders, and elected officials who assembled on Morton Street in the late-afternoon sun. The building can undergo "renovation, not construction or major reconstruction," said Deborah Glick, the State Assembly representative from the neighborhood, and open as a fully wired middle school in 2009. But even though activism in District 2 appears to have been successful at the site of the rally, there is room for improvement elsewhere in the district and throughout the city, speakers emphasized. "It's not just about 75 Morton," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "It's about your multi-million dollar capital plan." The city's next plan, due to go into effect next summer, must reflect coordination between education and city planning officials, he said.
I think people are afraid of candor with kids because they feel like they don’t want to fight with them; they don’t want to hurt their feelings; they don’t want to step on them. I think that’s a big mistake. I don’t think clarity and candor means meanness or hurting kids’ feelings. If you can be very specific about what’s working in a piece of work and equally specific about what’s weak, it’s a gift to the student who created it. So says Ron Berger in a thought-provoking interview in UnBoxed, "a journal of reflections on purpose, practice and policy in education" published by the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. Berger, of Expeditionary Learning Schools, thinks student projects should be organized around the concept of "crafting beautiful work," with the teacher using models of excellent work, peer critiques like those practiced in writing and art workshops for adults, and multiple drafts to help students create something truly masterful. Berger says that his ideas were informed by his experiences in the arts and architecture: As a self-employed carpenter I designed homes and additions, and you would never do blueprints for anything without an incredible amount of critique from the homeowners, from engineers, from other builders, from architects. That process of many different iterations of the project and many improvements along the way was the ethic of what we did. And that ethic, of being a craftsman and carpenter and trying to do things really well, certainly spilled over into my sense of what a classroom should be.
Mind the gap, <em>by ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2506936869/##Marcin Wichary##</em> The internet has seen a flurry of activity recently over the DOE's claim that it has reduced the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers. Testing that claim, the New York Sun submitted the ELA and math scale score data for students in grades 3-8 to three independent analysts, who concluded that the gap has decreased in ELA, but has stayed flat since 2002 in mathematics, confirming much of Eduwonkette's analysis. The new analysis emphasizes the difference between closing the proficiency gap by comparing the percentage of students who score at a level 3 or 4 on state tests, and closing the achievement gap by comparing mean scale scores.
Introducing a regular feature in which we take a look at the history of New York City's schools. The Gothamschools Time Machine The chancellor makes a self-congratulatory announcement about a reduced dropout rate. But analysis by a watchdog organization, often critical of the chancellor's leadership, says the real rate is much lower. On-the-ground reports from principals confirm the less impressive numbers. Statisticians express skepticism about double-digit improvements. And no one can seem to determine the best way to calculate graduation rates. This story isn't ripped from today's headlines, although if you have read Nat Hentoff's latest installment in the Village Voice, in part about the persistent unreliability of the city's graduation data, you can be forgiven for thinking it might be. It's actually from the New York Times of March 4, 1987: In a self-congratulatory mood, the New York City Board of Education three weeks ago announced what it hailed as a major improvement in the dropout rate in the city's schools, down to 30.7 percent. But the fanfare subsided when a respected educational group contended last week that a truer figure for the dropout rate in the last school year was 50.4 percent.
Second in a series on free summer opportunities for New York City students. Read the first post about the Manhattan School of Music Summer Music Camp. Vocal music students practicing at SAI. On a recent July morning, in a classroom at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, master vocal music teacher Jayne Skoog asked her students to pause. "Put your hand here for a minute," she instructed them, placing her hand on her ribcage. "Put your hand right here." The students placed their hands over their own chests, studying how air should move in and out of their lungs as they sing. Down the hall, Joe Bartolozzi was teaching an advanced music theory class, animatedly illustrating a point about tension and release with a joke about a pianist playing "Amazing Grace" and stopping just before the final, resolving chord. Bartolozzi let his students feel that tension as he finished the story - then played the chord, allowing everyone in the room to experience the release firsthand. Meanwhile, upstairs, students were scattered around teacher Jan Juracek's photography lab. Two worked together at a computer, using Photoshop to merge a student's self-portrait with a photograph of the New York City skyline. Juracek sat nearby, helping another student edit a digital photo. A small group sat sprawled at student desks, flipping through photography books and their own portfolios. On the floor, students assembled what appeared to be a poster-sized contact sheet: they explained that it's a collaborative piece they are creating, bringing together each student's self-portrait on the theme "THE ARTS: A Lens to the City." This theme is shared by the seven studios of the Summer Arts Institute, a free, four-week intensive arts program for New York City public school students entering grades 8-12. In addition to vocal music and photography, the studio programs include instrumental music, dance, drama, visual art, and film.
Parents and advocates of disabled children who attend schools in District 75, the DOE's district for children with special needs, are breathing at least a partial sigh of relief this week after a report commissioned by the DOE recommended revamping, but not dismantling, the district. But their anxiety about the district's future persists as the DOE contemplates which recommendations, if any, to put into action. The report, released Friday by the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 66 urban school districts, calls for integrating District 75 better into the rest of the school system and improving the quality of special education instruction in both District 75 and community schools. The report concedes that District 75 is isolated and incoherent as it is currently configured, but it concludes that the expertise contained in District 75 personnel and structures, as well as the support the district receives from its parents and teachers, make it worth retaining. (Read the whole report, hosted online by NYC Public School Parents.)
A $16.6 million federal grant will fund the development and support of new charter schools in New York State, the US Department of Education announced in July. The grant, from the Department's Charter School Program, will be used primarily to create and support secondary-level charter schools. Today is the postmark deadline for the current round of applications for the planning and implementation of new charter schools. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have long pushed for the creation of more charter schools, successfully convincing the state legislature to increase the number of charters granted from 100 to 200 in April, 2007. Half of the new charters are reserved for New York City. Even that limit may be short-lived; Governor Paterson reportedly told members of the Alliance for School Choice advocacy group that he supports lifting the cap on charters altogether. Approximately 18,000 students attend New York City's 60 charter schools, with thousands more students on waiting lists, according to the DOE. In response to this demand, eighteen new charter schools will open across the city this fall, with seven in the Bronx, five in Brooklyn, five in Manhattan, and one in Queens. The schools have a wide variety of institutional partners, including Victory Schools, adding two new charters to their six existing schools throughout the city, and the Success Charter Network, expanding from one to four schools in Harlem. The new charters, once they reach full capacity, will include six elementary schools, seven combined elementary-middle schools, one combined middle-high school, two high schools, and two K-12 schools. Most existing New York City charter schools serve elementary and middle school students.